Web marketing for SMEs
You may think it’s impossible to increase your company’s Internet effectiveness with a marketing budget of only $3,000, but a variety of low‑cost strategies exist, whether you need to enhance your Web presence or conduct an email campaign. According to Merrill Lynch, over 39% of all travel‑related transactions will be conducted online by 2007. Many hotels already book over half their rooms online. For other businesses, embracing the World Wide Web is more difficult and takes longer to produce results.
Start with a Website
The first basic principle is that no business is ever too small for a website. Many web design tools do not even require specialized computer knowledge. This accessibility is just one reason that the number of online blogs has mushroomed in the last year (over 100 million).
However, the best solution is to call on the services of a web design firm, who will be able to produce professionally looking content that delivers the desired result. By the way, not all site design techniques are created equal. It is crucial that the selected supplier be well-versed in tourism marketing. On average, a small inn would need to set aside a budget of $2,000 to $4,000 for the design and creation of a website.
Search engine optimization
If a site is well designed, it will be easily found by search engines. However, there are many strategies for increasing site traffic. The technique of search engine optimization can be very effective, but it may be too expensive for organizations with limited budgets.
Another, less expensive, way to increase visibility is to get other sites to include links to yours. Link popularity is an important criterion used by search engines like Google and Yahoo when ranking sites in search results. Incoming links to a site are interpreted as a “vote of confidence” by search engines and are considered in placement rankings. In a Google search using the same terms, this can make the difference between appearing on page 1 or page 10. Regardless of the strategy used, time is also an important factor. Often, the longer a site has been online, the more success it enjoys with search engines.
Develop networking opportunities
One does not need an enormous marketing budget to build online business connections, simply some time. Here are some strategies for increasing the number of sites with links to yours:
- Explore and identify the main points of contact with potential customers. Place a link to your organization on sites containing some tourism-related content such as your local business development centre, a directory of small hotels and inns, a tourist attraction in your region, a snowmobile club, your regional tourism association, etc.
- Create links on sites frequented by potential customers, even if they are not exactly travel-related (e.g., a bird club, wedding planner, chamber of commerce, etc.).
- Target only high-quality sites relevant to both your product and your clientele.
- Ensure your website address is clearly visible in all your communication tools, especially your email signature.
One way to assess the performance of your referencing strategy and the true contribution of your business partners, in terms of incoming links, is through tracking tools such as Alexa. This site instantly supplies very pertinent data on any website, completely free of charge. As an example, we used Alexa to analyze the site for Auberge des Falaises in Charlevoix (Illustration 1). Although not an exact science, Alexa produces statistics like traffic generated, number of pages visited, percentage increase in the past three months, etc. If a site generates enough traffic, one can also get graphs illustrating the breakdown of visitors and visits during a specified time period.
The Related Links section in particular contains highly relevant information to help you better understand the influence of other sites in relation to your organization. Alexa draws up a list of the sites that send visitors to your site (Illustration 2). This data enables you to quickly see which sites send the most visitors and their traffic ranking, whether you are familiar with these sites or unaware of their existence.
Finally, it is interesting to find out where else your visitors browse. If you have a lot of traffic but very few transactions, this information will give you a better idea of where your lost customers are going. You will also find out more about your potential customers’ interests. In our example, the most popular site among browsers of the Auberge des Falaises site was that of the Corporation du parc régional du mont Grand-Fonds (Illustration 3).
Convert visitors into customers
The ultimate goal of attracting a visitor to one’s site is obviously to encourage this potential customer to make a reservation. However, according to search engine statistics, only 3.7% of visits to hotel websites translate into a sale. What usually makes the difference is the site’s professional appearance and usability.
The firm eMarketer has published a ranking of the best online marketing tactics, as well as the worst performing, according to a survey of tech-savvy online advertisers (Figure 1). Paid search ads and house email lists are the two methods that received the highest ranking. On the other hand, sending emails using rented lists was relatively ineffective.
If you operate a small business, segmenting your email lists may be an effective marketing strategy. Purchasing email lists from specialized distributors may well be beyond your means and this strategy offers mixed results at best, so the ideal solution is to build your own email list.
Segmenting your list means grouping current and potential customers together by what they have in common: interests, purchasing behaviour, demographics, etc. Compiling this data enables you to more effectively target your efforts, adapt your message and obtain a better response rate than you would with blanket email marketing initiatives. On average, specialized firms that conduct such email campaigns charge anywhere from $15 to $150 per month, depending on the size of your list.
Regardless of the company’s size, a well-segmented house email list can encourage customer loyalty and increase sales, convey information relevant to the needs of potential customers, and create a high-quality channel of communication with customers.
There are many tools and strategies available to business owners; one has only to adopt them and use them effectively. We live in an era when the role of technology is to further the development of small business, not hinder it. With a minimum of investment, some good advice, several hours of research, a little curiosity and a dash of resourcefulness, you will be well positioned to market your business like the big players.
– eMarketer. “What Works, and What Doesn’t, in Online Marketing,” February 7, 2007.
– Goodman, Gail. “Email Segmentation for Small Businesses,” iMedia Connection, August 30, 2006.
– Husin, Linda. “Booking Is the Keyword,” ehotelier, November 29, 2006.
– Salerno, Neil. “So, You Have a New or Improved Hotel Web Site – Now What – How to Promote Your Web Site,” HotelOnline, November 2006.
– Salerno, Neil. “Production Benchmarks for Your Hotel’s Web Site,” HotelOnline, August 2006.
– Max Starkov and Jason Price. “Strategic Linking in Hospitality: Build a Robust Link Popularity,” HotelOnline, September 2006.
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