According to the U.S. Census Bureau there are now more than 1.6 million Hispanic-owned businesses in the United States generating approximately $222 billion in revenue for the economy. Despite the numbers, and the fact that this segment is growing exponentially, few resources and information are readily available today to help Latino entrepreneurs start, run and grow their businesses.
Because more and more Hispanic SMBs are now online with some type of Internet presence, there is a need to provide best practices and sound advice on how to monetize and build successful online businesses. This document address that need in five easy steps. It provides insights into:
o Monetizing your online presence
o Leveraging Blogs and Wikipedia for marketing purposes
o Free content sources for your site and
o Cost-effective, proven web site traffic-building tactics
Rather than a “deep dive” into each of these topics (each of which could be the subject of its own White Paper), this document is intended to provide a uniquely Hispanic angle to the opportunities that the Internet offers today to the Latino entrepreneur.
I. Turning your content into Dinero with Search & Affiliate Marketing
One of the hardest things for U.S. companies of all sizes is to produce content that is relevant to Hispanic online audiences. I cannot tell you how many times in the last few years I ran into Marketing executives of Fortune 500 companies that asked me things like: “Do you know anybody that can produce good copy in English for the Hispanic market?” Or “Do you know if Spanglish is appropriate for X segment of the Latino demographic?”
Meanwhile more and more Hispanic entrepreneurs are publishing sites that, unbeknownst to them, could generate new revenue flows for their businesses. You see, it turns out that there are thousand of advertisers out there that are willing to pay money to reach your site’s visitors and the way this is done today is through Paid Search and Affiliate Marketing. Let’s look at each of these so that we can begin to understand how you could to turn your content into Dinero:
The model is actually quite simple. The way search engines such as Google generate a good part of their revenues is by charging advertisers for clicks from their search results to the advertisers’ site. This is what is commonly known as “paid search”. Yahoo! and Microsoft’s MSN are also players in this space.
Search engines evolved this concept to the embedding these key words on third party sites and to share some of the revenues with the site’s owner. So how does this work exactly? Let’s say that an airline is interested in reaching consumers that are interested in flying to Mexico. Meanwhile you run a site with content about Mexico. You can open a Google AdSense account and by simply adding a line of code to your web site, Google will add a text link to the airline’s site. Any time a visitor to your site clicks on the text link, both Google and you make money. How much? On a single click probably not much more than a few cents. The game however gets interesting as you build traffic to your site. A couple of things you should know:
o With Google in particular, you have to accumulate at least $100 in AdSense commissions before they pay you. If your site has very low traffic, this could take months.
o If you click on the words yourself, Google will close your account pronto! They know when you do it and so resist the temptation por favor.
o Not every click through pays the same. I have seen Google pay $1.00 plus on a single click. It’s all function of how much their advertisers are willing to pay for those clicks. It is demand and supply and you as a publisher do not always know how they come up with your commission. Don’t worry about it; just be happy that you get paid.
o Lastly, Google is not the only player in the space (just the biggest one). Yahoo! is also an option for you.
Online Affiliate Marketing, like paid key words, is also a pay-per-performance revenue model. Basically, advertisers pay large affiliate networks (such as Commission Junction and LinkShare) for conversions generated by sites that belong to the network. Que? It works like this: the affiliate network provides your site with banners and text links to sites of merchants that offer products of interest to your visitors. Whenever one of your visitors clicks on the banner or text and actually ends up ‘converting’ (i.e. buying a product, registering et cetera), the affiliate network pays you a commission.
Example: you have a site for home based entrepreneurs. You set up an account with an affiliate network and they provide you with banners for a PC manufacturer. Clearly a PC is a product that could interest the owner of a home-based business. And so if one of your visitors clicks on the banner and ends up buying a PC from the advertiser, the affiliate network will pay you a commission.
Now, this model is great for the advertiser because they are only paying out if a conversion takes place. If there are no sales, they are still getting millions of free impressions from the publishers in the network. So the question is: why is this so great for me? One reason is because if you have unused real estate in your site and decent traffic, you may earn some revenue which was not there before.
