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 There’s nothing worse than a website with outdated information.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?

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Conduct Your Own Website SEO Audit

Most people who contact me regarding their website’s performance worry about their rankings in the search engines. The website may not be ranking at all or may only rank for a few keywords, which affects the quality and quantity of traffic they receive. Most, however, don’t know how to evaluate their website in terms of it’s current status in the search engines and what to do to improve it’s rankings. Enter the SEO Audit. An SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) Audit will help you evaluate your website’s search engine friendliness and show you where it needs improvement.

Conducting regular SEO Audits is vital to any SEO success, in fact I recommend you conduct one every 3-4 months. While utilising the services of a professional internet marketer to perform your SEO Audit is ideal the following will hep you get started and show you the main areas of your website that need improving.

Are Your Targeting the Right Keywords?

Selecting the keywords to use when optimising your website is a vital part of the search engine optimisation process. Select the wrong words and it doesn’t matter how well you rank. Select just a few of the more obvious words and it will minimise your chances of attracting a wide range of visitors at different stages of the buying cycle.

When selecting keywords for your website you want to target a wide range of phrases. Select both easy (longer phrases) and hard terms (shorter more competitive phrases). This will allow you to work towards both long and short term goals. It’s also worth including locations, if relevant, synonyms and singular and plural versions of your keywords.

To see what keywords visitors are using to find you study your log files or web analytics data. This will show you what search engines your visitors are coming from and what keywords they used to find you.

Are Your Website URL’s Search Friendly?

There are two types of URL’s: dynamic and static. A dynamic URL is a page address that results from the search of a database driven website or a website that runs a script. The content on this page will change depending upon the query being run (variable strings). Static URL’s, or pages, on the other hand have content that remains the same.

A dynamic URL generally looks something like this:

http://www.website.com/products/widget.php?product=12345&cat=987

A static URL on the other hand, is a URL that doesn’t change, and doesn’t have variable strings. It looks like this:

http://www.somesites.com/products/widget-12345.htm

Dynamic URL’s can be difficult for search engine spiders to read. If your website utilises dynamic URL’s I’d recommend rewriting them to appear as static “search friendly URLs”.

Does Each Page Have a Unique Page Title?

From a search engine optimisation perspective page titles are one of the most important factors in getting pages indexed and visited. Each page should have a unique page title that describes the specific content of that page and contains the main keyword phases used on that page.

Search engines give the words in page titles great weight, especially if the words in the page title are also in the copy on the page.

It is recommended that your page titles be approximately 63 characters long. Some search engines, in particular Google, cut off the page title after about 63 characters. There are two main reasons to ensure a search engine displays a complete page title:

  1. It tells the search engine what the page is about.
  2. When listed in the search results it tells potential visitors what the page is about.

A page title should not be just a list of keywords. Instead it should include the main keyword phrase related to the page it’s on  and should be as compelling as possible to encourage potential visitors to click on your listing and not those around it. No two pages on your website should have the same page titles.

Does Each Page Have Unique Meta Description and Keyword Tags?

There are two main meta tags that should be included on every page of your website:

  1. Meta Description Tag: <meta name=”description” content=”Your description here”>
  2. Meta Keywords Tag: <meta name=”keywords” content=”keywords here”>

Meta Description Tag

The meta description tag has varying levels of relevancy in each of the search engines. Many search engines still support it and some will use it as a text snippet when showing their results.

Your meta description tag should be between a sentence and a paragraph, include your main keyword phrase, and describe what the page is about. It should also be compelling to encourage searches to click on it.

Your meta description tags should be unique for each page on your website.

Meta Keywords Tag

At this point in time the meta keywords tag is not supported by many major search engines. Of the top three search engines (Google, Yahoo! and MSN Live,) Yahoo! is the only one that gives it some credence.

Whilst it is not currently supported that’s not to say that this will change down the track so it’s still worthwhile spending a few minutes on this tag.

Your meta keywords tag should be unique for each page on your site and should include the keywords relate to that page as well as common misspellings, synonyms and alternate versions of a word.

Are You Using H1, H2 and H3 Tags Correctly?

H1, H2 and H3 tags create different sized heading on your pages  such as the main page title (h1), sub heading (h2) and small heading (h3). As well as being a great way to break up the text on the page search engines also take note of them so it’s important to use them and incorporate your keywords into these headings.

