How to launch a product with the Web

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Throwing a banner ad up, buying keywords on a search engine and posting a press release to your Web site may be your first thoughts when harnessing the Internet for product launches, but you can do far more.

Though terms like "long tail of search," cost-per-click and keyword performance indicator can be frightening, they don't require highbrow, high-priced specialists to navigate. Here are some proven tactics that will benefit your next product launch.

The basics. The linchpin of any launch is your landing page, or the Web page you're driving traffic to. This is where you'll make the best sales pitch to your online audience. Are you driving potential customer leads to a Web page that discusses the particulars of the product? Is the information in a language your prospects will understand? This could be in terms of nationality and dialect, or terminology. You may refer to a technology in terms your target audience doesn't.

Are you offering the right information? For example, are your product's purpose and function easily identifiable, or is some explanation about technology advances or alternative uses required? If you're in a price-driven market or are selling a specific pricing structure, potential leads may want to see this information. Would a quick, chart-based comparison to competitive products support your sales proposition? Is there a special pricing offer supporting the launch? If so, post it.

Can customers easily contact a sales representative - either via online form, direct phone number or e-mail address? Again, you may like 800 numbers and info@e-mail addresses, but they may be interpreted by a potential customer as impersonal. Add an extension to the phone number or insert "Ask for Jack, at 800-..." to personalize the process. Is your landing page URL easy to remember (i.e., www.product.company.com), or something more creative? The landing page requires the most attention - after all, why drive traffic to it if they get lost along the way?

Nontraditional traffic drivers. Identify the free, quick-start and long-lasting tactics. Optimize the landing page for search engines. If you're using an independent microsite to host your landing page (i.e., a site that is not architected into your company site and stands alone as a separate site), then submit it to Google, Yahoo, MSN and others.

Vertical online directories, or sites that focus on listings of companies, products and services, are fast to post your product and company, often keeping your listings live indefinitely. Overall, these are a better starting point than general-purpose search engine advertising, given the vertical directories' focus on specific markets. Identify these directories in your market and ensure your product is listed.

Other good tactics include linking from your home page to the landing page as well as optimizing your press releases, white papers and media alerts for search engine visibility. These pieces are natural traffic generation tools that you're going to be creating for your launch anyway, so why not provide recipients with a direct link to the landing page for more information?

If your industry has a large or influential blogging community, leverage it carefully. Identify the influential blogs with tools like Google Blog Search and Technorati. Write a friendly note to them or post it to their blog inviting them to opine on your product. Bloggers are natural egomaniacs and love being asked their opinions.

Check the "sales speak" at the door, however. One reason blogs have so much traction is that they represent opinions written by users for users, so sales or marketing language won't be used at best, and can be ridiculed at worst.

Be prepared to monitor the blog and respond to questions and feedback. Note the word "respond" rather than "react." Bloggers aren't subject to editorial standards, so any information you wish to communicate after a posting needs to be tempered and thought through, while maintaining the conversation style. Though not a guarantee, bloggers may just alert their readers - most likely your customers - to your product or company.

Traditional traffic drivers. When money is involved, the terminology seems to get more complicated. Just look at all the terms generated to describe how to choose the best keyword(s) to purchase: "long tail of search," CPC and KPI.

Long tail of search, or niche search markets, are created by people searching for specific terms or phrases that have sales potential, often missed by companies advertising via general search terms. For example, the purchasing agent for a maintenance company may search for "ergonomic snow shovels" to get exactly what he wants to buy rather than weeding through irrelevant results returned by the general term "shovels."

A long tail approach will save you from pricey bidding wars over common terms and return more qualified leads. CPC, or a term used to describe keyword-based advertising models, is generally paired with a bidding price model. KPI is the average cost of a keyword at any given time, since most CPC advertising options are built on a bidding structure and therefore pricing fluctuates.

If your product is in a crowded market space, consider the vertical search engines for the best ROI for a CPC campaign. In this instance, it's likely many competitors will be found bidding over the same keyword(s), so get specific with your terms.

Leverage the long tail principle and bid on phrases. Remember to include common misspellings and think about how your target audience searches for products (use their terminology, not what you use).

Online product guides will give you great visibility, too. You'll benefit from publications' efforts to promote, optimize and push traffic to their online guides. Does your product launch center around a specific season, event or other catalyst opportunity? If so, a targeted CPC campaign on general-purpose and vertical search engines, directories and media sites makes sense.

Think through the keyword process with the help of free word and phrase generation tools from companies like Google, Overture and SEO Book. Some of these tools also can help you check KPI. To estimate your spending, see what others are spending on your terms currently.

The Internet can springboard your product launch. Identifying the nontraditional yet effective tactics helps keep a steady stream of prospects coming to your site in the short and long term. Don't be turned away by seemingly complicated terminology and misunderstood keyword purchasing processes. Dig in a little and discover how simple and cost effective it can be to leverage the Internet for your product launches.

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