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Small Business Q & A: If You Build It, They Will Come? That Totally Depends On You

By Tim Knox
Posted Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Q: I recently launched a website for my sporting goods business. Do I need to do anything special to attract customers to my website?
I know nothing about search engines and marketing as such. Please
tell me where to begin.

A: That is a question that has been asked by every business
person who has ever launched a website. If I build it, will they
come? Of course they will -- if you've built a website that appeals
to dead baseball players.

For those of you who didn't get the "Field of Dreams" reference,
let me put it this way: No, Sean, if you build it they will not
come, at least not without some effort on your part.

Assuming that a website will automatically attract customers is
the single biggest mistake that many business owners make. It is
this mistake that eventually leads them to dismiss their website
as a failure and abandon their online sales efforts.

I can't tell you how many times I've heard a client say, "Well, I
threw up a website, but nobody ever came to it and I didn't sell
a single thing from it! Dang thing was a waste of time, if you
ask me …"

Forgive me, but "threw up" is the operative term there. These
short-sighted entrepreneurs (God love them) mistakenly think that
all they have to do is throw up a website and that their business
will automatically double overnight. And when nothing happens
they blame it on the infallibility of the Internet, on El Nino,
on the Bosa Nova, on their customers… everything but their own
lack of marketing efforts.

If you build it, will they come? That, Sean, depends totally on
you.

When it comes to attracting customers, opening an online business
(or an online branch of an existing business) is no different from
opening a traditional brick and mortar shop. Without a little
fanfare and a well-devised marketing plan, chances are your website
will become just another spot of roadkill on the Information
Superhighway.

The first step in devising your marketing plan is to ask yourself
this question: Who is my customer? Who is it that I want to attract
to my website? Believe it or not, this is a question many
entrepreneurs fail to ask. The identity of your customer is
incredibly important because if you don't know who your customer
is, how can you expect to market to them?

The next question concerns the locality of your customer. Do you
want to attract a local or global clientele to your website? If
the answer is local, then you will gear your marketing efforts
toward customers in your own backyard, which means incorporating
your website launch with your offline marketing efforts.

If the website is the online branch of a brick and mortar business,
include the website URL in all your print materials and advertising
campaigns. Consider running ads in the local paper, on radio or
TV announcing the launch of your site. Use direct mail or in-store
posters to announce the site launch to your existing customer base.

In short, keep doing what you're doing to attract customers to your
physical store, just add your website address to the mix.

Just remember, it's important to consider your website a branch of
your brick and mortar business because that's exactly what it is.
A good business website will help you sell more products, widen
your range of clientele, and increase your revenue without adding
overhead. Don't sell your website short. Make it work for you.

If you are seeking a global audience, your marketing efforts will
be quite different. Attracting customers from around the world is
a more difficult task than attracting customers from around the
block. Fortunately, the task is not impossible. The Internet has
leveled the playing field in many ways. Now every business, no
matter how large or small, has the ability to do business
internationally.

In the most basic sense, an online marketing campaign to attract
global customers should include the following efforts.

Register With Search Engines
There's not enough room in this newspaper for a thorough discussion
of search engines and their effectiveness (or lack thereof) in
driving traffic to a website. Suffice it to say that 95% of search
engine traffic comes from Google and Yahoo, so start there. It's
also important to realize that just registering with search engines
does not guarantee you traffic, but it certainly can't hurt.

Unfortunately, the free search engine lunch ran out a couple of
years ago when search engines figured out that people would actually
pay for listings and higher placement. Since that time the only
way to guarantee a high (or at least higher than others) ranking
is to pay for it. The two most popular pay-for-placement programs
are Yahoo's "Yahoo Express" and Google's "Adwords." Visit their
respective websites for details on these programs. Be prepared to
spend several hundred dollars at a minimum to get your site listed.

Exchange Links With Similar Sites
One free - and potentially effective - way to drive customers to
your website is through link exchanges with sites of similar interest.
Locate sites that make a good match to your own and contact the
owner to ask if they will link to your site in exchange for you
linking to theirs. If you sell golf balls on your website, set up
a link exchange with another website that sells golf clubs. You
post a link to them and they post a link to you. It's called
digital back scratching, and if done properly, can work well to
drive traffic your way.

Go To Where The Customers Are
If the mountain won't come to Mohammed, then Mohammed must go to
the mountain. One little known way to attract customers to your
website is to market your products on a mega-site like eBay.
There are thousands and thousands of people on eBay at any given
time and each one is potentially your customer, so it's a great
place to drum up business.

Your goal is not to make a living selling on eBay, but to use eBay
as a marketing tool to drive traffic back to your website. Go to
where the customers are, then bring them back home with you.

Let's use our golf ball example. Post a few auctions on eBay
selling your golf balls at a ridiculously low price so your auction
attracts plenty of attention. When customers make a purchase,
add them to your client list and send them an email inviting them
to visit your website for more great products. eBay also lets
you create your own "About Me" page that you can use to advertise
your business.

We have just scratched the surface, but hopefully this is enough
to get you started. I wish I could tell you that attracting
customers to your website is easy, but the truth is, it's anything
but. It takes hard work, creativity and above all, perseverance.

Here's to your success!

Tim Knox
tim@dropshipwholesale.net
For information on starting your own online or eBay business,
visit (http://www.dropshipwholesale.net)
About the Author
Tim Knox as the president and CEO of two successful technology
companies: B2Secure Inc., a Web-based hiring management software
company; and Digital Graphiti Inc., a software development company.
Tim is also the founder of dropshipwholesale.net, an ebusiness
dedicated to the success of online entrepreneurs.
(http://www.dropshipwholesale.net)
(http://www.smallbusinessqa.com)