5 Steps To Get Your Local Business Online

A web presence is a major part of the marketing mix for most large companies these days. However I find many small businesses have still not taken the plunge.

With the rapid growth of local search and a tendency to research everything online a website is a must for smaller businesses in today’s competitive market. In fact research firm BIA/Kelsey notes that the website now serves as the core of local business marketing linking to all other forms of advertising including print, the Yellow Pages, mobile, SEO/SEM, social media and e-mail/direct mail.

Here are 5 steps to get your local business online.

1. Create a Website

There is no excuse for not having a website. The last thing you want is for a potential customer to type your name into Google or another search engine and not find you. Instant failure.

Your website should also serve as the hub to other parts of your marketing mix including direct mail, social media sites, print ads, review websites and the Yellow Pages. It’s where you can provide additional information on your products and services, provide customer support and news.

2. Provide Up to Date Information

Once you have your website make sure that it’s kept up to date. There’s nothing worse than a website with outdated information. There are a wide variety of CMS’s (Content Management Systems) out there that allow you to update your content rather than go back to your web designer for each little change.

3. Include Contact Details

Contact information, including your address and telephone number, is vital to ensure search engines and local sites pick up you website. They also clearly tell prospects where to find you and how to get in touch. Ensure they are prominently displayed on every page of your website.

4. Launch a Blog

I love blogs. I really love them. They are a fabulous way to keep in touch with your prospects and customers and the search engines just love them.

They are a great way to establish yourself as an expert in your field and to give prospects a glimpse of who you are. My Essential Guide to Business Blogging is a must read if you’re branching out into the blogosphere.

5. Get Social

I’m sure you’ve heard of Facebook and Twitter by now. These, and other social media sites, are the next big thing. People are talking about you and you can ether join in the conversation or close up shop. Join the large social networking sites and any others relevant to your industry and start talking.

With more and more people using the internet to find products and services can you afford not to have an online presence?

Online Marketing in Tough Economic Times

We all know in tough economic times we’re meant to continue to market and advertise our business. But when cash flow is down it can be easier said than done. However that doesn’t mean you have to stop marketing, it just means you have to be wiser with how you spend your money.

One of the great advantages of online marketing is that it is highly measurable. If you try a new marketing initiative and it doesn’t provide a positive return on your investment (ROI) then stop, or tweak the activity. If you find an online marketing initiative that works for your business increase your spend and watch your profit increase. There are also many online marketing activities that you can do in-house, again saving you valuable dollars.

The sky’s the limit when it comes to ways market yourself online. I’m going to talk about three options available to you but don’t let that stop you from trying others.

Pay Per Click Advertising

If you’ve heard of Google AdWords then you’ve heard of Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising. Pay Per Click ads are the sponsored ads you see on search engines such as Google or Yahoo! With Pay Per Click advertising you pay only when a customer clicks on your ad, regardless of how many times it’s shown. You select your keywords and set an amount you are prepared to pay if someone clicks on your ad. When a user searches for, or is using, a keyword you have bid for, your ad will appear on the right side of results pages under the heading Sponsored Links. If a user clicks on your ad you pay the amount you bid for that term.

Pay Per Click advertising is a great way to target hundreds of niche keyword terms for a relatively low cost. In addition it is highly targeted and the results are highly quantifiable. The benefit of this is targeted traffic to your website – i.e. the people visiting are looking for your services!

Pay Per Click advertising is also highly customisable. You can target specific geographic areas and set specific times (hours and days) for your ads to be displayed. You can also start with a budget as low as $1.00 a day.

Pay Per Click campaigns can be running within hours and is a great way to drive prospective customers to your website quickly.

Blogging

Blogging is a fantastic and cost effective way to promote your business and stay in touch with your customers and prospects. There is an initial cost in setting up a blog but once you’ve done that all it requires is time and effort on your part. There are many benefits of having a business blog:

  • Blogging is a great way to communicate with clients, customers and prospects. Whether it be talking about new products or services, company news or resolving an issue, you can communicate on a level not seen before.
  • A blog gives you a voice which in turn gives readers an idea of who you and your business are. Your goal is to then engage them enough to want to do business with you.
  • Blogging can help position you as an expert in your industry.
  • Blogs attracts links and can help you in your search engine rankings.