Does Your Website Have a Site Map?

A Site Map page, linked to every page of your website, and using html-based text links, provides another pathway for search engine spiders to find all of the pages of the site, and index them.

Google and Yahoo! Both recommend the use of a Site Map. From the Google Information for webmasters page (http://www.google.com/intl/en/webmasters/guidelines.html):

“Offer a site map to your users with links that point to the important parts of your site. If the site map is larger than 100 or so links, you may want to break the site map into separate pages.”

From Yahoo!’s search help (http://help.yahoo.com/l/us/yahoo/search/indexing/indexing-10.html):

“Our crawler isn’t always able to follow dynamic links, so to make sure that content is included, provide a static link to new content. If your site navigation is normally done only with dynamic links, you can create a site map page with a static link map of your site so robots can discover all of your content.”

An example of a Site Map page is this one from Google:

http://www.google.com/sitemap.html

It doesn’t link to every page on the site, but it does link to the most important ones, and it is organised to make it easy for people to find the information that they are interested in.

Do You Check Your Website’s Statistics Regularly?

Website analytics, the process of analysing your website’s visitors, is a powerful way to understand what is going on with your website. It enables you to see who is visiting your website, where they are coming from, what search terms they used (if applicable) to find your site, how long they stayed on your site, what pages they looked at and so on.

Website analytics can be handled in two ways:

  1. By analysing your website log files with a software program.
  2. Installing a small piece of code on your website.

There are many applications out there ranging from free to extremely expensive. I’ve listed some of the more popular in the resources section on our website.

Conducting an SEO Audit of your website is an essential part of the SEO process and vital for ensuring your ranking on the search engines and attracting targeted visitors to your site. As your site grows it’s easy to overlook these elements so make sure you audit your site regularly.

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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.

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Back to Basics: Building a Website 101

With the economy in decline I’m getting a lot of calls from businesses looking to increase their enquiries and sales in a cost effective manner. Many are finding they need to design or re-design their website in order to achieve these goals so I thought it was a good time to go back to the basics of building a website.

For too long a website was more of a vanity item, with no real thought into how it could make you money. Over the past few years there has been more talk on how a website should make a positive return on your investment (ROI) and boost your bottom line. Today that goes without saying and so a website that is not achieving your goals is a drain on your finances and a waste of your time.

The best way to ensure your website is a success is to plan it wisely. Be realistic about your online goals, budget a reasonable amount of money to build it, select the right web team and put time and effort into working together to build and market it. Do all of the above and you have a very strong chance of creating a successful website.

Be Realistic About Your Online Goals

The first step in building a successful website is to define your online goals. So step back and think about what you want to achieve with your website. These goals could include:

  • Promote your products and services;
  • Sell online;
  • Collect targeted leads;
  • To brand yourself;
  • Provide customer support;
  • Reduce postage and printing costs;
  • Build an online community;
  • Collect advertising revenue.

When determining your online goals bear in mind that they don’t all have to be achieved at once. If you are on a budget and can’t afford all the bells and whistles in the beginning plan a website that can have new features introduced over a period of time. Being realistic abut what you can achieve is really important. I can’t tell you the number of enquiries I get from people wanting to build the next eBay with a budget of $200. I kid you not.

Defining your goals is the first step in realising a successful website. Everything about your website should be geared towards achieving these goals. The clearer and more realistic you are about your goals the better the strategy you will develop, and the more likely you will achieve online success.

Set a Reasonable Budget

Once your website’s goals have been defined it’s time to start looking at your budget. When building a website it’s important to look at all the costs involved including website design, content creation, website hosting and ongoing marketing and promotion. Under each of these areas are issues you need to consider:

Website Design

The design of your website can include logo design, graphic creation and photography, such as product photography. Take a look at your current marketing materials and determine what can be used on your website and what will need to be  created from scratch. It’s important to keep in mind that your online image should reflect your offline brand. This can be achieved by using the same logo and colour schemes as well as utilising other elements used in your existing marketing materials.

Content Creation

Content creation more simply refers to the text on your website. This text includes information about your business and the products and/or services you offer. Are you able to write this text yourself or will you require someone to do it for you?

