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[ 0 ] Apr. 4, 2011 | SBO Editor

Heather Dougherty is a leading authority in online commerce and marketing with Hitwise, a leading online competitive intelligence service that provides data and analytical tools to 100,000 clients in more than 65 countries. This month, Heather discusses how small business start-ups can take advantage of online tools to advance their marketing goals.

Q: What emerging trends in online marketing are you watching closely?

A: Mobile, video, and social. Each of these has had a huge impact upon online behavior, and will continue to do so throughout 2011 and beyond. There are many opportunities right now to test and experiment, so think about how these might benefit your business.

Q: What are three questions a small business owner should ask when formulating his/her online marketing strategy?

A: Small business startups should ask themselves these three questions:

  • What am I trying to accomplish with my online marketing? If you simply want to provide location, hours of operation, and other information, you need to make sure all of this data is correct and available in all local listings and search engines. If you want to educate potential customers about your products or services, use your website to provide the content and photos.
  • Where to begin? Make sure customers can find you in local listings, then move on to your own website and promote your online presence through search engines or social media. Free options such as Tumblr or WordPress are a good way to get started on your website.
  • What resources do I have? Prioritize what you are trying to accomplish and align with offline initiatives to repurpose as much as possible. Think about your content creation in all the different ways it can be used – print ads, website, social media, etc. Promote your online presence in your “brick and mortar” location if you have one, and keep your marketing consistent across all channels.
Q: Is social media presence (e.g., Facebook) a must for every small business today?

A: For most small businesses, the answer is yes. Social Networking websites represented nearly 16% of all US Internet visits in January 2011 – up 20% year-over-year-so the size of the audience alone provides a huge opportunity. The relatively low costs and barrier of entry also help small businesses to easily establish an online presence.

Q: What are some user-oriented qualities that every small business e-commerce website should have?

A: Make sure key information is readily available, and that the customer can find it easily. Your location, hours of operation, and contact information should be front and center.

Be findable. If your website uses Adobe Flash, make sure that you understand how it affects your search engine optimization strategies and make sure you continue to appear in organic results for relevant keywords.

Q: Deal-sharing sites like Groupon have taken the business world by storm. Are there any caveats to getting involved with these services?

A: Do the math behind your offer. Along with the success stories for the deal sharing websites, there have also been plenty of horror stories. Make sure that you can afford the offer and handle the business it may drive. This can be a good opportunity to introduce your business to new customers so you want to provide a good experience.

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Category: Features