Online advertising: how to make it work

Advertising is often left out from many small business marketing budgets and is usually associated with larger companies that have the finances and know-how to launch large scale marketing campaigns. Many small business owners are unsure of whether to spend their hard-earned money on advertising when there is a risk that their campaign will be ineffective, and often question if they are reaching their target audience.

But is advertising an antiquated way of selling your products and services in an oversaturated market? Or can it be a powerful tool that, done right, boosts sales for your business and builds up a good reputation? Here are several tips to consider when developing an online advertising strategy.

Think outside traditional mediums

Most people associate advertising with a placement in the local paper, a two-minute reel on television, or handing out flyers on the street. However, these forms of advertising can be expensive and often ineffective. This doesn't mean you should abandon the traditional forms of getting your name out there, particularly if you're seeing results, but consider the Internet as an alternative or complementary way of promoting your brand.

According to a Deloitte survey, 47 per cent of Australians are most influenced by online advertising, with over 20 per cent citing a search engine result advertisement as having the greatest influence on their buying decision. Moreover, over half of consumers would be willingly exposed to more online advertisements if it meant getting free and valuable content, and 47 per cent would click on more Internet advertising if it was targeted to their needs.

So how can you leverage this information for your own business?

Consider taking out a Google or Yahoo! advertisement - this means that when a search is conducted using nominated keywords, your advertisement will appear at the top of the page. This usually works out to be cheaper than taking out a print or television advertisement.

According to Business Victoria, you can also consider advertising on an industry website, such as advertising a bed and breakfast accommodation on a local tourist site. However, remember to keep your content short and concise, as attention spans online tend to be much shorter than with traditional media. You can also consider adding your company information to an online business directory such as the Yellow Pages.

Go where your customers are

There is no point developing a finely crafted and visually appealing advertisement if it is simply not relevant to consumers. Ad campaigns tend to be more successful if they are targeted to a specific audience, so it makes sense to go where your customers are and participate in that space.

For example, if you are a shoe retailer targeting women in their twenties and thirties, this 'space' can include fashion websites and forums, as well as social media. The Deloitte survey indicated that 56 per cent of people discovered a new product online and 43 per cent made a purchase based on an online review, rating or discussion.

Participating in online forums and contributing content or sample products to an industry event can make it a lot easier to reach your target audience. If you have a Facebook or Twitter business account, post information from your website, news and trends, and conduct polls to interact with the online community. Locate journalists or bloggers who often write about industry issues and offer them a product to review, or organise for your ad to be placed alongside their article.

This may not generate immediate revenue for your business, but the more you participate, the more you are building up a reputation for being informative and on top of current industry trends. This will in turn drive people to your website and encourage them to buy a product or service.

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