In the years since 1999, I’ve learned an enormous amount about marketing on the Internet. I’ve learned that you only need three things to succeed online:

1. Effective communication skills

Have something to say — preferably, something your visitors want to hear. Answer their questions and offer them what they seek. In short, deliver what they want. You need the highest quality content possible. Yes, content is still king. Accept it. If content needs work, hire a professional to help you communicate more effectively.

A web copywriter must work well with the other members of your website and online marketing team… especially your programmer and your designer. Be sure your writer knows the difference between general writing and writing for the web. Be sure your content developer has a working knowledge of your industry and understands the customers/clients you want to reach.

Boost your customer relations and the quality of your communications:

  1. Respond immediately to any online (and offline) queries. Do so by email, phone or in person, but do it immediately.
  2. Followup again to thank them for the query. Make sure their questions were answered completely and offer to answer any additional questions they may have.
  3. Your writer can help you pre-write some email/letter templates or standard phone scripts, but each one will need to be customized by you on the spot.

2. A quality website

You should hire a talented website programmer who understands “clean code” and is responsive to your needs. You will be on his/her doorstep often if you plan to keep a cutting edge website up to date. Select an individual that doesn’t frustrate you and is really hard for you to frustrate. Trust me.

Beauty is more than skin deep. Some “pretty” web pages are horrific under the hood. They look impressive, but won’t function as a promotional tool. They won’t help you succeed with an online business.

In a perfect world you should hire an amazing designer to work with your uber-talented programmer. (It is extremely rare to find one person that does both well). Designer and programmer must work together well or you will be paying for them to work out their differences. Cooperation and concessions will be required for your project to succeed.

If you must choose only one, select the programmer. Consider the difference between a pretty, shiny corvette in your drive that has no engine and a basic family car that runs well. When you need to get somewhere… you need to have a website that can take you there. Eye-candy is nice, but function trumps form online. Of course, having both is always best!

3. Strong peer, professional and personal relationships

Online and in person, it really IS all about who you know. Take the time to get out there. Everything that you do in your business is relationship building. You need to create situations and forge bonds so people are willing to wax poetic about you and the wondrous things you offer.

If you sell products, sell the best quality and provide the best possible service before, during, and after the sale. Customers will return to order more and will recommend you to their friends. If you provide services, you live and/or die by referrals.

Social networking is time intensive, but has great potential for hitting marketing paydirt. Pick your social networks carefully or they will become overwhelming. An outsourcing network is a great way to connect with others who work independently and to find the service providers you need for your own projects.

The Rest of the Marketing Game

The remainder of online marketing is a constant tug of war between “black hats” and “white hats.” It takes countless hours to determine what will fly past the search engine gatekeepers this week before the algorithm changes next week (returning everyone to the “drawing board” with their individually colored hats in hand.)

This process wastes time and makes a few “consultants” rich while rendering a slew of “clients” poor. Some results do come from these methods — but they are usually fleeting, are often quite expensive, and are occasionally completely useless.