We all agree that the web is a useful business tool. So what are some specific ways you can obtain Internet customers? We previously talked about four ways to use the Internet to get more business. Now, let's take a brief look at three specific methods of customer acquisition.

1. Search Engine Pay Per Click (Requires a Website)

If you have a website, a search engine (such as Google, Yahoo or MSN) is the fastest way to get people to visit it. My colleagues in the search marketing department tell me that Google has the easiest interface to use, so that's a good place to start.

You'll enter "search terms" or "keywords" into your search engine account so that when customers are searching for a product or service you offer, they'll see your text ad under the "Sponsored Link" section on the Google results page. For example, if you're a commercial builder, you might want customers who search for "steel building systems" to find your site. If you can't think of many keywords, don't worry, most search engines have a tool that helps you discover new search terms by typing in terms you know.

Then, you'll pay a small amount whenever a searcher clicks on your text ad. It's called "Pay Per Click" or "PPC." The amount is determined by bidding—if you're willing to pay more, you can be in the top three sponsored links and be seen by more people. Be sure to set a budget in your search engine PPC account to avoid accidentally overspending.

Once PPC customers visit your website, include a short lead form to capture their contact information or a phone number to call.

2. Online Directories or Other Advertising Partners (Website Optional)

Other ways to begin receiving business from the web are to advertise on an online phone directory (such as SuperPages.com or YellowPages.com), be listed in an industry directory or place advertising on sites your customers visit often.

You already have a free listing in online phone directories, but you may be low on the results list, so customers never see you. You can buy your way to the top by paying extra for listing options. You can also place display advertising in online phone directories. If you receive a lot of inquiries from the phone book, this method of acquiring customers may be for you—if you don't have a website to link to, customers can call you.

In addition, credible organizations have membership directories, and it might be worth your while to be listed with them. Use a search engine to find local and national organizations you can join. Find out how many visitors their sites receive. If you join, get permission to put their logos on your website for added credibility.

If you know your customers frequently visit certain websites, try placing a display ad on these sites for a month or two and see how many customers the ads deliver. You shouldn't have to make a long-term advertising commitment when advertising on the Internet as you would for a print magazine or paper yellow pages.

3. Lead Generation (Doesn't Require a Website)

If you don't have a website or your website isn't getting results, consider using an online lead generation service. These services usually consist of well-traveled customer sites that will sell you customer information for a certain cost per lead. Advantages of this system are that you don't have to own a website or do any Internet advertising, and you only pay if you receive a lead. Different businesses have different levels of success in qualifying and closing online leads, so do a short-term test membership with any service you join. Google "construction leads" to get an idea of what lead generation services are available.

There are many ways to meet Internet customers, and creative people are coming up with more each day. If you have a website, you can begin advertising on search engines, online directories and other sites your customers visit. If you don't have a website, lead generation could be the answer. Keep track of the number and quality of leads you get from each Internet advertising source to calculate which methods are bringing customers at a reasonable cost. Continue what works—and cancel what doesn't.