Believe it or not, there's no secret to online marketing. At least, not any more than there's a "secret" to algebra. Once the fundamentals are learned, the rest is easy - only more fun and profitable. The trick is getting started, which can be intimidating if you don't have prior experience in the marketing field. Fear not, though - armed with the essentials you'll be better prepared than most recent college grads with degrees in PR (I know, I've interviewed dozens of them).
Here are the five things you need to know about marketing your business online:
1. Some of the most valuable tools will cost you nothing. Believe it or not, some of the best resources and tools are completely free. For one thing, it costs nothing to start accounts on social media sites like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc. For one thing, they'll all link back to your site and enable you to communicate with your customer base at will.
Setting up and running social media accounts is one of the simplest and most effective things you can do to promote your business online. With that out of the way, you can get into the really cool (and also free) stuff.
Here are some of the best free PR tools for small business owners:
Hootsuite - To manage and schedule social media updates, including keyword monitoring. It even has its own analytics, so you can see which tweets get the most interaction (and which are falling on deaf ears. There are others, such as CoTweet, and TweetDeck, but they tend to be more expensive and less feature rich.
Google Alerts - So you can know who is saying what about you and your company. Set them up for your name, your business name and anything else you may want to monitor for. If you monitor keywords related to your business, you'll find out who covers your industry (and how). Make a list of sites that accept guest written content, and pitch them article ideas. They'll get content, and in exchange you'll get PR and a great backlink.
HARO and Reporter Connection - Puts you in touch with reporters who are looking for sources for their articles. Keep an eye out for their daily emails and respond to whichever queries you're qualified to speak about. Over time you'll get great placement (I once got a client on CNBC - TV and online - via HARO, so it's definitely worth the time and effort).
Mashable, Quora and Media Bistro Forums - If you want to run PR like an expert, you should have a few experts on hand to help show you how it's done. Quora is like a Yahoo Answers with relevant information and great advice, and the Media Bistro forums are an awesome place to learn from the pros. Mashable is your one-stop shop for all things digital, social media and tech.
Google Analytics and Adwords- Analytics show you how many people are going to your site and where they're coming from, in real time. This is great information, since it tells you how many people are coming from your guest posts, social media sites and SEO keywords. When you know what's working, you can engineer your content and activities to mirror what's most effective. Adwords will tell you which keywords to focus on, making it one of the most essential PR tools at your disposal.
A Webrank Toolbar (different versions available for Chrome and Firefox) - Want to know if a site is worth partnering with or posting guest content on? Check your Webrank toolbar. Alexa tells you how popular a site is, while Google PageRank tells you how valuable it is from an SEO perspective. Shoot for an Alexa ranking under 250k and a PR of 2 or higher. Don't waste your time with sites that have no PageRank or Alexa rankings over 1 million.
2. You can teach yourself anything you want to know. We live in the age of information. If you have a question, you don't need to guess at the answer or go to the library or dust off an Encyclopedia Britannica set (hope your question doesn't begin with the letter E, because that one's missing). All you have to do is Google, and you don't even need to get up off of the couch to do it. At this point, just about every question you can think of has been asked and answered somewhere online - you just need to find it.
For questions related to PR, MediaBistro and Quora are good places to start. YouTube is awesome for video tutorials of different software programs and web applications (like Hootsuite!). If you those resources don't pan out, you can try a general Google search and sift through what comes up. If you've still got nothing...
3. Can't find the answer to your question? Ask somebody! Nobody benefits from you being shy, so don't be afraid to ask questions in your shameless pursuit of knowledge a more popular business. Again, Quora and MediaBistro are good places to start, but you can also throw your question up on Twitter and see what your followers have to say. Add a popular hashtag for extra visibility - Hashtracking will tell you which ones to target, so there's no guesswork involved.
4. You can accomplish a lot with two blog posts per week. If you can commit to writing two blog posts per week, you'll be amazed at how far you can get in one year. Write one for your site and one to place on a site related to your industry as a guest blog. Focus on SEO for the post going on your site, and focus on sounding like an industry expert in the piece you write for placement (and be sure to include a link to your site either in your bio or in the text of the article). Over the course of a few months, the average small business owner should see a drastic increase in the amount of site traffic - and sales, if your site is properly optimized for conversion.
5. You can do it. The only thing PR companies have that you don't are connections and experience - but with enough persistence you can get both of those things on your own.
This probably seems like a lot to handle if you don't have a background in marketing, but the hardest part is getting started. But once you do, you'll probably find it's not as difficult as you thought. It takes less than fifteen minutes to sign up for HARO, Reporter Connection and Google Alerts - but once you've set it up the rest is automatic. Figure out one thing at a time, and once you've mastered one thing move on to the next. When you learn from every mistake you make, no move is a bad one.