Editor's note: please welcome our latest expert, Tatsuya Nakagawa. So much is written about online marketing -- Tatsuya "nets it out" by describing five essential trends to focus on, along with practical tips. By Tatsuya Nakagawa Small businesses can capitalize on online marketing and sales trends much like sail ships that are well positioned taking advantage of changes in tides and wind. Here are some current online trends that can be used to your advantage. Trends #1: IS GOOGLE YOUR BEST FRIEND? According to eMarketer, 6 in 10 local business searchers went online first. Google served about 4 billion searches in April 2007 and holds over 50% of the market share. In April, Yahoo had about 20% market share with 1.5 billion searches. The point here is that there are almost incomprehensible numbers of searches conducted and this growing trend can help your business. Tip: Most people will perform a quick Google check on a company of interest. This often establishes the first impression so it is not something to be neglected. Trend #2: BUYERS WANT IT ALL TO BE AVAILABLE ONLINE Professional buyers have great and increasing expectations of the types and amount of information on your product offering that they expect to be able to easily and quickly access online. The old concept of "leave a little information so they'll call you" no longer works for most corporate purchasing people. According to ThomasNet, over 93% of industrial buyers use the Internet to research purchase decisions and 58% of industrial buyers expect to find CAD drawings or plans on your Website. The following information should be online wherever possible: 1. product description including low resolution clickable to higher resolution images, 2. detailed technical specifications so that an engineer or buyer can make a match with whatever they are working on without having to call for more information. This includes CAD drawings for more complex items where there are various issues of size, shape and fits involved, 3. pricing information with the quantity pricing included as part of that, 4. anything that a small business gets asked often by customers or prospects is something you should likely have online. This trend for corporate purchasing carries over to retail consumers too. Tip: Since there are so many competing options becoming available online, the ease, simplicity and completeness of your online information can become a competitive advantage. Information should be available in multiple formats. Someone checking quickly through competing offerings is less likely to open a big PDF file initially but an engineer or buyer wanting to confirm the details will find the PDF file indispensable and a useful format for filing the information for later review. Consultants, you should also take advantage of audio and video formats, especially where showcasing your abilities. Trend #3: THE RISE OF DIY PUBLIC RELATIONS Public relations companies were traditionally used to broker media relationships. The trend is for more companies to approach media directly. This is especially the case for Web-based businesses. There are many places like Marketing Sherpa that lay out how to approach media step by step. Most media people now include their email addresses in their contact information so it seems to be easier to contact media people. This is deceptive. The problem companies often have trying to perform DIY public relations is that they simply don't know what they are doing or how to go about it effectively. Tip: Don't do it all yourself. Companies that do not understand public relations should hire agencies to help them become more media savvy and effective. You should learn how to do your own public relations work but be willing to spend some money on expertise to help learn the ropes. Trend #4: THE ROLE OF ONLINE NETWORKING Online networking offers the opportunity of connecting with initial contacts directly. This is usually more effective than working the room at a networking event to become known to people who can help the business. Most online adults around the world had visited a social networking Website in the preceding month, according to a recent Ipsos Insight survey. Have a policy on how to engage people through social networks and select only a few networks to focus on. Tip: LinkedIn is the best known business networking forum with about 12 million users worldwide. Scott Allen from About.com authored Virtual Handshake and operates a blog containing numerous Success Stories on this trend. Trend #5: ONLINE REPUTATION MANAGEMENT Businesses are becoming much more aware of how quickly a reputation can become tarnished by dissatisfied users, disgruntled employees, competitors and others who can post information almost instantly online in any number of places including websites, review forums and chat rooms. Monitor these by setting up Google alerts using your company and product names as keywords. Other useful tools include Slickdeals.net and RedFlagDeals.com that are popular forums that discuss what people are saying about products. RedFlagDeals is focused on Canada and has over 100,000 members. Most of these places have opportunities for you to go in and add to the discussion. Tip: Manage your business's online reputation carefully. Contribute to one or more recognized blogs as opposed to creating your own. This is because well-established ones have higher standards and very high rankings within the search engine system. Focus on credibility, then on search engine optimization (SEO) strategies to increase visibility. The idea is to show quality and not just quantity on the Google hit returns. Take advantage and proactively engage these developing online trends and your ship will gracefully navigate the changing sea conditions. * * * * * About the Author: Tatsuya Nakagawa is co-founder of Atomica Creative Group, a specialized strategic product marketing firm. He has co-authored Overcoming Inventoritis: The Silent Killer of Innovation.