When setting up a business blog I always recommend incorporating it into your current website design. Integrating your blog into your existing website design ensures that it provides a consistency of your brand and identity. It also enables readers who enjoy your blog to wander into other parts of your website such as your services and how to contact you.

If you decide that blogging is for you then make sure you set aside some time each week to write posts as there’s nothing worse than a blog that’s not updated.

Social Networking Sites

Social networking is a more recent phenomena on the internet. A social network is an online community of people who share interests and/or activities. Most social networks are web based and provide a variety of ways for users to interact such as though posts, messaging and email.

If your target market is into social networking then communicating with them via this method is a fantastic way to interact with them, promote your business and get your message across. There are many ways social networking can benefit your business:

  • It allows you communicate with a far reaching audience and promote your business on a global scale.
  • It can help you build trust and promote yourself as an expert in your field.
  • It can help you connect with potential business partners and employees.

If you are thinking of using social networking sites to promote your business it’s important that you take the time to understand social networking and the right way to go about it. The internet can be a very unforgiving place and bad stories and promotions can spread like wildfire.

Two popular social networking sites are Facebook and Twitter.

Facebook

Facebook is one of the most popular social networking sites online. Facebook can be used to connect with people, stay in touch, post pictures, share links and exchange information. It can be used to connect friends, family and co-workers. Used smartly it can also be used to promote your business and connect with your prospects and customers using the many applications that are being developed. You can use Facebook to:

  • Create brand awareness.
  • Engage with your customers and communicate promotions, contests and events.
  • Announce new products.
  • Generate leads and acquire new customers.
  • Manage your online reputation.

With the enormous market share and number of new applications being developed Facebook is one social networking service I highly recommend you familiarise yourself with.

Twitter

When it comes to social networking sites Twitter is the new kid on the block. So what is it? Twitter is kinda like micro-blogging – basically you can say (or tweet) anything you like in 140 characters or less. You can follow other people’s Twitters and others, in turn, can follow you. So why would you want to use it? Good question. Like all marketing initiatives you need to first look at whether it’s for you. If your target audience is likely to use Twitter then you should be too. Twitter can help you to:

  • Connect and network with others in your industry.
  • Share thoughts and ideas with like minded people.
  • Stay in touch with customers and prospects.
  • Test out new ideas and get feedback on existing products and services.
  • Monitor what’s being said about you and your business.
  • Monitor what’s being said about your competitors.
  • Monitor your competitors if they’re on twitter.

There really isn’t enough space here to delve into Twitter too deeply but hopefully I’ve given you some food for thought. I’ll post some resources on our website (http://www.thinkprospect.com.au/articles/resources/) that will help get you started.

They are numerous other social networking services that could be worth a look. They include: MySpace, Flickr, LinkedIn and Friendster. It’s also worth researching your market and looking for niche social networking sites geared to your industry and target audience.

With all these ideas it’s important to measure and track their performance. Ditch the non performing, expand the successful, rinse and repeat.

Tough economic times may mean less dollars to spend on your business’s marketing but you can still find smart initiatives that can help you grow your business in a cost effective manner. And don’t forget that promoting your business and website now is helping you to establish your business and your brand for the long haul.

Planning a Successful Website

As the internet has matured so have business’s requirements in a website. No longer is it enough to just have a website, or have a website that looks good. A website is now a vital part of a business’s marketing arsenal and is a valuable sales tool in itself. In order to ensure that the money spent you spend on your website is well spent and will provide a return on your initial investment you need to spend time planning your website and setting attainable goals.

This document will help you plan your website design and get you thinking about all the issues you need to address. It will also help you when talking to web design firms as you will be able to give them a clear idea of what you are after.

It Starts With the Planning

It probably goes without saying but the place to start is with the planning of your website. This can be broken down into four (4) main steps:

  1. Defining your website’s goals;
  2. Determining your target audience(s);
  3. Reviewing your competition;
  4. Determining you traffic sources.