Website Hosting

Once built your website needs somewhere to live. This is known as website hosting. There are hundreds of thousands of website hosting providers which can make choosing the right one a daunting task. When researching your available options keep in mind the following:

  1. Reliability
  2. Speed
  3. Storage Space
  4. Scalability
  5. Support

Your web designer should be able to help you choose a website hosting provider to suit your budget and requirements.

Marketing and Promotion

The final consideration in developing your budget is the promotion of your website. A common mistake is the assumption that if you build it they will come. Not so. The Internet is huge, and growing every day, if you want people to visit your site you need to promote it, just like you would an offline business. Website promotion can include a multitude activities including:

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

  • Pay Per Click (PPC) Advertising
  • Link Building
  • Newsletter Creation
  • Blogs
  • Promotions
  • Forums

I’ll talk more about these marketing activities later in the article and you can also view our online resources (link at end of the article) for more information.

When it comes to setting your online budget I often find it’s better to look at your budget in terms of what you are prepared to spend in the first 12 months as opposed to just budgeting the initial development of your website. By having a budget for the first 12 months you and your web designer can look at the best way to allocate your money. It may be that you spend 60% building and hosting your website and the remaining 40% to promote it.

Choose the Right Web Design Team

Ok you’ve defined your online goals and set a reasonable budget. Now you need to find someone who can help you achieve these goals. Enter the web designer.

With so many web design firms available the biggest problem will not be finding one but making sure that you find the right one for you. The right web designer will not only make a website that looks good but will understand your site is a business tool that needs to perform for you. In order to find the best web designer for your project you’ll need to spend some time researching the market, looking for potential design firms and talking with them to make sure you are a good fit, that they understand your needs and can deliver a successful solution.

Ideally you want to become a team with your web designer, developing a long term relationship where they can help with your ongoing efforts to create a successful website.

Put Time & Effort Into Marketing Your Website

Once you’ve got your website online you need to market it to attract targeted prospects. A mix of the following internet marketing efforts will be a good start:

  • Search Engine Optimisation – usually best done in conjunction with building your website. Search engine optimisation (SEO) is the process of creating a website that ranks highly in the search engines for keyword phrases related to your business. A motel in Cairns would want to rank well for phrases such as “cairns motel” for example.
  • Link Development – links from credible, related type websites will not only bring targeted prospects to your website it will also help you with your search engine rankings.
  • Advertising & Sponsorships – seek out other websites that you can advertise on. Look for sites that attract an audience you think would be interested in your products and/or services. Consider banner ads, sponsorships, competitions and newsletter advertising, to name a few.
  • Pay Per Click Advertising – the two main players in the Pay Per Click (PPC) market are Google and Yahoo! PPC allows you to create advertisements that only display when specific keywords, chosen by you, are searched on. When your ad is clicked on you pay an amount (or bid), set by you. Bids start from about AU$0.10 and a campaign can be up and running in a few minutes.
  • Online Newsletters – online newsletters are a fabulous way to communicate with prospective customers. It’s an opportunity to showcase your knowledge, provide information about your products and services and promote special offers.

Ongoing marketing and promotion takes time and money but on the plus side you’re able to track and measure your results accurately which will ensure the money you spend is returned twofold.

It’s the old adage, you’ve got to spend money to make money. With the right approach to developing your website and creating a positive return on your investment (ROI) your online efforts will help you build a successful site and help you ride out these economic down times.

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eCommerce 101: Why Should I Buy From You?

With a 5 month old baby I’ve found I’ve been gravitating to baby and children’s clothing websites – although my hubby doesn’t need to know that. ;-) In my browsing  I have discovered that there are hundreds of gorgeously designed sites with heaps of beautiful clothes and accessories. Far too many to buy from even if I wanted to. And the baby market is not alone in the competition stakes, most online niches face the same dilemma. So I got to thinking – how do you stand out? What can you do to differentiate yourself from your competitors? How do you make sure you get the online shopper’s dollars and not some other online store? The following article will provide you with tips and advice to help your online store stands out from the crowd.

The Basics

The first step is to make sure your site is built in a way that is easy and engaging for prospects to use so we’ll start with the basics.

