Let’s get right to the bottom line–online marketing for a home based business can make the difference between success and failure. Marketing your business online can also make the difference between making a lot of money and making just a little money. And the benefits of online marketing are real even for small businesses that cannot sell their products or services online. Whether you have a franchise, are a realtor, a solo lawyer, or sell products from your home, online marketing can drive customers and clients to your door. Online marketing can also drive customer’s to your competitor’s door. In this article I’m going to describe the first steps you can take to easily and effectively harness Internet marketing to improve your small business.
To make this as concrete as possible, I’m going to use a real life example. And I’ve chosen one that is about as offline as they come–a lawn care business. A good friend of mine purchased a lawn care franchise about two years ago. He has been in the business working for other companies for many years, and he knows more about lawns and plants than anybody I’ve ever known. Because of his contacts in the community, he has done very well since buying the franchise. But with a well planned and executed online marketing strategy, he could do even better.
The goal of online marketing is to drive potential customers to your website. In the case of a lawn care company, the website would provide information about the company and have multiple ways to contact the company for an estimate (e.g., email, telephone, fax, online form). But the starting point is driving traffic to the site. You can have the best looking site of any lawn care company in the world, but without targeted traffic, it won’t improve your business.
So in this article, we are going to look at how you would begin an online marketing strategy for a home based business that doesn’t sell products or services online.
Step 1: Stop worrying about how to build a website
If you are like me, the first thing you do when confronted with anything new and somewhat challenging is to list all of the problems and obstacles. If the first thing that comes to your mind is that you have no idea how to build a website, put that thought out of your mind for now. In my make money blogging series, I am walking step by step on how to build a money making blog. Now I know what you’re thinking–what does blogging have to do with my home based business? Answer: Everything.
WordPress is software that runs most blogs, but you should not thinking of it as blogging software. It’s really a content management system, and you can use it to build what most would consider to be traditional websites rather than blogs. The benefit is that it’s very easy to use and is designed to publish your site’s content to Google and other search engines very effectively. I’ve written detailed articles walking through step-by-step how to set up a website using WordPress, and you’ll find links to these articles at the end of this post.
Now if you still can’t get the building a website part of online marketing out of your mind, then talk to your son or daughter because they likely can build the site. And if that doesn’t work out, call your local high school’s computer science teacher. He or she can recommend dozens of students who can help you without costing you an arm and a leg. And of course, you can always contact me.
Step 2: Keyword research for your business–brainstorming
Keywords are the heart and soul of online marketing. Keywords are the words and phrases that a potential customer types into Google, Yahoo!, or another search engine to find your home based business. Effective online marketing requires some research and creative thinking to list the keyword phrases that best describe your product or services. Don’t worry about what we will do with the list of keywords once we have created it. For now, just keep in mind that once we know our primary keywords, the next step will be to build a website that appears on the first page of Google when a potential customer searches using our primary keywords.
The first place to start our keyword research is simple brainstorming. So what keyword phrases might a potential customer use to search for a lawn care company? Here are some that come to mind: lawn care, lawn care company, lawn care service, lawn care professional, yard care, yard care company, yard care service, and yard care professional. We could certainly come up with many more, but let’s stop there. As you can see, there is a lot of repetition in the keywords, and that is to be expected. Once you’ve exhausted your creativity, it’s time to use some online keyword tools to help come up with some additional ideas.
Step 3: Keyword research for your business–online keyword tools
One of the best (and free) online tools is Google’s AdWords Keyword Tool. The tool is very easy to use. In the middle box I entered on separate lines “lawn care” and “yard care.” The results return a long list of other suggested keywords. And for each keyword the tool shows its relative search volume (how many times people search using that keyword) and how competitive the keyword is among Google advertisers. Here’s what the top part of the list looks like (click image to enlarge):
Now already the tool has introduced some new concepts that may prove very effective, such as the keyword “organic.” If the lawn care products used by my friend are organic (and they are), then that is certainly a keyword to add to the list. We can also see the plural form of company and business, and there are different word orders (e.g., professional lawn care versus lawn care professional). So this one tool will provide you with more than enough keyword research about the products or services you sell.
