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30Aug/120

6 Steps for Getting Your Small Business Online and In Front of Customers

Are you a startup taking your rst steps into the online space? Do you have a small business that’s been operating without a website? Or do you have a website that isn’t driving the sales you want?
Then this is for you. We’ll take you through the basics of getting online and in front of customers with a site that will:

  • Help customers, prospects and potential employees and partners nd your business
  • Provide clear information about your products and services
  • Persuade people to do business with you
  • Generate sales

 

 

Step 1 – Naming the Baby: Choosing & Registering Your Domain Name

You’ve conceived and developed your business idea and committed the time and resources to start making it a reality. Now it’s time to give your business its online name – a name that will be spoken, linked to, searched for, printed and displayed in a variety of ways throughout the life of your business. Choose wisely.

Make Your Domain Simple and Memorable Keeping your domain name simple will help people remember it and make it easier to nd.

  • Try for your exact business name or a shortened variation.
  • Make sure it’s easy to spell, but also register a few potential misspellings (for example, www.gogle.com or www.amizon.com).

Take Advantage of Longer Registrations
Register your domain name for 2, 5 or even 10 years.

  • Longer registrations usually mean better pricing.
  • Save yourself the headache of dealing with an expired domain every year.
  • Expired domains are eventually re-opened to the public for purchase – don’t lose your name!

 

 

Step 2 – Creating the Experience: Writing & Building Your Website

So now you have a domain name, but what will people find when they visit it? Creating a clear, user-friendly website sounds easy, but it takes planning. Make sure your goals for the site are clear as you begin writing your content and creating the design.

Decide What Type of Site You Need

  • Informational: Do you want a website that simply allows customers to nd you and learn more about your business? If so, all you’ll need is a few web pages with content and graphics.
  • Ecommerce: Do you want people to be able to purchase from your website? You’ll need content that drives people toward a shopping cart function.

 

Decide What Extras You Want
There are several general pages that most websites include (see common website pages, right), but do you want any extras?

  • Blog
  • Event Calendar
  • Support Info

Common Website Pages
Informational
• Home page – the main entryway to your website
• Services page – what are you selling or oering?
• About page – who are you?
• Contact page – how do customers reach you?
Ecommerce
• Home page – the main entryway to your website
• Product page – what are you selling?
• Consider adding multiple pages per product or an overview page if you have more than 10
• Reviews/testimonials page – what do people say about your products?
• About page – who are you?
• Contact page – how do customers reach you?

 

Step 3 – Getting Found: Making Your Site Google-Friendly

No matter how much time you spend creating a beautiful, functional website, it’s of no value if it can’t be found. Search engines, such as Google, Bing and Yahoo! act like customized online directories, pointing the user to
websites matching the terms the users used in their search.

How Google and Other Search Engines
Work Using software robots called spiders, search engines “crawl” through websites to analyze content and determine what the site is about and how valuable its information is. Among other things, the spiders note:

  • What keywords are used within the web pages and where – see Choosing Your Keywords for more information
  • What other sites link to the website – links to your site from reputable or well-established websites can help improve your ranking
  • How recently the site’s content has been updated –spiders like content to be fresh and constantly updated

Submitting to Search Engines
First things, first. To get your website on the list you have to tell the search engines that it’s there. You can do this yourself, or use a search engine submission service. Submission services will take care of submitting your site to each major search engine and can also provide you with reports, tips for increasing search engine rankings, and a keyword suggestion tool.

Choosing Your Keywords
What Are Keywords?
Keywords are words used within the content of your site that help search engines identify what the site is about. They usually relate to your industry, your products and services, your location and anything else a customer might search for when trying to nd a business like yours.

Identifying Keywords
Google oers a free keyword tool at www.google.com/adwords  where you can enter words related to your company to see how often they’re searched.

  • Create a list of often-searched terms and work them into your website content where you can (these are called “short-tail search terms”).
  • Then, create a list of more specific terms or phrases related to your company and work them in as well (these less-searched, but more specific terms are called “long-tail search terms”).

Step 4 – Engaging in the Conversation: Building Your Community with Social Media Your site is up and running, you’re creating content, you’re marketing online to your customers – do you REALLY need to spend time on social media? Yes. The reality of today’s culture is that whether you choose to participate in social media or not, customers and prospects WILL talk about you online. Being part of the conversation gives you the opportunity to change perceptions, create loyalty and win sales.

Monitoring the Conversation
Before you begin posting on social media, it’s vital that you have tools in place to monitor what’s being said about your business.

  • Positive feedback helps you identify which products and services your customers value.
  • Negative feedback can be key in identifying areas that need improvement.
  • In addition, customers often post customer service complaints online – monitoring social media for mentions of your company gives you an opportunity to respond to these and resolve situations you might not know about otherwise.

To set up a monitoring program:

  • Sign up for a social media monitoring tool, such as Hootsuite, Tweetdeck or one of the other available online.
  • To get started, just enter the terms you want to monitor on Twitter and Facebook, making sure to include your company name, industry key words, competitor names, etc.
  • The monitoring service will then send you notications anytime those terms are used.

