What is Internet Marketing Really?
Ask 10 people what is Internet marketing and you'll likely get 10 different answers! As the Internet has matured, online marketing has developed into some very distinct methods. A business may use any or all of them.
Here are the primary Internet marketing methods.
First and foremost, Internet marketing centers around websites, regardless of what other online marketing methods are used.
Marketing with websites can help achieve sales goals by providing the following 24/7/365 to prospective customers:
- Product and service descriptions and availability
- Ability to purchase products or services if it is an ecommerce site
- Service and technical support information
- Company information (history, staff, locations, etc.)
- Contact information
- Terms of service
Some companies have completely eliminated doing business at physical locations and provide only a virtual location on the web.
Quite simply, ecommerce is the process of transacting business via the Internet. This is much more than Internet marketing for awareness; it is taking the entire transaction process into the virtual space. Many ecommerce sites are extensions of existing brick-and-mortar stores, although some of the most powerful sites are Internet-only businesses (e.g. Amazon).
Typically, ecommerce is done through a website designed specifically to facilitate the buying process including the following functions:
- Product and Service Descriptions. Each offering is described to include features and benefits offered, product photographs, special buying requirements or limitations, pricing, options, user ratings and availability.
- Shopping Cart. Like the physical shopping carts in the real retail world, these programs collect a buyer's purchase selections so that they can all be purchased in one transaction.
- Payment Processing System. Ecommerce sites need a way to collect payment from buyers. Some sites integrate with the company's regular merchant credit card processing. Others rely on third party payment processing systems such as PayPal.
PPC Advertising and Banner Ads
Back in the early days of the Internet, banner ads—a horizontal or vertical graphic that redirected an Internet user to an advertiser's website when clicked—were popular. But measuring the marketing ROI on these ads could sometimes be difficult.
Luckily, as the Internet became more sophisticated, tracking programs were developed which could help measure results. Today, online advertising tracking has evolved into easily tracked PPC (Pay Per Click) advertising programs, the most notable of which is Google's AdWords program which can display relevant text ad links next to search engine results, in addition to standard banner ads on websites. Now, advertisers only pay when a user clicks on their ads, helping to reduce the total spent on online advertising.
Search Engines and SEO
Prior to the Internet era, people would look to Yellow Pages directories to find potential sources for products and services they wanted to buy. If they wanted to do research, they would likely go to a public library, maybe even a bookstore.
Enter the World Wide Web.
Today, people are more likely to go to the Internet to search for sources and information, with their search being facilitated by search engines. A search engine is a computer program that searches a database for the desired information based on what the person enters into a query. Usually what is entered is a few words about the topic, product or service of interest. The search engine then returns a list of matching (or as close as possible) results with active hyperlinks to the website containing the information requested in the query.
Because a search can locate thousands, or even millions, of matching results, businesses who want to get their websites noticed want to be a close to the top of the results returned as possible. Including words that people are likely to type into a query can help move a website higher in the results list. The process of researching, monitoring and using specific query terms to improve placement in search results is called search engine optimization, or SEO. The words that people are likely to type in to find a website are called keywords.
While this sounds like an ideal and cost-effective Internet marketing process, there are downsides. Search engines' algorithms—the method used to process a user's query—may change over time. As well, the keywords people type into a query and the number of times people type in those terms can change frequently, making this process an ongoing necessity for online marketing.
Content Marketing and Blogs
One way that businesses can help get their websites noticed by the search engines, and ultimately sales prospects, is through content marketing. Content marketing is an inbound marketing strategy that utilizes online articles, white papers, reports, infographics, videos, social media posts, podcasts and other informational, educational and entertaining digital materials to attract prospects.
A blog (short for "web log") is a specialized content marketing website that offers site visitors online article posts, typically in chronological order with the most recent first. Blogs are usually centered on a particular topic of interest. This can help build a business' reputation in the market as an expert in the topic which can facilitate sales.
Almost as soon as email became widely available, marketers jumped onto the email marketing bandwagon. No more costs of printing and postage for direct mail and it goes right into customers' and prospects' email inboxes! Plus, the cost of sending an email broadcast can be mere pennies per message. Sounds perfect? Maybe.
Unfortunately, now that email has essentially become the de facto communication standard for every possible interaction, users are quite overwhelmed with the volume of email they receive, sometimes on the order of hundreds or thousands of messages almost daily. To deal with the onslaught, users delete lots of messages, including many sent for email marketing. Add to that the spam messages—electronic junk mail—that load up users' inboxes. Businesses that wish to market via email must now comply with federal CAN-SPAM regulations.
However, email is still a must-read communication medium for most everyone, which can offer marketers the opportunity to cost effectively reach out to potential buyers.
Social Media Marketing
Social media has changed the entire marketing landscape! It rolls together aspects of online chats, public relations, news, content marketing and curation, and blogging.
Unlike traditional marketing, social media marketing is an inbound marketing strategy. By posting status updates, information, news, multimedia files and links to relevant content, marketers seek to attract like-minded—and warm!—customer sales leads.
Though the platforms may be offered free, the time and effort investment in social media marketing can be significant and should be carefully evaluated and monitored.
Disclaimer: Any examples used are for illustrative purposes only and do not suggest affiliation or endorsement. The author/publisher has used best efforts in preparation of this article. No representations or warranties for its contents, either expressed or implied, are offered or allowed and all parties disclaim any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for your particular purpose. The advice, strategies and recommendations presented herein may not be suitable for you, your situation or business. Consult with a professional adviser where and when appropriate. The author/publisher shall not be liable for any loss of profit or any other damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential, or other damages. So by reading and using this information, you accept this risk.
© 2014 Heidi Thorne