Using the Web to Get Your Message Across

Tips on Leveraging the Web from an Internet Marketing Consultant

by Tony Stoltzfus

        The internet is a fabulous tool for getting your message to a lot of new people. Whether you are spreading the word about your ministry or marketinga service business like a coaching practice, the web is a unique tool for reaching people across the globe at minima cost. There are two fundamental ways to market on the internet: creating a web site or blog (a place where people come to you), or using e-mail or newsletters (where you push your message out to them). Let's start with some tips on making a web site that actually works as a marketing tool for your coaching services.

Do You Need a Web Site?

        The first question to answer is whether you need a web site in the first place. If you already have more business than you can handle, you can do without. However, most beginning coaches find that their primary make-or-break challenge is generating a large enough clientele to pay the bills. Here are three key reasons why you may want to include a web site in your marketing strategy:

1.       Increase Credibility
One of the great things about the internet is that it makes small companies look big. A well-done web site gives you the look of an established, professional business, and tells potential customers that you do things with excellence. Just having a site and an e-mail address@yoursite.com on your business card tells people that this is a serious endeavor. If you need credibility, a site can help provide it.

2.       Provide Information
There is nothing like the internet to make information about you and your coaching practice available worldwide, 24 hours a day, for free, to anyone with an internet connection. If you need to provide basic info about what you do, a web site can be cheaper and more accessible than print literature or advertising in getting your message to the right people.

3.       Generate Clients
A web site can also be a tool for generating leads (potential clients). People today commonly use the internet to search for products and services—and with the right kind of marketing, their search might turn up you. Some coaches and consultants get a majority of their clients from the internet. You'll need to invest in both your site and in an internet marketing strategy (such as search engine positioning or cross-linking), but even minimal steps you can do yourself can drive people to your site

First Things First

        One of the most interesting things I discovered while working as an internet marketing consultant was that most people skip the most important step in the site-creation process. They get so focused on the technical and creative issues of designing a site that they never getting around to answering why they are building a site in the first place, and how it is supposed to work. That's tip #1: Create a marketing strategy first. Here are five key questions to answer to help develop your strategy:

1.       What do you want to accomplish by having a site? What one tangible result would make your site a real success?

2.       Create a profile of your customers. Who are they? What are their felt needs? What kind of help are they looking for?

3.       What exactly are you selling? What is your niche? (No one will find you on the internet if you are selling "coaching" -- that's too broad. The more specific your niche, the better.)

4.       What will you do to get people to go to your site? ("If you build it, they will come" is a wish, not a strategy.)

5.       How must you design your site so your target customers find your site and find everything they need on it to make a buying decision about your services?

Types of Sites

        One fundamental choice to make is how people will get to your site. A "Billboard" site is one where the primary way people meet you first and then go to your site for more. In other words, they get your web address from a brochure, business card, speaking engagement or personal conversation, and visit your site to get more information on you and your services. Create a billboard site if your primary marketing efforts are through networking, personal contacts or literature.

        If you want your web site to be more of a front door (where people find you on the web first and then get in touch with you), you'll need to set up and market your site to attract potential clients. Here's an analogy: your web site is like a print ad. You may have created a great ad, but the artwork alone won't sell anything: you have to place your ad in a magazine where people will see it. You have to promote a front-end site to get customers. "If you build it, they will come" just doesn't work.

Search Engine Submission

        So how do you promote a web site so your target customers find it? The most common way to promote your site is through the search engines—and search engine promotion is still largely free. While there are hundreds of search engines, only a few (Google, MSN and Yahoo are currently the biggest) get the vast majority of the traffic. So focus your efforts there. Most search engines still have pages (these days they are hidden where most users never see them) where you can simply type in your URL and in a few days or weeks the search engines "spider" will explore your site and list your pages. A great resource is www.searchenginewatch.comthey list these pages, plus a raft of tips and other info on using search engines to drive people to your site. Make sure and read through their "Search 101" pageit is extremely helpful.