Design & Usability

I feel this is almost too obvious but with the amount of poorly built sites out there I guess it’s not. A well designed website that is easy for your prospects to use is a must. A website that looks professional instills confidence in potential customers and reassures them that they can buy from you safe in the knowledge that their goods will be what they wanted and arrive on time. It tells them that they are dealing with a professional company. A company whose products are of high quality, who answers correspondence promptly and who ships goods quickly.

The usability, or ease-of-use of your website is equally important. If the site is hard to use, information difficult to find, or confusing to navigate your prospective customers will go to the next website on their list. One of the best ways to test the usability of your website is to watch friends and family as they use your site. Set them a task of finding and purchasing a specific item and watch as they perform the task. Things to look out for include:

  • Can they find what they are looking for quickly?
  • Do they have to keep backtracking through the site?
  • Does the site search return relevant results? Any results?
  • Can they easily view enlarged images of the products?
  • Are the images of high quality? Do they represent the products well?
  • Are they able to easily add items to their shopping cart?
  • Is the checkout easy to use?

As well as the above ask for their feedback and then make changes based on your findings.

Design and usability is the place to start. If you get this right you’ll have a better chance at converting the people who browse your website into buyers.

Shipping & Returns Information

Provide clear shipping and returns information and make sure it is prominently displayed on your site. Customers want to easily see whether you ship to their location, what it will cost them to do so and how you handle returns if there is a problem. Don’t hide this down the bottom in a link, make sure it is clear and easy to see on every page of the site.

Testimonials

Finally, make sure to display testimonials from happy customers throughout your website. There is no better way to show prospective customers that they can confidently buy from you than with positive feedback from people who already have. Include a wide variety of testimonials including ones that focus on the site’s ease of use, quality of product, speed of shipping and fast resolution of issues when they arise. In a nutshell include testimonials that cover all aspects of the buying process.

Added Extras

Once you’ve got the basics right it’s time to go that extra mile to entice those prospects to buy from you. Remember you’re not the only eCommerce site that is well designed and easy to use. Here are just some of the ways you can entice shoppers to buy from you.

Shipping & Delivery Specials

In my experience many a shopping cart has been abandoned near the end of the checkout process due to the shipping rates. Expensive shipping, and I mean expensive in the eyes of the shopper, is a real turn off. So reward your customers. Offer free shipping if they spend over a certain dollar amount.

Fast Shipping

And when I say fast I mean super fast. Overnight if possible. We’re an impatient lot and if you read the same mags I do we want instant gratification. So there’s nothing worse than ordering something online and waiting forever for it to arrive. And believe me forever can be 4 days. So try and offer next day shipping. And don’t punish your customers by charging the earth for it.  Trust me next day, reasonably priced shipping will increase your sales dramatically.

Quantity Discounts

If you sell a products that people can buy in quantity consider offering a discount the more they buy. It’s a great way to encourage larger orders as let’s face it we all love to think we’ve saved money. Even if we had to spend twice as much in the first place to get that discount.

Loyalty Schemes

Another great way to attract customers and make sure they become repeat customers is to offer a loyalty scheme. Offer a percentage discount which increases on every order – capped at a certain amount – for life. You’ll find people will want to make more purchases with you to get to the magic capped amount. And then they will continue to shop with you, not your competitors, as that’s where they get their discount. Now that’s loyalty.

Trial Packs

Do you offer a product that people may want to try before buying? If so consider selling trial packs at a cheaper rate to encourage people to try your products. Slip in a discount coupon for their next order and you’re sure to get their business.

Reward Purchases

Following on from the above, reward people who order from you by giving them a discount on their next order. Most eCommerce systems will allow you to offer a percentage or flat discount amount.

Encourage Word of Mouth

Finally, we all know that one of the best ways to promote your business is to have happy customers tell their friends about you. So reward them by offering a scheme such as “Tell A Friend” whereby the referrer receives a gift certificate to use against their next order for every friend they refer to you.

In many ways the online world is no different to the offline world. Businesses who offer good products and excellent customer service and are able to market themselves smartly will be the ones who succeed and do well online. So don’t just put up an eCommerce site and hope for the best. Work hard and be smart and reap the rewards.

That’s it for me. I’m off to do a bit of online shopping as my DS (darling son in net speak) needs some more cute stuff. ;-)

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