Everybody says that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. While this principle may hold water in the real world, online this tenet is anything but true. Let’s face it, the Internet is awash with low and no cost advertising solutions. Everything from blogging to social networking is 100% free. There are even free online TV Stations like YouTube that provide instant programming to a worldwide audience. So let me count the ways in which every business from startups to well-established firms can jump on the free advertising bandwagon online.
1. Free Websites – Simply Google “Free Websites” and you will encounter 1,920,000 results that include everything from free website templates to free hosting. While you can’t expect these websites to give you the kind of full court press SEO advantages of one that is professionally built, they can get even the smallest of businesses into the game. Plus, they can help take an established business to the next level online by providing landing page opportunities galore. Speaking of Google, the 800 lb gorilla in the room recently jumped into the website development business by launching their “Get Your Business Online” program, which covers domain registration, hosting and a tutorial designed to help neophytes design their own website. The first year is free, followed by a fee of $2 per month for the name and $4.99 per month for the hosting, starting the second year.
2. Blogging – Life is the ultimate reality show. As anyone who has ever watched HGTV knows, people love to watch other people work. It doesn’t take Hollywood to turn your business into must-see-online-tv. In fact it doesn’t take video at all (although it helps). The easiest way to generate an audience online is to document the drama that every business person goes through on a daily basis. The simplest way to accomplish this is via blog. With free blogging platforms such as blogger.com and wordpress.com being both available and time tested, creating your business’ online diary couldn’t be easier.
3. How Social is Your Social Networking? While social networks can be used to generate an audience and augment the bottom line, there is a right way and a wrong way to go about doing so. The best approach is to create an environment in which compelling stories, humorous insights and helpful hints about your business are produced and promoted online. The key is that unlike ad copy which is 90% pitch and 10% information, when it comes to social networking, this equation is turned on its head. In fact, the best way to turn a reader into a customer when using social networking is to show them that you are an authority who can save them time or make a problem disappear. Interacting with an ever growing audience is what social networking is all about. This is also a great place to link your blog and add photos and short videos of projects, before and afters and testimonial videos of happy customers.
4. Do You YouTube? While many businesses have a video or two on YouTube, the businesses that learn to feed this combination video portal/search engine/social network on a weekly or monthly basis are the businesses that generate most of the action. When it comes to breaking out of the box, online video can be your elevator to the top if employed properly. As with social networking, no one wants to watch a 60-second commercial online. What people want to see is what I refer to as “infotainment.” If you can entertain and inform your audience you will get your message across and have the opportunity build a vast audience who wait with baited breath for your next installment. Plus, since Google owns YouTube, by optimizing your videos, it is sometimes possible to jump onto page 1 or 2 of the world’s most popular search engine with video alone.
5. Craigslist - While this free advertising portal isn’t a be-all end-all for every business, any place you can plug in product and service offers, run free classified ads and in short milk this online cow for everything she’s worth, you should. I personally know a number of local retailers, etailers and auto dealers who think that Craigslist is the best thing since sliced bread. The trick of being a power user on this portal is to know how to phrase an ad and under which categories to post. The best advice I can give is to see what other power players are doing and emulate them.
While there are literally thousands of other free directories, portals and search engines out there onto which to hitch your online wagon, remember that in order for the web to work, you need to work the web. This means that if you want the Internet to feed your business, you need to feed a steady diet of content to the web. So the next time that someone tells you that, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch” show them this article and ask them if they want fries with that.
Carl Weiss is president of W Squared Media Group, a company that helps businesses maximize their online exposure. Carl also operates http://jacksonville-video-production.com a cutting edge viral video production facility. Carl can be heard live every Tuesday at 4pm Eastern on http://blogtalkradio.com/workingthewebtowin