Invite People In

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This column begins a series on promoting your e-commerce website. Let's ease into the world of advertising by dealing first with the offline advertising you're already familiar with: print, direct mail, sponsorships, etc.

Promote Your URL

Make sure your site's URL is slapped on all ads and on anything your customers see or take away from you. As you get your head around the idea of offline advertising for your online business, you'll begin to realize why you should have chosen a URL that's short and easy to remember. No one wants to have to write down or remember www.crazybobsmotorworldpartsemporiumsuperstore.com. Not only that, it's not going to fit on a bumper sticker!

In advertising, your URL is one of the most important things that you need to communicate. I even would go so far as to say that it's more important for people to remember your URL than your company name. Of course if your company name is something like Buy.com or Amazon.com, they are one and the same.

Broaden Your Reach

Regardless of how much advertising and marketing you're used to doing in your local market, start thinking on a national or even global level now that you're online. Figure out how to leverage your advertising budget so that you can advertise in national publications. Learn how to communicate a unique selling proposition or call to action in your print ads to get readers to enter your URL into their web browser to see what you're all about.

Think about how to advertise and communicate to other regions. For example, if your dealership is in the Northeast, and there's not a lot of riding going on during a month like March, think about shifting your promotional dollars to advertise in a publication that has a concentrated distribution in the Southwest or the South. That's one of the great things about running an online business in our industry: You can use the global reach to help hedge against seasonal fluctuations in your local business.

Keeping Tabs

As with all advertising, it's a good idea to track the effectiveness of your offline advertising. You can often offer a deal in the advertisement if they visit a special URL or "landing page."

The landing page is different from how people normally get to your site. In fact, you want this page not to be indexed in any search engines or known anywhere else so that you can be sure that anyone hitting it had to come from your offline ad.

For example, if your main address is www.soopermotoparts.com, you could register another domain like www.soopermotopartsdeals.com. You advertise this secondary address, and all traffic to www.soopermotopartsdeals.com would be redirected to your main site.

The trick is that your server can keep track of the number of hits to the secondary domain during your advertising campaign to judge its effectiveness.

You can also do this by creating a special page on your main site like www.soopermotoparts.com/specialpage.html and advertise that address. This can often fail, however, because a lot of people will just type the main domain, and you'll lose visibility. You see big companies doing this a lot. Check out Dell's ad next time on TV, and you'll probably see something like www.dell.com/tvoffer.

Don't get too hung up on this because the measurement is not foolproof. Use it mainly as a go/nogo gauge for broad campaigns or to measure the response rate in a new publication to determine whether it's worth continuing.

Next month: the trials and tribulations of e-mail marketing.