You’ve put a lot of time, energy, and money into your business. You’ve developed a fantastic product or service, and you’re ready to launch. But you need customers. Clients. People willing and eager to hand over their cash. One of the biggest obstacles facing a new business is just getting the word out there. No matter how perfect everything else is, if no one knows about it, it doesn’t really exist.
In the world today, that means having an online presence. You need a website. Gone are the days when a company website was a nice little extra to have for your customers. It’s an absolutely crucial component to your marketing plan today. You can spend a small fortune on a website and its marketing…
Or you can do it all for free. In the early days of starting your business, you may not have the capital necessary to design, build, and advertise your online platform. Thankfully, there are many decent and free alternatives to spending more money.
Just so we’re clear, though, investing in your business website and advertising is well worth it. You should update and upgrade as soon as you’re financially able to do so.
WordPress is the de facto king of the website world. While the system is free, you’ll need to pay for hosting and a domain name if you want your own web address (e.g. flowersbyflora.com). That can add up.
If, however, you need something as a placeholder while you build your customer base, turn to the free version of WordPress. It’s not as feature-rich, and your URL will include “wordpress” in it, but still: it’s 100% free. Alternatively, you can check out either Wix or Weebly, both of which will help you build and host a simple website.
But this is not a case of “if you build it, they will come”. A website is pointless unless people visit it. And to get visitors to your virtual doorstep, you’ll need to advertise.
Many companies pay for targeted ads using Google AdWords, Bing Ads, Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. Look into them when you can. You design an ad (for your business in general to promote a sale or specific product, or whatever), choose a target audience (your ideal customers), and set a daily budget (which can be as low as a few dollars per day). They work.
But if you’re more interested in controlling costs at this point, there’s no shortage of websites to advertise your business for free.
1. Google My Business
In order for people to find your website, it has to be visible to the search engines. The big three – Google, Bing, and Yahoo! – all provide simple and free ways to get on their radar.
Google is the undisputed king of online search traffic, with over six billion searches conducted each day. Google AdWords is a paid service to bring targeted traffic to your site, but that’s not the only option. Google My Business is fast, free, and easy. You sign up with your Google account (the same one you use for Gmail) and then provide a brief description of your business, the preferred contact details, address and work hours, and then upload a logo or photos. Once done, your business is visible to Google and anyone using its search engine, maps, or Google+ platform.
2. Bing Places for Business
Microsoft’s Bing is a distant second in the search engine wars, but it still controls about a third of the North American search traffic. That’s nothing to turn your back on. Bing Places for Business acts much the same as its Google equivalent. Sign up, claim or create your business profile, and verify the details.
3. Yahoo! Local Listings
In third place – but still not something you want to ignore – is Yahoo! It’s actually powered by the Bing engine but functions as a separate entity. Yahoo! Local Listings provides a free basic entry option (but if you want to add photos and a brief description, it’ll cost you $10 per month).
4. Facebook Pages
Social media platforms are the most popular sites on the web. Hundreds of millions spend hours each day on them. That’s too big a potential market not to engage. Your business should be active on at least a few of them. It’s free, so you’ve got no reason not to be there. Create a Twitter, Pinterest, or Instagram account, and link back to your website. Share content, updates, sales, and coupons on them. Engage and connect with your customers.
If you only choose one, make it Facebook. As of the first quarter of 2015, it has 1.44 BILLION active users. It allows you to create a business or company page. Do that. Link to your site. Then share, connect, engage, and respond to your customers there, too. You can even opt to pay a few dollars per day for Facebook Ads (which allow you to get your page or special promotion in front of your specified audience), but you definitely don’t have to pony up the cash if you don’t want to. A business page is – and will always be – free.
5. Yelp for Business Owners
Yelp is a popular online review site for businesses of every type. As a business owner, you can create a profile for or claim your business, respond to user reviews, and launch Yelp Deals (coupons and specials to entice visitors to become paying customers). The site claims 89 million unique visitors each month as well as an $8,000 average incremental gain in revenue from claiming a Yelp page and an average annual revenue increase of $23,000 by Yelp advertisers.
An incredibly influential site for travelers and tourists, TripAdvisor for Business allows you to claim or create a profile (typically for either hotels or restaurants, but also other points of interest in places around the world), interact with customer reviews, update your details and photos, and utilize their performance trackers. The company sees 375 million visitors per month and contains over 250 million reviews and opinions on 52 global sites in 28 languages. That’s a lot of potential.
7. Merchant Circle
Merchant Circle allows users to find local businesses, read reviews on them, get directions to them, download coupons, and request quotes on services. The businesses are organized in various categories. While not as big as some of the others (it currently has about 1.7 million registered merchants), it did see 100 million visitors last year. Claim or create your profile for free.
8. Yellow Pages
Remember the Yellow Pages? Back in the day, we used big, heavy books made with yellow paper to find products and services. These days, however, the Yellow Pages brand has migrated online. Register your business for free, and be found, be contacted, and create and track coupons for potential customers. There’s even a YP for Business App for Android and iOS devices offering a slew of other features and services.
Manta is “the place for small business” and the fastest growing business website with 20 million customers using it to find products and services each month, and 1000+ new businesses signing up every day. You need to be one of those. Signing up is fast and free.
It may not be as popular as it was a few years ago, but Foursquare can still get it done. It’s a social media platform where users can “check in” at your location and leave a review or comment for others to see. As an owner, you can claim (or create) a business and update details in addition to creating live deals to be pushed out to users and those already at your location.
Finding places to advertise your business is the easy part. These ones offer free listings that link back to your website. In the virtual, mobile world we live in, that’s worth its weight in gold. Or platinum. Or vintage Star Wars action figures still in their original packaging. Or whatever else you consider valuable.
There’s no limit to how many you use, although remember to stay active on each and to keep them up-to-date. It’s best to choose a few that appeal to you and your target market most.
Did we miss any? What free sources have you tried to advertise your business website? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below!