Define Your Website Goals

The first place to start is by defining the goals of your website. This is also what you will measure to evaluate the success of the venture. Ask yourself what do you want to achieve with your site? Some goal suggestions:

  • To sell online?
  • To collect targeted leads?
  • To provide information about your products and services?
  • To brand yourself?
  • To provide customer support?
  • To entertain?
  • To build a community?
  • To receive advertising revenue?
  • To reduce printing and mail out costs?

When you define these goals bear in mind they don’t all have to be achieved at once. Your plan could involve a roll out of goals over a period of time.

Determine Your Target Audience(s)

Who is your target audience? This can be broken down into:

  • Primary Audience
  • Secondary Audience
  • Geographic Locations

Primary Audience

Your primary audience is who the majority of your website will be targeted to. Generally this will be one or two groups who are most important to your business and those you expect to receive the maximum return on your investment (ROI).

Secondary Audience

Your secondary audiences are everyone else you expect to visit your site. List as many of these as you can.

Geographic Locations

The beauty of the internet is that you don’t necessarily have to market just to your local area, unless you provide a service that is only available to your local area of course. If you are only targeting a local area again it is easy to focus on just that region. List all the geographic regions you would like to target – think local suburbs, states and countries.

Review Your Competition

The internet is a great tool to research your competition. Spend some time on your competitor’s websites and ask yourself:

Is the website professional looking?
Is it easy to work out who they are and what they do?
Is it easy to use? Can you find what you are looking for?
Would I do business with them based on their website?

It’s also important to remember that your competition offline may not be the same as your online competition. If you are wanting your website to rank in the search engines take some time to see what sites are currently ranking well for keywords relevant to your business. The top ranking sites are your online competition. Take a look at their websites and answer the questions above for them too. You may also need to consider what effort they took to reach the top of the search engines and talk to your web designer/search marketer about what will be required of your site to achieve similar success.

Determine Your Traffic Sources

Where will the visitors to your website be coming from? I’m not going to address offline marketing here just the online marketing as some of the options need to be considered before the site is designed so they can be done together – such as search engine optimisation (SEO.

Here are some of your online marketing options:

  • Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
  • Pay Per Click Advertising
  • Links on Partner Sites
  • Email Campaigns
  • Website Sponsorship
  • Forum Participation
  • Content Creation
  • Blogging
  • Other – you may have other ideas.

It’s important that you tell your web designer what online marketing strategies you are planning to use so they can take that into account if need be when developing your website.

Develop Your Online Strategy

All of the above will help you in deciding what information you should have on your website and how best to structure it.

Determine Your Website’s Content

Now is the time to decide on the content you want on your website. By content I am including text, images, illustrations, support documents and the like. Here are some of your options:

Product information – descriptions, specifications, photos, user manuals, warranties, reviews, pricing etc.

Online ordering help – payments accepted, shipping info, returns policy etc.

Service information – services offered, locations covered, warranties, pricing etc.

Company information – history, staff profiles, photos etc.

Contact details – address, phone and fax numbers, email addresses, contact names etc.

Location details – maps, parking options, opening hours etc.

News – business news, special offers, features etc.

Articles and resources – information to help support your offerings and educate your prospects and clients.

Forms – quote requests, contact forms, newsletter subscriptions etc.

Case studies – examples of successful work done to date.

Develop Your Website Structure

Often called an information architecture or site flowchart – the site structure is like the architect’s blueprint of the organisation and layout of your website. The content you want on your website will help determine the structure of the site. It’s best to break this down into main section which will then have sub-sections off of that.

As a starting point I’ve listed the main sections that most sites would have. This can be added to or deleted from as required.

  • Home
    • Products/Services
      • Product/Service 1
      • Product/Service 2
      • Product/Service 3
      • Product/Service 4
    • Company News
    • Resources
    • Articles
    • Guides
    • About Us
    • Contact Us
    • Site Map

This will give potential web design firms an idea of what is required in your website and will help them prepare a quote for you.

Putting It All Together

Once you have completed all of the above you are ready to have your website built. If you have not done so you will need to select a web design firm. Provide all the information you’ve put together from above, discuss your requirements and budget, provide examples of websites you like and talk to them to see whether they are a good fit for your business. You want a company that understands you and your goals and that you feel will help you ensure that your website is a success. With the right web design team and the planning you did using the above structure you;re sure to be on the path to a successful website.