The Unique Challenges of Marketing Online

by Jarie Bolander on August 15, 2011

A Guest Post by Andy Wallner

Ever since the tech boom in the late 1990s, Internet companies have been starting up each and every day. New opportunities emerge daily with the expansion and development of new technology like e-books, social networking and mobile computing. Becoming a successful company can be difficult for online and brick-and-mortar-businesses alike. However, web-based companies have a special set of challenges and circumstances that traditional businesses don’t have: their online presence takes precedence over everything else due to the fact they don’t have a physical location. Similarly, traditional marketing streams don’t necessarily have the same purposes for online companies, which is exactly why many marketing degree programs are focusing more and more on Internet marketing techniques. Here are some of the special challenges that face Internet companies:

Brand Awareness

Internet companies face a special challenge in regard to brand awareness. The nature of brand awareness has changed because traditional marketing streams no longer offer sufficient reach, and even for physically-based companies an online presence is necessary. To an extent, advertisements through traditional media like television, billboards, magazines and newspapers are still used, but in addition to other online aspects of companies’ marketing campaigns. Internet companies primarily use online marketing, but some websites have used traditional media forms as well. Brand awareness for a web-based company often requires extensive Internet marketing which takes time, money and expertise to develop properly. The delicate combination of drawing consistent traffic, good copywriting, strong SEO and a solid monetization strategy is something few Internet companies have been able to master.

Security Problems and Privacy Concerns

The Net is an open, vast, and expansive space that cannot be completely contained and secured. The very nature of the Internet creates opportunities for hackers and other miscreants who would take advantage of companies and vulnerable consumers. Internet companies must ensure customers that their data is secure when they place an order or make a purchase. It may be best for an online company to install and maintain the most up-to-date encryption and security technology available to product customers’ sensitive information. They must also protect the website itself from hacking, viruses, malware, and anything else that could prevent the site from functioning properly. Any type of online security breach that becomes publicly known could detract from the value of the brand and deter customers, especially if their credit card numbers, social security numbers, etc. are vulnerable.

Online services can also face information privacy issues related to their privacy policies because some websites do share information about users. User privacy questions have even been raised about major, well trusted companies like Facebook and Google because they sell users’ information in order obtain advertisers as a source of revenue. These are issues that every online company will face at one point or another.

Scalability, Expansion, and Upgrades

Because the Internet already represents an enormous market, and it continues to grow and expand, scalability quickly becomes a necessity for any online business. Internet companies can start small, but as they become more popular issues of scalability and expansion rapidly become more serious. If the company starts to get an extremely high volume of traffic it may need to purchase servers, hire additional staff members, or take other measures to ensure that increasing numbers of users can access and use the website.

Profitability and Monetization Strategies

Strategies for making money and maintaining profitable business are different for online companies as they lack a physical location that offers products and services directly to consumers. Internet companies can sell goods and services and promote their e-commerce through blogging, social media networking, and Internet marketing services, but each of these approaches requires some different monetization strategies. Blogs and social media networks are not immediately profitable because it takes time to establish a stream of enough traffic to gain appreciable money through simple advertisements. Even YouTube had to work to find a way to successfully integrate advertisements into their content without turning people off with intrusive ads.

Traffic Generation and Page Rank

Traffic and page ranking are significant issues for online companies, especially when they’re just launching a new site. Any online business needs steady traffic to produce substantial revenue from advertisers and ensure adequate sales. Traffic can be generated through application of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) techniques. SEO and SEM are basically a combination of Internet and social media marketing strategies such as blogging, optimized keyword placement, and Internet advertisements. Good SEO and SEM really take some time to show meaningful results as more users become more acquainted with the brand through social media, blog posts, and prominent search results. Spammy SEO tactics can be effective in the short term, but they are often penalized by Google and other search engines and can even result in a site getting blacklisted.

Page Rank (PR) is Google’s way of ranking and categorizing web pages in terms of their relative standing within topical search results. The formula behind PR is a proprietary secret, but volume of traffic is known to be significant. Any successful website must have a stable stream of traffic, and a high page rank is one quick indicator of a site’s health in terms of how many other sites are linking to it and how much traffic those links bring.

Both online and traditional companies must focus on developing and strengthening their online presence and strategy. However, Internet-based companies face a special set of challenges on the fronts of brand awareness, security, profitability, and traffic generation. There is no one solution for effective Internet marketing and monetization strategy, and indeed flexibility is critical to a successful company in order to navigate its own way through the shifting Internet marketplace.

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