Naturally, it is a lot easier to make money from a program like Google’s AdSense than it is from affiliate marketing and that explains in part why the former is so much more popular than the latter.
One consideration in either case is the possible impact to the aesthetics of your site if you add key words or banners to it. This is not for you if your company has with a fancy Flash site.
II. Blogging Yourself to Fama
So what’s all the ruido about Blogs? It is simple: Blogs have made it possible for every day people like you and me to become publishers and content providers. This, coupled with the ease with which you can set one up, is why they have become so popular. So why are they important for a Hispanic business owner? Well, it just so happens that you may know more about a specific subject than just about anyone else and someone out there is interested in that knowledge and your opinion.
Blogs then are a great tool for you to become a recognized, visible subject matter expert. Even if your blog does not establish a huge following, it can give the credibility that often times is so important in getting new customers. Now, I will be honest, if your business is a landscaping business chances are that running a Blog will not help you much in getting new customers. You may still want to maintain a Blog for your own benefit, but it will not be a lead generator for you.
On the other hand, if you are in one of many services professions – specially one that is marketing to large corporations or other audiences that you know are online – then a Blog is a great tool for establishing yourself as an authority in your field.
As an added benefit, a Blog can help you drive traffic to your site since you would normally point a link to your site from your blog. This is particularly effective if over time your Blog begins developing a following. You will find that over time other bloggers will begin linking to your Blog, which means increased awareness and traffic for your business. By the way, you can also monetize your Blog like you would any other site by adding Google AdWords to your Blog,
Ready to start your Blog? Set one up quickly and easily with free services like Blogger.com.
III. Content? It’s Gratis !
You’ve heard it before: “Content is King.” And it is true: nothing keeps customers glued to your site like good, relevant, up to date content. Your site may be good for a visit or two but if you really want customers to build a relationship with your company and your brand, you need that fresh content.
Problem is that most of us are not exactly content production machines. Many of us seem to us struggle with producing even the copy for the company’s brochure. If we were in the business of producing great content every day, we would be running Univision or Telemundo.
Here’s the good news: online content syndication has changed all that and today your site can benefit from frequently updated, relevant news and content pushed to your site without you moving a finger.
So how does that work? Simple: you can add news and content to your site by simply adding some html code from news “syndicators” like Yahoo! and Google. Take the home page of HispanicSMB.com for example. The news on the home page are updated several times a day but the content is “pushed” by Yahoo! News without any work on my part. The best thing is that you pick the subject – any subject – and whenever the wires and PR distribution services release a news item related to your preferred subject, your page is updated “automagically”!.
Let’s say your site is all about tortillas and you want the greatest and latest news about tortillas on your site. Simply visit news.yahoo.com, do a search on “tortillas” and on the results page look for the XML icon. Copy and paste the code behind this icon onto your site and listo!! Google News also offers this feature.
Want more? Now major news and media giants like Reuters are getting into the game and have started to offer free video feeds for 3rd party sites.
Of course nowadays everybody is getting into the content game (as we discussed above) and so you are not limited to big news sources to enrich your site with great content. You can also add Blog feeds to your site and use great content from others in your site. Por que no?
IV. Wikipedia: More than Colaboración
Many people think of Wikipedia simply as an online encyclopedia; a place for the kids to do their homework. Turns out it is much more than that: it could be one of your best online marketing tools. Why? because Wikipedia is not “owned” by any one individual editor and this means that provided you have somewhat of a brand or story behind your company or its owners, there is an opportunity to let this great tool tell the world about it.
Let’s take for example the now famous Homies figurines. Now, I love the Homies, but I would say that they are hardly in the same category as Cesar Chavez or Einstein (both extensively written up in Wikipedia). But sure enough there is a complete entry in Wikipedia about the Homies, complete with a hyperlink to the product’s official web site.
