Online advertising and search engine optimisation (SEO) is now one of the most important areas of marketing, according to one source.

Mike Preston and Amanda Gome of SmartCompany, an online magazine focused on entrepreneurs and small businesses, have said that building an online community and an established web client base is more important than ever.

Mr Preston and Ms Gome have provided a guide to expanding client base and online presence that includes ten tips on how to best market their companies online.

The authors claim that the advent of Web 2.0 has meant that more companies have become aware of the need for internet marketing to establish their business and bring customers to company websites and encourage contributions.

The claims echo research conducted this week by online news release and coverage monitoring company, webitpr, which reported that 99 per cent of respondents said some form of online presence was either important or very important.

It was also revealed by that report that 90 per cent of respondents believed online coverage had become more vital during the last 12 months and that SEO, search engine marketing (SEM), archived data and the potential reach of the internet were all cited as reasons for this.

In their guide the SmartCompany experts state that if businesses are to take advantage of this apparent need for online presence they need to give potential customers incentives and that this will bring them in.

The guide points to a recent study by the US-based Online Publishers Association which discovered that the average amount of time spent over the past four years by internet users looking at content had increased by 37 per cent in comparison with time spent shopping online – which had decreased by five per cent.

Therefore they claim it is essential that content is strong and able to grab the attention of customers. They add that giving customers a voice by creating a blog encourages customers and site users to generate their own content and that this content can be particularly valuable.

In the article Campbell Sallabank, chief executive of LinkMe, advises that user content can be the best kind of content.

"It’s generally more interesting to readers, it’s free and because it quickly adds up to an enormous number of pages, it also helps your search engine optimisation hugely," he said.

Mr Preston and Ms Gome advise becoming more knowledgeable on SEO and SEM, developing marketing partners, breaking down archives of blog content to make it more SEO-friendly and above all being relentless.

"In all but the most exceptional circumstances, building an online community around your product will take long and relentless work," they state. "Content constantly needs to be refreshed, media releases prepared and interviews done, new marketing partners or champions sought … not only is it a slow build, but the growth of online communities is often non-linear, with each successful new innovation causing traffic to jump and then quickly plateau until the next effort."

A spokesman for the Federation of Small Businesses said earlier this week that SEO, SEM and online advertising had reached the point of being essential to business and that companies should not rely on customers stumbling upon their site.

"Although there will always be those who accidentally stumble across your website, if you are looking to attract new customers you need to invest in search engine optimisation to drive customers to your website," he said.

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