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Advertise Your Small Business Online

Small businesses are turning to online advertising more and more, because it's cost-effective and a pretty good way to target your marketing ads to a specific audience. Although your website is probably your best small business marketing tool, other options include search and banner ads, and increasingly, interactive and video ads.

Online advertising is a push-marketing vehicle in a pull-marketing world.

  • Push marketing involves pushing messages and products at customers by interrupting them and prompting them to take the action you’re promoting. Push marketing is one-way communication: You talk and your customer listens and, ideally, takes action. Most often, push marketing takes place through mass-media advertising, direct mail, online banner ads, and cold calls to prospective customers.

  • Pull marketing involves developing consumer interest by providing entertaining or educational messages that pull attention toward your business, often via your website.

    In today’s screen-connected marketplace, pull marketing is interactive; it’s two-way communication that begins with information, usually referred to as content, that you originate and customers encounter through search engines, referrals, and social media. From there, customers take over by clicking a provided link, reaching out by phone or in person, and, best of all, passing your message on to others through online or off-line sharing.

The danger in using online advertising is that web users hate the intrusion of ads that interrupt their online activity. But — and here’s the key to success — when an ad provides entertainment or information they embrace, it pays off doubly: once with a good impression and once with a click-through to your website.

Online marketers call push marketing outbound marketing and pull marketing inbound marketing. HubSpot, a repository of inbound marketing software, research, and free tools, puts it this way: Outbound marketers buy, beg, or bug their way in, while inbound marketers earn their way in with valuable content that customers find, share, and act upon online.

Banner ads for small business marketing

Banner ads are the narrow image ads that run across third-party websites. When viewers click on the banner (called a click-through), they go directly to the advertiser’s site.

Interest in banner ads waned largely due to consumer resistance until a Google program allowing banner ads on sites that participate in the Google AdSense program re-inspired interest in the format. Here are some factors that influence the effectiveness of a banner ad:

  • Creative design: This includes questions that invite interaction, free offers, and good use of colors.

  • Targeted placement: Place ads on sites your prospects are likely to visit.

  • Frequency: Place a number of ads with similar messages. Try them out and then quickly — within a day or two — watch click-throughs to see what’s working and yank all but the top performers.

A distant cousin to the banner ad is the pop-up ad, which appears in your browser window when you open some web pages. Pop-ups (and pop-unders, which hide beneath web pages) represent only a small percentage of online advertising, largely because consumers rank them among the least popular of all advertising approaches. Pop-up blocking software is in wide use, and Google, for one, doesn’t allow pop-up ads on its site.

Pay per click (PPC) ads for small business marketing

Whenever a small ad appears in the margin of a search engine or social media page inviting you to click for more information, the advertiser pays only if you take the bait and click to reach the advertiser’s site.

Search ads for small business marketing

Each time a search engine displays results of a search, it also displays a lineup of all-text ads focusing on the same keywords as those in the search. Google AdWords and Microsoft adCenter (representing Bing and Yahoo!) are the leading search ad program providers.

Follow the on-site instructions at either site to choose the language for your ads, the geographic areas you want to target, and the keywords you want your ad matched to. Then write a short ad, followed by the URL of the page you want respondents to land on.

A companion program to AdWords is the AdSense advertising program, which allows high-traffic information sites to earn revenue by displaying AdWords ads on their web pages.

Social media PPC ads for small business marketing

Social media ads work a lot like search ads, except they target specific people rather than topics. As the social media landscape is constantly changing, here are sites to visit for current advertising information and instructions:

Almost every social media network has a way to let you place your ads before its members’ eyes. Just enter the name of the network along with the word “advertising” in a search engine to find the latest and necessary advice.

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