Written by: Melissa R. MacCaull, Director of Marketing, Union Savings Bank
In 2017 a reported 71 percent of small businesses had websites, with 79 percent of those sites being responsive across devices. It’s undeniable that building an online presence is crucial for small business success, but it’s about much more than having a website for the sake of having a website. Building, honing and maintaining your small business’ presence online is about being where your customers and prospects are so you can best reach, engage and inform them.
There are countless tools when it comes to building an online presence for small businesses, but we are going to focus on four core elements: website, content, SEO and social media.
You need a website. Here’s why.
Think about how you personally discover new products and services. It probably starts with an online search, followed by visiting a vendor’s website, right? Creating a website in today’s competitive online landscape is a must because the Internet is how we find much of what we need. Without an online presence, a prospect looking for the product or service you offer will simply use another provider.
Another important reason why small businesses need a website is because it can (and should) act as a home base for your company. If you want to send your best customers a special offer via email or even direct mail, giving them a central place to go to find your latest products, place an order or just get in touch with you is essential.
Your website is a resource to both you and your customers and prospects. For the people who first discover your company online, your website is the first impression they get of your small business. It’s where they can learn more about your company, your story, your expertise and whatever else you want customers and prospects to know. Your website is your very own stake in the ground online and building an online presence is a big part of building your brand.
The right kinds of content can help you build credibility.
The term “content” can mean many different things today, and you’ve probably heard it tossed around a lot. The emails you send to customers, the blog articles you write and the Facebook updates you post can all qualify. Finding the right mix of business content that fits both your small business and your customers and prospects is an important step in keeping yourself on track.
Not only does the business content you create help to tell your story, it also can inform and educate your customers and prospects. Position your small business as the expert in your market with well-researched articles, timely emails about the seasonality of your market or engaging how-to videos on social media. Creating a content plan to distribute these materials can help build your credibility in the eyes of your current and prospective customers and keep them coming back to you (and your website) for more.
What good is a website and content if no one can find it?
Picture yourself as an explorer looking out onto vast, undiscovered land. Off in the distance, it’s easy to spot the only mountain jutting out from a sea of rolling hills. Now imagine standing in the middle of New York City’s Times Square trying to pick out an acquaintance in the crowd from a distance. A little harder, right?
Now that you have built a website for your small business and started generating quality content, it’s time to draw people to it. Today’s online landscape is much more like Times Square than an unclaimed territory, and hundreds if not thousands of your competitors are vying for the attention of the same prospects. How can you make sure they find you before anyone else?
Small business search engine optimization (SEO) is the practice of applying user insights and activity to your website and content to make it easier to find by your desired audience. For example, if you own a veterinary clinic and know that in the month of April people are searching online for tick repellent for their pets, then you might want to publish a blog post about selecting the best product for your pet. Within that blog post, you can incorporate keywords like “tick repellent,” “preventing tick bites” and “tick protection for dogs,” link to a page on your website with more information about the effects of tick bites and the type of tick repellent dog lovers can purchase from your office. Then you can set the blog’s main image to a cute photo of a dog outdoors, tagging the photo with one of your keywords.
Who will you draw in by using these tactics? You may attract a pet owner who just found a tick on their dog and wants to prevent another bite, or perhaps someone looking for a new brand of tick repellent for their outdoor cat. By using these and other more in-depth SEO tactics, you will make your content as easy to find as possible by the people who are actively searching for it. And of the people who discover your blog post, you may find that some are new to the area or looking for a new vet, turning your web visitors into your customers. Check out this guide for more tactics for building and executing your small business search engine optimization strategy.
Once you build your online presence, social media can help you grow it.
Establishing your online presence starts with building your website as the foundation, generating quality business content and implementing SEO to help people find you. Keeping the momentum going is a top reason why small businesses need social media. Just as you found the right mix of content to satisfy your audience, you will want to identify the social media channels that your customers and prospects prefer. If you own a trendy clothing boutique but only maintain a LinkedIn page, most of your potential customers who exclusively use Instagram are going to miss out on your products – and you’re going to miss out on sales.
Even if you’re already on several social media channels, do a little research to see where your customers are, where your competition is and where the most engagements seem to happen. You might decide to shift your social media strategy or try a new channel based on your findings. As is true with all of the tools we discussed here, social media is constantly evolving, so keeping your finger on the pulse of what’s happening online will keep your small business in front of your target audiences.
Take a step back and look at your overall online presence for your small business. Will your customers and prospects be able to follow the path you want them to take? Creating a customer journey map can help you envision where a customer begins their interaction with you, all the way through to a sale and any follow-up engagement. Painting this picture clearly for you and your small business management team can help you decide what’s working as you continue building an online presence and where you could improve. You can also utilize an assortment of analytics tools to help you decide what’s working and what needs improvement.