Jeff has heard a handful of stories about small businesses that have been successful selling things on the Web, and he wants his business to have similar success, so Jeff calls an agency. He doesn't have a clue where to start, but he thinks he needs to tell the whole world about his online store that sells camping gear. So when he calls an agency, he tells them two things:
Jeff, I'm really happy that you've called my agency, but let's cover #1 before we cover #2. There's a process to all of this whiz-bang interactive marketing stuff, so let's be sure we know what we're doing and why before we go ramming our message down the throats of unsuspecting consumers.
The first step is to cover the areas where people are looking for products that Jeff sells. When people are looking for things on the web, they tend to go to search engines. People who are seeking you out are the bullseye of a series of concentric circles that represent your target audience. If someone wants to buy a Coleman stove, you don't care if they're 18 years old or 65, male or female, Caucasian or African-American. They just want to buy a Coleman stove, so let's cover those areas first.
Search terms are a good first step. Let's pick some keywords that reflect products Jeff sells. While we're at it, let's cover Jeff's store's brand name. We'll take a look at who's bidding on what to see if it makes sense to pay what the market is asking to get a click on a search term like "Coleman Stove" or "Jeff's Outdoor Store."
The bullseye isn't represented solely by keyword advertising, though. The inner circle consists of people who are seeking out what you're offering. Something as simple as having the right URLs is also a key to success. If someone hears about Jeff's Outdoor Store and wants to check it out, they should be able to get there quickly and with minimal hassle, so if you don't own the URL jeffsoutdoorstore.com, you should.
Jeff also needs to put himself into the shoes of people who already shop online and have favorite shopping areas that they visit regularly. Opening a storefront with Yahoo! works well. Getting listed with other shopping portals doesn't hurt either.
When you're present in a good majority of the areas where people expect to find you when they look for you, it's time to take a look at the circle of people right outside the bullseye. They're the folks who are likely to be interested in your products, but might not be looking for them right that second. Advertising on camping- and outdoor sports-related sites is a good idea. So is hooking up with a contextual ad service like Google AdSense. This will put Jeff in places where people who have an interest in outdoor sports are likely to be. Affiliate programs also address people who are in this particular circle. Jeff can get an affiliate program started and place a revenue-sharing-based offer on a lot of relevant sites this way. Jeff can also reach these people if he has lists of customer email addresses from people who have shopped with him before.
After covering the two innermost circles, Jeff can start going after people who aren't aware of his store and aren't seeking out his products, but fit the profile of someone who might. Starting with the outermost circles and working in represents a path to disaster. Most agencies can help with strategies and tactics that will help reach every concentric circle, but you need to start with the low-hanging fruit.