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MEDIA & MARKETING | Contributed Content, Singapore
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Ted Chong

Should businesses in Singapore turn to portals for leads and sales?

BY TED CHONG

HungryGoWhere, Green Book, PropertyGuru – what comes to mind with these websites? While they all belong to different industries, there is a commonality between them.

They are all online portals. Newer portals include the likes of MoneySmart, Zalora, TheSmartLocal, etc.

By definition from Merriam-Webster, a portal is a website that helps you find other websites. While this definition still holds, today's portals have really gotten more sophisticated and multifunctional. Many of them include reviews, product listings, and even comparison functions that provide a ton of value for users.

It is no wonder that these portals have grown tremendously over the last few years. For example, MoneySmart.sg boasts a mammoth traffic of over 1 million every month (courtesy of SimilarWeb). Considering that 71% of websites get fewer than 5,000 visitors per month, it is evident that online portals have the lion's share of online attention. 

What it means for local businesses
Businesses are perpetually in need of eyeballs for their offerings. With massive traffic, portals serve as a wonderful avenue for SMEs.

One of the biggest benefits of tapping on portals for exposure is the relevance of the audience. It's true that we can always go to Facebook or Google for online traffic, but it takes certain amount of experience and know-how to use these platforms to reach your target audience effectively. Horror stories abound on social media where businesses have campaigns that fail or backfire.

If you do not want the hassle of going through the learning curve or dealing with agencies, portals present an idiot-proof way for you to market to your audience online.

On top of that, certain portals have built a loyal base of engaged audience that trust their every recommendation. In those cases, your advertising dollars will jolly well turn into actual business results easily.

With everything, there are two sides to the same coin. Before you put your entire fortune into advertising on a portal, allow me to present the full picture.

Cannibalisation
Due to their stronger online presence by virtue of being an online business, portals will overshadow your website and potentially cannibalise your own sales. This is especially true when you provide a discount for your audience in the portal.

In the example below, I googled "Nine West Singapore" and found Zalora's website to be on top of Nine West's website in the search results. As a consumer, the default action for me is to click on the first result and make a purchase there (if I already know what I want). This doesn't bode well if you are trying to build your online store at the same time.

Diversification
While marketing on portals can be effective, some businesses do carry it too far. They rely on it as their only source of leads and sales online, especially in the case of small businesses.

We learn from investment gurus, never to put your eggs in one basket.

Generally, portals strive to be as neutral as possible so that they do not lose the trust of their audience and, consequently, viewership of the site.

Hence it is important to bear in mind that no business will enjoy exclusivity with portals. You may be getting good publicity, but as more competitors come into the scene, the ROI will decline, even into the negatives.

Relying on a third party is like sitting on thin ice. There are too many factors beyond one's control, such as fees hike, loss of audience, and market disruption by another portal that can affect your sales.

For a business to be sustainable, investing in your own marketing is a must. A business should always look at how it can differentiate itself and become top-of-the-mind in its category. For example, when you think of buying luxury cars, you would check out BMW directly instead of going to sgCarMart. 

However, portals are useful in their own right. A strong brand has presence in multiple channels to keep them fresh in the minds of consumers. Remember, it takes an average of seven exposures for a stranger to become a customer, as told by Dr. Jeffrey Lant. A portal appearance constitutes one of them.

That said, let's look at how to effectively make use of portals for marketing.

• Not all portals are created equal. Besides looking at the traffic numbers you are presented with, check out their engagement on social media. A portal always churning out promotional content is unlikely to have an engaged audience.
• The best use of a portal is in building the base for your own online asset. Portals can provide a boost to your own SEO, social media, and content marketing efforts. Think about how you can use portal marketing to complement your current digital marketing instead of sabotaging it.
• Don't get too caught up with marketing on portals. There are more and more portals in Singapore, and even more coming up. Prioritise your own marketing.

With more information being put up on the Internet everyday, consumers look for portals to find what they need quickly. It is no doubt that portals will continue to be an important component of the online space. Do not neglect the use of it! Just keep in mind that you need to spare resources for your own marketing too.

If unsure whether portals will yield results, always consult with a digital marketing consultant before you make the investment. There may be more to it than meets the eye. Good luck!

The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.

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Ted Chong

Ted Chong

Ted is a marketer for SMEs, advocate of content, and experimenter in digital strategies.

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