Search Engine Optimization

        Submitting your sites to a search engine is child's play. The challenge is creating a site that the search engines will rank highly enough to show up on the first page or two of results where people will actually see it. While the way search engines work is constantly changing, here are ten tips for writing a great site:

1.       Look at the competition. What are other coaches that have good-looking (and top-listed) sites doing and saying? You can learn a lot about what should be on your site by studying others.

2.       Start with a set of keywords. Identify the five or ten phrases you think your target customers will use to search for your service, and sprinkle them liberally around your site. You may wish to use particular pages of the site to highlight a particular keyword.

3.       Name your pages using your search terms. If a key term for you is relationship coaching, make one of your page files www.yourdomain.com/relationshipcoaching.htm

4.       Keyword Location. Put your keywords in prominent places: the page title, the first paragraph on the site, the first words of the first paragraph. Search engines use the location of keywords in their rankings.

5.       Keyword Frequency. It is reasonable to assume that an article written about "life coaching" would include that phrase multiple times. make sure your keywords appear regularly throughout your text. On the other hand, repeating a keyword a dozen times in a row to try to manipulate a higher ranking for yourself may cause the search engine to penalize you for trying to cheat.

6.       Have useful content. Content is king on the web. include articles, links to other sites, blogs, etc. The more and better content you have, the better your site will tend to be ranked. It's fine to put information about you as a coach on your site. But info that is useful to more people than just buyers will attract more traffic.

7.       Make navigation easy. People come to web sites looking for information. If they don't find what they want right away, they go elsewhere. Include the kind of info your target audience is looking for, and put it at most one click away from your home page. Often you'll lose 50% of your potential customers for ever extra click they have to make to find what they want.

8.       Create page titles. Pages have hidden titles (they show up in searches and in the browser's title bar, but not on the web page itself). Put your key words into the page titles.

9.       Use meta tags. These are hidden fields like the page title that describe your page to the search engine. While they don't make as much difference as they used to, it is still worth having good descriptions (one short sentence including some key words) and 10 or 15 meta key words.

10.   Make your meta tags match your content. While some things will increase your score with a search engine, others will lower it - or can even get your site blacklisted from the index. The best practice is not to try to spam the search engine, but simple to have great content that people want and describe it honestly.

Linking Strategies

        Here's one last tip. Most search engine also analyze the links others make to your site to determine your ranking. In layman's terms, the more sites that link to you, the better. And the better ranked those sites are, the more they will pull up your rating. So find ways to get others to link to you. Cross-linking is one way of doing this: you say to a friend, "I'll link to your site if you link to mine." Or look for sites that provide lists of links to people in your industry: your coaching school may list you as a coach and provide a link to you, for instance.

        But the best way to get links is simply to have a site with great content, that people want to go to. Then you'll find people that don't even know you promoting your site for you.

Getting a Site and Getting Started

        Here are the three basic ways to create a site, with what they require in time, money and skills:

1.       Have a professional web designer create a custom site for you (least skill, but cost in the thousands and lots of your time)

2.       Use a template-based service with an on-line site builder(moderate skill, low cost but lots of time—you have to provide all the content)

3.       Do it all yourself (lowest cost but high skill and most time: you have to provide all the content plus learn web- and graphic design)

        Most coaches look at these three alternatives and end up doing nothing. The alternatives are either is too intimidating or take too much time and money. Let me give you a shameless plug for an exciting new option I've created with a partner, Coachloft.com. Web Coaching Solutions takes the template approach one better by providing templates (which normally include only the menus and page header) that also include your choice of several versions of site text, coaching photos, coaching quotes, articles on coaching, and a whole lot more.

        Here's what that means for you: you get low cost like a template site, a low skill requirement (like on a custom site, where the graphics and text are written for you by a professional), and a site that can take much less time to complete than any of these three alternatives. So if you want something that is fast, easy, inexpensive, but gives you more content than you could ever afford to create on your own, Web Coaching Solutions is a great choice. You can get "web site" checked off your marketing to-do list this week.

        So check it out: you can get a 14 day free trial and actually try your hand at building your own site before you buy.