Small businesses are too wary of Web marketing, expert says

Martin Smith helps companies develop strategic Internet marketing plans. But his small-business clients avoid creating plans because they think starting a business itself is hard enough.

"The problem is now, (small businesses) feel left out and behind. They think some special rules apply to Internet marketing and don't apply to their business," Smith said.

Rather than being intimidated by the ever-growing online world, owners of these ventures should embrace the Internet and use it as a means to further communicate their message, said Smith, who directs the marketing division at Atlantic Business Technologies, a Raleigh, N.C., Web development company. The most technologically successful small businesses know who they are, where they fit into their market, and how to keep their online message consistent with their in-store one, Smith said.

Here are some of Smith's edited ideas for smart and successful Internet marketing.

  • Keep your branding consistent: Making sure your brick-and-mortar and online presences align is essential. If you're confused about who you are and what you bring to the table, customers will be, too. "Confused customers do a lot of things. Buying isn't one of them," Smith said.
  • Refrain from the use of jargon: You won't be doing your customers — or yourself — any favors by using your company's jargon online. Instead, research what the needs of your area are and what other similar businesses are doing, and use similar language on your site to generate interest.

Smith and his colleagues use a process called "branding keywords," which helps identify words associated with viral marketing campaigns in certain areas and markets.

  • Watch for feedback: Online messages can be changed within seconds. If a particular blog post or advertisement goes up at 10 a.m. and isn't doing well by noon, you can take it down and tweak it until it works.
  • It can take a while to build up a Web presence. Have patience, and realize that once you do get there, the reward will be great.

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