 

Which Social Media Platforms Should I Use?
Twitter posts are limited to 140 characters, so most businesses use Twitter for sharing links to company news and announcements, “retweeting” (sharing) other announcements from the industry, responding to customer mentions and support questions.
Facebook has good tools in place for running contests, posting photos or videos and writing longer posts.
LinkedIn is great for connecting with other businesses, joining educational groups related to your industry and posting job openings.
FourSquare is good for restaurants, stores, and other businesses with physical locations. Customers can “check in” on FourSquare to tell their friends/followers where they are at the moment. You can create a FourSquare profile for your business so anyone seeing that check in can learn more about you. Some businesses also oer customers rewards for
having the most check-ins, etc.

Whichever platorm you choose, be sure to add buttons on your website encouraging people to follow you, like you, or connect with you. You can download these free from AddThis.com.

Strategize Before Clicking ‘Post’
Now that you’re monitoring conversations about your business and industry, you can consider what type of information you want to post on your social media accounts. Unlike direct marketing, social media is a two-way conversation between you and your customers/prospects about your brand. While on the surface social media platforms can seem informal, remember that you are representing your business brand, so post carefully.

  • What to Post: Social media is a very ‘in the moment’ platform. Write content that is timely and current. Make posts about new product launches and important company news but also current events outside your company.
  • Just Say Hello: Let conversations happen – if you post something and someone responds, feel free to respond back. Not only is it polite, you are building connections with your readers.
  • Responding to Problems: For better or for worse, these days businesses are expected to provide support and assistance through their social media platforms. Be sure you have a plan in place to address customers who bring support concerns to you – do not ignore them and do not delete them, except in the instance of profanity or other blatant abuse.
  • When to Post: The timing is all up to you. A good rule of thumb is to be consistent, so if you post once a day, try to maintain that momentum. No one wants to interact with a stagnant brand.

Other Quick Tips for Promoting Your Site Through Social Media

  • Announce a referral program. Provide prizes and /or discounts for customers who mentioned they were referred through social media.
  • Create a brand ambassador program. Get your customers promoting your brand for you.
  • Provide incentives for customers who post reviews via social media.
  • Create a loyalty program. Hold special promotions for customers based on their buying habits and referral frequency.
  • Reward your followers. Offer special promotion codes, discounts or other rewards only available to your fans and followers.

Step 5 – Taking It to the Next Level: Engaging with Your Community

Now you have your site up and running and are ready to begin driving people to it. Because of the way search engines find information (see How Google and Other Search Engines Work on page 14), the more updated, relevant content you have on your site, the more your site will show up in search results.

Share Ideas & News with a Blog
Blogging is an informal and personal way to attract visitors to your website and promote your industry expertise.

  • Set up a blog using an online blogging service, such as Blogger, Joomla, or WordPress. Add a link to your blog on your homepage. You also have the options of “mapping” the blog to your website so it appears as a part of your site — ask your blogging service provider about how to do this and whether there’s an extra charge.
  • Assign time for yourself to create posts about product features, business news and commentary on what’s happening in your industry.
  • Sort your posts by category, so visitors can easily find the topics that interest them the most.

Bring the Content to Your Audience with a Newsletter
As you add customers, collect their email addresses so you can drive trac back to your website with a monthly email newsletter. As your newsletter list grows, so will your ability to attract new visitors—just remember that the goal is always to include links to your web pages within your content to drive leads and sales on your site.
Newsletters can highlight:

  • New products/services
  • Interesting industry news
  • Educational tips for your customers
  • Sales and special promotions
  • Change in hours of location
  • Custom testimonials or success stories
  • Survey or request for feedback

Step 6 – Trying New Things: Analyzing & Improving Your Website

You have your domain name, you’ve established your web presence, your social media is up and running, and you’re seeing traffic – now what? Find out what you’re doing right and what you can do better by using a statistics and analytics package to identify, track and help you learn more about who is visiting your website.

Identify the Source
Using your statistics and/or analytics software to figure out where your visitors are coming from can give you a good idea of which marketing eorts are working:

  • Direct entry (they typed your domain name into their browser address bar)
  • Inbound links (clicking a link to your website from another website)
  • Search results (finding your website via a search engine)

Make Improvements
Analytics can tell you a great deal about features and pages of your site that are and aren’t working.

  • Find out which pages are the most common “exit points.” If a large number of visitors consistently leave your site when they reach a certain page, examine the content – Is there a clear call to action? Why might visitors be leaving?
  • Where are the most common “entry points”? See where the traffic to those pages is coming from, and make sure the pages’ content makes sense to someone entering your site at that page.

 

Conclusion
While the setup phase will probably be the most consecutive time you spend on your website, the reality is that your site will never be “finished.” Maintaining and updating the content will be necessary as long as your company exists. But your site will also be one of your most cost-eective sales tools and the rst touchpoint for many customers. So make time to make it good – it’s your company’s home base and face to the world. Good luck!

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