Now, I am not sure who actually added the entry. All I can I say is that searches for Jarritos, Goya Foods and Fernando Espuelas all returned comprehensive write ups. Now, a word of caution, “vanity” Wikipedia entries are not allowed and so this tactic may not be appropriate for every company and entrepreneur out there. But provided that your company has an up and coming brand or you are an up and coming entrepreneur, then this may be the right thing for you.
To get started, simply create a Wikipedia account (it is free) and start familiarizing yourself with this fascinating collaboration tool and all it has to offer.
V. Build Traffic the Cheapo Way
Ah … the million dollar question: so, how do I build great, sustainable traffic to my site .. without spending tons of money? Well, by now you probably know that it is not easy, unless you happen to be sitting on the next mega-viral, social networking site. The good news is that it is possible. However much like building your business, it will take some work and some time. Also keep in mind that that the most effective tactics will do no good unless your product and or content are any good. But assuming that there’s a market / audience for your goods, here are some tactics that could bring you incremental traffic and business to your site:
o Search. We all want to be on that top search results spot in Google and Yahoo!. But the truth is that it is not that easy and in fact an entire industry has blossomed around helping companies get a top search engine ranking. However there are a couple of things you can do to help your search position. First, be sure to re-submit your site at least 2-3 times a year. Search engines are constantly changing the algorithms that assign a site its ranking and so it is a good practice to re-submit your site every now and then.
Another good practice is to reach out to those few that have the top rankings in the search results page and request a link from their site to yours. Here’s a great example: as of November 2006 a Google search for “hispanic small businesses” yielded the smallbusinessnotes.com site as the top result. This is the position I have always wanted for my site but in lieu of getting this spot we managed to get a hyperlink from that site to ours thus getting some nice “flow through” traffic.
Curious about paid search? Assuming that you have a budget, I will say that it works and that its performance based model is better than conventional banner advertising. If you want to try it out, both Yahoo! and Google offer trial promotions that will reward you up to $75 in clicks in exchange for a one time $5 set up-fee. This is a super bargain and a great way to “test drive” paid search. I sometimes post the addresses to these offers in the HispanicSMB.com Blog.
o Foros. Consumers love forums. They love posting, replying and generating controversy. Forums are where a good part of the Word of Mouth takes place in the Internet. They are also a great, free way to drive highly targeted traffic to your site. Simply sign up for one of the major portals, select the most appropriate forum dealing with your product or service and simply post a short friendly comment about your offering with a hyperlink to your site. Please keep in mind two things: a) some forums have restrictions on inclusion of hyperlinks to 3rd party sites and b) if you post on a high traffic site your posting will rapidly disappear under newer topics and so you must do this periodically and consistently in order for the clicks to sustain.
o Links Exchange. This is a highly effective, yet time consuming, tactic for increasing traffic to your site. In addition to delivering incremental traffic to your site, incoming links are important because they improve your search engine ranking. Search Engine Marketing experts will tell you that one of the key variables in search engines’ algorithms is “popularity” as measured by the number and importance of the sites that link to your site. And so getting others (sites and Blogs alike) to link to your site is well worth it. Please remember that whenever requesting a link to your site, the other party will invariably ask that you do in kind and so if you do not have one already, be sure to set up a ‘links’ page on your site (provided it does not ruin its aesthetics). Lastly, please stay away from link exchange networks: they rarely ever deliver quality traffic.
o PR. Used to be that in order to get your name out there in front of the world you had hire a top notch PR agency. And while this is still true if you want to be on the front page of the Wall Street Journal or La Opinión, there are some tactics that work very well for the business owner on a budget. First, pick a subject for your press release. It could be a new product, geographic expansion or maybe even a new star hire. Next, write the press release. Here you may need some help, but if you go online and read a few of them you may just be able to hack it yourself. Next, is the key part: distribution. One of the best options is PRweb.com which for well under $100 will distribute your press release around the country, regionally or locally (your choice) through Google News and Yahoo! News amongst others. Because so many sites syndicate Google and Yahoo! news you will find that coverage can be quite good. PRWeb.com will naturally also include your press release in their site and so you can use the unique address (URL) of your press release and forward it to local or regional media who may pick up the story.