Written by 11:10 pm Connections • One Comment

How To Find New Customers Online

How do you get your product or pitch in front of potential customers online? It comes down to “Where are your users?” and for each answer to that question “Can I afford to reach out to them here?”

Most people who know the gist of online marketing, but haven’t tried it, will say “Google Adwords!” Unfortunately Google ads are priced at exactly what companies bigger than yours with more cash to use can afford. Google is as close to the definition of an efficient market than anything that exists today.

Google is the easy answer because everyone goes there. It’s like the DMV. So soon after you get your site up and running you’ll come across one of those ubiquitous $100 Google Adwords coupons. You’ll apply that to your account and start poking around. Perhaps you’ll try a test of a little ad. Ten seconds later your budget is gone and you’ve had 14 clicks, the most promising of which meandered about for 30 minutes before stumbling on to your “Contact Us” page and writing you a dirty limerick.

Google is serious business.

So then, you’ll swim back to other side of the pool. Perhaps a $100 bucks deposited with 7search will get you farther.

And it does! You’re getting 80 clicks a day for like 4 bucks. One or two of those zombies even click something before disappearing into the aether. You look a little closer and see that the referrers are sites from which your visitors were just trying to escape.

How do you find real people that will visit your site on purpose?

I like to picture my potential customers and try to figure out where else they’re going online. Online groups and forums, professional networks and social media sites… a good place to look is first page of results for your core keywords. You know, those keywords you were going to bid on? Those results are usually within a click of a community that you can participate in.

The most relevant and affordable clicks I’ve ever gotten on an e-commerce site I run were from an answer on some random Q&A site. That site was the number 3 result for a highly competitive product name keyword. We’ll call it “Acme Widgets.” What was amazing is that the question “Where can I find the best price on Acme Widgets?” had been sitting there unanswered for months. So I logged in and answered the question with a link to the product page on my site. The link was a no-follow! This wasn’t SEO, this was telling people where to buy what they were looking for because they asked. It worked! Every day I would get a significant number of visitors from that page. They’d click around and add the stuff to their cart and occasionally actually check out.

I had been wholly concerned with getting my page in the blue ink on the top of that SERP on Google. I had bid on that term and lost copious amounts of money. It had slipped my mind that the reason I wanted to rank for that term was so I could connect with the customers searching for it. Getting off of Google and SEO forums and into the communities where my customers were interacting was more effective than any link building I had attempted.

Interestingly enough, it was also the best link building program I’d tried. It turns out that communicating with real people on the internet is a great way to get people talking about you in their forums, facebook walls, twitter streams and blogs.

There is a time for promotion and there is a time for communication. When your customers invite you to talk with them, I recommend you respond. It is time consuming and messy. Customers have odd questions and can be abrupt or dismissive. They can put you on the spot.

The idea of a marketing machine, whirring constantly in the background, leading customers down a narrow funnel with all their questions or objections snapped off with ruthless efficiency is alluring. Especially for introverts who are all to eager to trade the ambiguity of human interaction for the certainty of good math.

You can’t get to the math until you’ve done your measurements.

To tell you the truth, if you’re launching a new venture you will get more value from asking your customers questions than you will from giving them answers.

Try this, instead of using your $100 Google Adwords coupon to run ads for your products, run them to a survey landing page. On the survey ask what they think about the product, ask them how much they’re expecting to pay, ask them anything. Don’t forget to ask them for their email address. You don’t need to toss that address into a faceless newsletter pile. Read their answers and respond. You’ll learn how your real customers make decisions. You’ll see perspectives that you can’t emulate in an algorithm. And it’s fun!

Someday you hope to have the budget to broadcast your message across the web. You have a much better chance of getting there if you launch close to your customers and listen before pitching.

Other Ideas?

When you’re starting up a new venture, you often don’t have the cash to experiment and make mistakes in an expensive market like Google Adwords. What other traffic building ideas work when you’re on a tight budget? What have you tried?