I’ve heard a lot of talk recently in the online marketing world about “findability,” or how easy it is to find a Web site or company online. The Internet is vast and growing; it currently contains at least 25 billion pages. Google engineers recently found 1 trillion unique URLs on the Web. The sheer number of pages our there is downright incredible. What findability gets to is how well you match your company to potential customers that are looking for you or what you sell. How do you stand out in what I affectionately call "the online garbage heap"?
When I think about reaching the niche markets we serve and driving relevant traffic to our Web sites, I focus on the following question: “What are the most critical places for my presence, and how can I reach potential customers where they are most open to my message and products?” In my case, it's reaching police officers, firefighters or paramedics that are looking for news, products and information, and who are likely to become members of our sites. For most of my customers, it's tracking down first responders looking for or researching the products they sell, which could include anything from body armor and AEDs to fire apparatus and tasers.
For niche marketers, I recommend the following framework for evaluating different types of online marketing options. When thinking about my online strategy for each of the markets we serve, I look very closely at the following online environments and ask myself how well each of these provide access to potential customers:
Portals (PoliceOne.com, FireRescue1.com)
The best portals provide a highly targeted and qualified audience that is deeply engaged in the content they are accessing. Visitors tend to be highly loyal and return frequently. They also tend to be the more savvy, professional and engaged member of the community you are targeting and often visit portals looking for you or information on the types of products you sell. Portals also offer great opportunities for product education and lead generation if configured to make you “findable”. Look for the market leaders with the best content and the leading expert contributors and be careful of the numerous wannabe sites that merely repurpose print content or run-of-the-mill news.
Search Engines (Google, Yahoo)
Using search engines, either through SEO or CPC buys, is all about making your company and products immediately accessible. It works best when you have a call to action or are looking for straight conversions, particularly if customers are already familiar with your product or brand. Search engines and portals (described below) are the first places customers go when looking to buy products and since that’s where they are searching, that’s where you want to be found.
Associations (ILEETA.org, NVFC.org, NAEMSE.org)
Associations offer highly targeted access to their members. Most are small and not very web savvy, but do have a web presence. I recommend reaching out to those most relevant to your customers to see whether they have a newsletter in which you could buy exposure or in which they would be willing to trade links or post press releases. Many will do so for free.
Social Networking Sites (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter)
Mining social networking sites for potential customers can be a constructive guerilla marketing tactic, but also a huge waste of time. Ask yourself if your facebook fans are really potential customers or if they care at all about your products and brand. If you have twitter followers, who are they? If you have a niche product and only a small percentage of the market you serve could be a potential customer, make sure that your social networking is reaching that customer. If so, it can be a nice marketing channel. If not, don’t bother.
I like the term “findability” because it goes far beyond simple SEO or Cost per Click buys and takes a holistic look at your customers and the behaviors they exhibit online. It’s a nice concept to force you to think not just about where you find your customers, but when and where they can find YOU.