Small Business: Understanding how customers find you online

Besito Mexican, an eatery with locations in Huntington

Besito Mexican, an eatery with locations in Huntington and Roslyn, uses links to draw customers from Facebook and Twitter to its website with promises of gift cards and a free cocktail party. (Credit: Yana Paskova, 2010)

Jamie Herzlich

Newsday columnist Jamie Herzlich Jamie Herzlich

Herzlich writes the Small Business column in Newsday.

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So-called 'natural search' via search engines is still king when it comes to consumers finding websites. But social media is quickly gaining momentum, according to a new report by research firm Forrester.

Consumers discover websites via multiple mediums, so knowing your audience and how they're finding you is critical to create a comprehensive online marketing strategy, say experts.

"Understand your consumers' discovery behaviors and tailor your search efforts to establish a presence on those channels," advises Elizabeth Komar, associate analyst at Forrester Research in Manhattan and author of the report on how consumers found websites in 2012.

Search isn't as straightforward as it used to be, she says, noting consumers may stumble across your site unintentionally using a variety of channels.

Among the top ones, according to the report:

"Natural search" was No. 1, with 54 percent of U.S. online adults finding websites through this medium in 2012, up from 50 percent in 2011 but down from 61 percent in 2010.

Social networks came in second, with 32 percent of online consumers finding websites through networks in 2012, compared with 25 percent in 2011.

Links from other sites were used by 28 percent, down from 31 percent in 2011.

Paid search gained popularity, jumping from 8 percent in 2011 to 18 percent in 2012.

Start with good data

To understand your audience's search behavior, get good data, Komar says. Study your website analytics or survey consumers on how they're finding you online. For instance, the older generation is more likely to use offline channels such as newspapers and magazines to discover websites than the younger generation.

"It's important to have an integrated approach to helping people find your site," says Denise Wakeman, a Los Angeles-based online visibility expert. Good search engine optimization and utilizing social networks to build brand awareness are among the most powerful tools in helping consumers find your site, she notes.

While paid search is gaining momentum, according to the report, for many small businesses it's simply not an option, says Wakeman.

On average, it can cost about $3 per click for paid search, says John McHugh, president of Brainstorm Studio, a Melville-based digital marketing firm. "Pay-per-click can get very expensive," he says, noting most companies will set a daily budget for it.

Still, paid search can be beneficial in helping companies determine which keywords are performing best based on number of clicks, says McHugh.

The power of email

Even more than paid search, email marketing can be a powerful tool to draw consumers to websites, particularly by embedding links within the emails leading customers back to specific landing pages on your site, he notes.

Include a call to action so the consumer is enticed to click on the link; for example, "Click here to sign up and attend a webinar," says Wakeman.

Besito Mexican, an eatery with locations in Huntington and Roslyn, uses links to draw customers from Facebook and Twitter to its website.

It's had particular success with a Summer Sundays promotion inviting customers to upload photos that express what they love about Besito for a chance to enter a weekly drawing for a $50 gift card and a grand prize year-end drawing to win a cocktail party. Consumers are encouraged to click on a link that brings them to a page on Besito's website, where they can submit a photo.

Since launching the promotion July 12, Besito has seen a 700 percent increase in traffic to its website via Facebook mobile users alone. "It's been extremely successful," says Melissa Sorice, director of marketing and strategic initiatives at Besito.


Age Matters

50 percent of  adults ages 18 to 23, found websites through social networking sites in 2012, versus only 19 percent of those ages 68 and older.


Source: Forrester