Online marketing is taking off on a large scale and presents opportunities for selling products and services in the ever-expanding global marketplace.
It is not difficult to enter the internet marketing profession, says Harrace Lau, chief consultant, eOneNet.com Ltd. "You don't have to be an expert in designing websites or repairing computers. You just need to know how to use a computer, surf the internet and utilise email technology."
Mr Lau and Fione Tan, who is president and chief executive officer of eOneNet.com, set up the company in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia some eight years ago.
The business partners had met at a seminar on multiple sources of income. The event inspired Mr Lau to leave his job in the legal field to establish their own company, providing one-stop online marketing services and internet marketing training for multinational companies and home business entrepreneurs.
Through trial and error, the business partners discovered that internet marketing requires plenty of practical skills that can only be picked up on the job.
Although they hired a company to build a website for eOneNet.com, they soon realised that they needed visitors to the site in order to have any chance of success. "The marketing part is the most important, as this is how potential customers find your website." Mr Lau notes.
The company started hosting seminars on internet marketing; business soon grew. In 2005, eOneNet.com opened an office in Singapore and the following year, in Hong Kong.
According to Mr Lau, internet marketing in Hong Kong is just starting to take off and the city is still five or six years behind the US. "We have done a lot of seminars in Hong Kong and found that many people know nothing about internet marketing," he says.
However, internet marketing is a worldwide trend. Advertising figures reveal that particularly big companies are moving their marketing efforts online. "Asia now has 500 million internet users, compared to around 220 million in the US. China has the highest number, with more than 250 million internet users," Mr Lau points out.
While the internet is a major marketing tool in China, eOneNet.com does not advise campaigns targeting only the Hong Kong market. This is because only around four million out of the city's seven-million population are on the internet.
"If you sell online, your main target should be people in the US," says Mr Lau, noting also that internet users in the US have high spending power.
He adds, "A lot of people sell other companies' products through their sites. The key is correct marketing."
Search engines such as Google offer a great way to get free traffic, but there is no guarantee for any websites to get into top-ranking positions using this route.
The other option is paid traffic, for example through advertising where webmasters pay for every click through to their sites.
"You need to know how to play this game," says Mr Lau. "If you pay HK$100 and get HK$150 in return, it works. It's not meaningful if you pay HK$100 and receive only HK$50 or nothing back."
The dot-com bust of 2001 marked a watershed in internet marketing. "Before the bust, the focus was on attracting a lot of visitors. It was not on making money with websites, but on getting more investors. Now, most companies have sound business models, and most are profitable," Mr Lau says.
Over the last two to three years, there has been a trend towards social websites such as Facebook. Mr Lau also believes there is potential in adapting successful business models from the US and launching them in China, just like Chinese online shopping marketplace Taobao who became a success by adapting ebay's business model.
eOneNet.com's seminars are mainly attended by people wanting to learn how to make money on the internet. The seminars cover topics such as researching hot products and markets, designing and marketing websites, and accepting payments online. The company also offers a certificate course in practical internet marketing.