Reaching an online audience
Local businesses use Internet to expand market
February 17, 2008
Steamboat Springs — Ever-improving technology means local businesses’ market share is no longer limited by geography, as local retailers and service-oriented businesses increasingly are taking their endeavors to the Internet.
Realtor Joanne Erickson of High Mountain Sotheby’s International Realty has been putting a Web site together for the past seven months to serve locals interested in buying real estate and would-be second homeowners from far-flung locales.
People already do a tremendous amount of online research when they’re buying or selling property, especially in Steamboat, Erickson said.
“They don’t want to get off the slopes to look at houses,” Erickson said. “If it’s a bad ski day, then they’ll come into the office.”
Erickson and dozens of other local businesspeople seeking to improve their online marketing attended Thursday’s Success Steps seminar to learn how to draw more traffic to their Web sites. The seminar was hosted by Colorado Mountain College’s Small Business Resource Center.
Brian Berry, co-owner of JBD Technology, led attendees through the complicated process of acquiring and maintaining online advertising, including “pay-per-click” advertisements on search engines such as Yahoo and Google. Advertisements show up next to search results based on keywords and other parameters set by the advertiser. Specificity is the key to generating sales rather than just paying for empty clicks, Berry said.
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“The more specific your keyword is, the less clicks you’re going to get – but you’ll get the best conversion rate,” Berry said.
Search engine advertising can be very effective but requires constant analysis and tweaks to generate the best results, Berry said.
There’s a significant learning curve for business ventures just moving into online marketing, and plenty of mistakes that can be made along the way, Yampa Valley SCORE volunteer Scott Ford said. Ford also is the co-founder of the Mountain Learning Network.
“It’ll cost you time or money, or both if you’re unlucky,” Ford said.
Pay-per-click advertising is very simple to set up, but it can be time-consuming to keep it effective and within your budget, said Peter Parsons, who runs a local consulting firm as well as Stash Pirates, a venture that sells “treasure maps” intended to help visiting skiers and snowboarders find secret powder pockets at the Steamboat Ski Area.
The Internet allows Parsons to market his niche product to a much larger audience than he can reach in the pair of local stores that carry his merchandise, he said.
Parsons buys pay-per-click advertising on both Google and Yahoo and tries to tailor his keywords so that his ads show up when future visitors are researching their trips to Steamboat.
Stash Pirates has as many as 30 different ads running on the search engines at any time, keyed to different groups and populations, Parsons said. Ads tied to January’s Ski Jam concert series, for example, were marketed to college students.
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