So you startupped your online business, providing your customers with a better-quality, or cheaper, or simply with an original product that your competition isn’t able to match right now. You went through the high waves of product definition, you won your company or family support, you spent endless nights on a rough business plan.
Now, it’s time to get you some real customers.
Sources of online customers
When you aim to engage customers for an online venture, the web itself is often the sole ground where you should move. And, on the web, customers can come to your website mostly from three possible sources: referrals, organic search and paid ads.
Gaining referrals is a very hard marketing and PR job, which often requires specific skills and always a lot of dedicated time. It’s essential for every growing business, but it pays off in the long run (exception: viral products or services).
Organic search surely is the most satisfactory and preferable source of website visitors, because it means being one of the top results in relevant searches about the products or services you offer (something you would surely be proud of). But getting there is extremely difficult, as it implicates a thorough work on SEF (making your website very appealing and relevant to search engines) and on backlink construction (making your website linked to from popular or relevant sites). This process requires knowledge (about SEO, web design and marketing), or money (to hire a SEO specialist) and, in both cases, time (results start showing up after 2/3 months).
The problem with this is: if you don’t have already validated your business model, 2/3 months lost on the wrong track could mean FAIL.
Test as you wish in the paid ads world
Paid ads, like Google Adwords, are a lean way to test your business model right away with a fixed cost, letting you focus on the most important side of your job: enhancing your product or services, and improving your website conversion rate.
You can choose a daily budget, your target keywords, your target market, and try a couple of ad lines out. Provided that you make a good job on your choices, you’ll be dealing with potential customers in a few hours.
That’s great! But POTENTIAL customers don’t mean SURE bucks!
There are a few secrets that I learnt by startupping several web-based services and products using Google Adwords. Here they are.
Choose the right targets
The first thing to take into account is that, although the whole world can be your market, it’s sometimes unnecessary and wasteful to target it all. Take into account local primary languages, and avoid wasting money for ads on countries where your website language is not native (even if it’s English); always think in terms of conversion rates, and target your ads where you think that your product or service could be better accepted.
Pick specific long-tail low-cost keywords
As you gain experience with Google Adwords, you’ll notice that the most common keywords (the ones that come to mind when thinking about your product or service category) are often very expensive. The good news is that customers use common or general keywords (for example, “running shoes”) early during their online search (in a sort of “discovery-mode”, then narrowing their search using additional and specific keywords (for example, “Adidas A234 Running buy online”) when they feel more ready to buy. You’ll see that bidding against these long and specific keywords (called “long tail keywords”) is much cheaper and gets to you visitors that are more committed.
Work for high-conversion rates
Using Google Adwords you can easily get visitors (hopeful already committed to buying a product or a service similar to yours) to your website. Sure, you pay for them, but you know exactly how much each of them costs. This should drive you to the most important part of your job at this phase: getting to know your visitors, understanding their needs and, if these match with what you have to offer, push your conversion rates through the roof. To do this, you need to monitor your visitors’ behavior (learn everything you can about Google Analytics and conversion monitoring in Google Adwords), and make their stay on your website as smooth and productive as possible.
You should continuously monitor your Google Adwords data, to detect which ads, keywords and targets give you the most, dropping everything that lowers your conversion rate.
A great model for jump-starting online businesses
Using Google Adwords is a great way to bootstrap your online business, giving you space to test your business model at a fixed cost and with great monitoring tools. But remember: when your business starts working, and you become sure of your model, it’s important to complete your marketing guns with medium and long term strategies, like SEO and web marketing. If you don’t do this, your growth will hit a flat line pretty soon.