Before we move to the next step, I should mention one paid keyword tool that is just terrific: WordZe. If you are just setting up one site to promote your offline business, I wouldn’t recommend a paid tool. If, like me, you are making money online, than a tool like WordZe is invaluable. It not only gives you a wealth of keyword ideas, but it also estimates how much traffic each keyword receives and how competitive each keyword is. By clicking here you can try it out for one day at $7.95 or sign up for a monthly membership at $35.
Step 4: Keyword research for your location
This is where online marketing for many home based businesses differs from Internet marketing. Unless your business sells products or services that can be delivered anywhere, you will need to refine your keywords to the locations where you sell them. While this may initially appear as a big limitation, geographic specific keywords actually offer huge benefits that we’ll discuss in a moment. In our lawn care example, we’ll assume the business is located in Columbus, Ohio (Go Buckeyes!). Immediately several keywords would come to mind such as Columbus, central Ohio, Buckeye, and the various suburbs of Columbus. Particularly for real estate agents, you should also consider keywords related to school districts and the names of local housing developments.
With our long list of product or service specific keywords and geographic specific keywords if appropriate, now what?
Step 5: Use keywords to select your site’s domain name
Having completed all this keyword research, the result is a very long list of keyword combinations. So what do you do with this list? It actually serves several purposes, and the first is to help you select a domain name for your site. The important key here is to keep it simple. So out of your long list of keywords, which best describe what you offer to your customers? In the case of my friend’s business, either lawn care or yard care would be good choices.
With WordZe, I can look both keyword phrases up to see which one gets more traffic. Any guesses on which one gets the most traffic? According to Wordze, “lawn care” is searched 16,901 times a month and “yard care” is searched 8 times a month. I generally find that WordZe underestimates the frequency of searches, but it is great at assessing the relative value of keywords. Needless to say, between the two we should focus our attention on “lawn care.”
Now to address the location of the business. Because in our example we are focused only on central Ohio, a domain such as www.centralohiolawncare.com may be a great choice. It’s a bit long, but our traffic won’t come from people typing in the domain name; it will come from search engine results where users simply click a link to come to our site. There are at least two important considerations when deciding whether and how to add location to your domain name.
First, is the domain name available? Every day more and more domain names are taken, leaving fewer and fewer choices. As it turns out, www.centralohiolawncare.com is available. How do I know? I checked at Godaddy. In contrast, www.lawncare.com is not available. By adding location to your domain, you focus the relevance of your site and increase the likelihood that the domain is available. Location specific keywords are also usually less competitive and can drive more targeted traffic to your site. The search volume won’t be as high as more generic keywords, but you’ll get traffic that converts to customers, which is the goal of online marketing.
Second, you must consider branding. You may have a company name that you want to promote. As your company name becomes more well known in the community, potential customers will type your company name followed by .com into a browser and expect to got to your site. There are several ways to address this issue. You can have a domain that matches your company name and redirect it to your keyword rich domain. You can run two websites. You can also not use a keyword rich domain, and instead focus on branding your company name. The downside to this approach is that it likely will take longer to rank for your primary keywords.
One final thought on keyword rich domain names. They are a lot like good wine–a little can be healthy for you, but drink a lot and you’ll wake up in a strange place with your pants on backwards. My point is that you should avoid domains like www.centralohiogobuckeyeslawncareandyardcarebestservice.com. Your domain is just one of many factors that determine how search engines rank your site for your primary keywords. The Dough Roller ranks very well for many keywords that obviously are not in my domain name.
So now what? With your list of keywords and your domain name chosen, it’s time to start building your site. I would build it in WordPress, and you can check out these articles for a step-by-step guide on how to do it:
- How to Set Up a WordPress Blog
- How to Optimize a WordPress Theme
- How to install SEO WordPress Plugins
One final thought. I highly recommend Bluehost to host your website or blog. It’s what I use for the Dough Roller, and their technical support has been excellent. If you use one of the Bluehost links on this site to sign up for hosting and have any problems installing WordPress or getting your site up and running, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Published or updated March 23, 2012.