Creating an effective online presence for your business can be a daunting task. Particularly if you run a small business and have limited time and internet expertise. One thing to keep in mind is that an online presence does not just mean a website. It includes social media platforms, business forums and networks and business directories. For small business owners who are either inexperienced or preoccupied, it can be challenging to know exactly where to start, hopefully this guide will give you a roadmap to help you and your business establish an effective online presence and avoid some of the potential pitfalls.
Where to start? The Statistics
The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) state that 91% of UK adults had used the internet within the previous 3 months. Internet access is now almost universal and if current trends continue, it will be within the next couple of years. 60% of all UK adults also engage with at least one social media platform once a day. This figure has also been increasing at a rate of 6% per year for the previous 3 years.
By far the biggest social media platform is Facebook, with 31 Million active UK users (twice that of Twitter), a balanced gender split and a fairly even split across age ranges. Facebook has also become increasingly popular with ‘Silver Surfers’ and its use among 75+ women has trebled in since 2011 (ONS figures).
STEP 1 – Set Up A Facebook Business Page (It’s Free!)
This is the first step in getting your business an online presence. So long as you have a public Facebook profile you can set up a Facebook business page for free. There are plenty of guides of how to do it on Google and YouTube so we will not go into that now. Just make sure you fill out as much detail as you can about your business, including opening times, services provided and contact details and use some nice pictures for your header and posts. You should try to make at least one post a week with relevant information pertaining to your business and don’t be afraid to ask your friends and family to like and share your content.
STEP 2 – Create and Verify a Google My Business Page (Again It’s Free)
Google My Business pages help get your business noticed by the biggest search engine of them all. Google never really got its head around social media but the Google My Business network helps provide consumers with enhanced search results about your business. Once you input your business details and address in Google My Business, Google will send out a little postcard to that address with a short code on it. You will have to input this code to verify your Google My Business listing but once this is done you additional business details will start showing up in Google searches and you will get a business pin on google maps.
STEP 3 – Utilise Other Relevant Social Media Platforms
Although Facebook is ‘The Daddy’ in terms of social media, it is not the only one, and if your business clientele has a particular demographic slant you may find other platforms useful as well. Pinterest and Instagram tend to have a young and predominately female profile, whereas LinkedIn tends to be older and male.
You can set up other social media accounts and then use IFTTT to automate your posting to reduce the amount of work you will have to do. You can set up IFTTT’s to automatically post to your Twitter page when you make a new Facebook Business Page post. Or post to Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube (If its a video).
STEP 4 – Submit your Business To As Many Business Directories as you can muster.
Around half of all internet users will use a business directory at some point to find a particular business or service. The likelihood increases when someone is looking for a local provider of a particular business or service. There are some large national directories such as yell.com, yelp.com, Trusted Traders and Thompson Local but you will probably find that there are specific local directories to you that will be more effective in rendering effective search results for your business.
According to a recent study by BIA/Kelsey, 97 percent of consumers go online prior to making a purchase to research businesses, products and services locally. 48 percent access online directories to find potential local businesses. This shows the huge potential to grow your business even if it is only local in scope, the Internet has become an integral part of consumers’ local commercial activity.
Once you have set up your social media presences and submitted your business to any relevant directories you are now potentially able to reach about 70% of the UK adult population. From this point on to increase your potential customer base you are going to need to do some research and spend some money!
STEP 5 – Research Your Competition
As is the case any time you launch a new business, you have to start with some competition analysis. And the best place to start this analysis is online. Google your competition, look at their websites and what services or products they are promoting. Look at what your competition are doing online to promote their business.
Looking at your competition can give you a good idea for what your future website needs to contain, what it could look like and give you ideas how you can make your website user experience better than your competition.
STEP 6 – Build Your Website
Once you have a clear idea of what you want to achieve with a website it is time to look at building your site. The cost of a website can vary from a few hundred pounds to several thousand pounds depending upon the level of functionality required and agency you engage. In many respects with websites you get what you pay for. Many of the major hosting companies provide cheap and relatively easy to use DIY website builders, and while it is possible to create a descent looking website with these they are likely to be a false economy if you have not factored in Search Engine Optimisation *1.
But if your goal is to build a website, and simply be “online” and you have an extremely small budget, DIY page builders like WIX or 1and1 can suffice as a stopgap. It is important to remember you can, and should, refine your websites appearance and content over time.
If you have a moderate budget of a few hundred pounds then you can engage a website developer and make your website the hub of your online presence. An effective website will integrate any existing social media presence you have and help draw in potential new clients.
With certain website platforms, such as WordPress, you will be able to easily integrate and coordinate all your social media activity, creating Twitter and Facebook posts from within your website and even creating auto-posting features to reduce the amount of time you have to spend promoting your website on social media.
STEP 7 – Promote Your Business
Establishing your businesses online presence can take time, money or both. If your business is new online it can take a while for you to show up in search results and to gain a significant following on social media. So to shortcut this process it is worth considering a moderate advertising budget with Google Adwords and Facebook Promotions.
Google Adwords can be great for local business because it has geo-targeting, enabling you to decide exactly where your ads will show up and reducing needless expenses. You can also promote your business via Facebook using geographical radius and demographic metrics to target your audience.
The key to an effective online advertising campaign is always to look at the statistics. Look at which keywords are working for you, analyse conversion rates and do not be afraid to ask new customers how they found out about your business or service.
STEP 8 – Be Vigilant
Building your businesses’s internet presence is not a one-time job. It requires ongoing maintenance, care and attention to detail. You will need to keep on top of social media and client engagement. Answer messages on social media platforms promptly. If someone leaves you a negative review, engage with them, post a public reply expressing your apologies and a wish to help them resolve any issue they may have. This will show other users you care about the service you provide.
Consumer preferences change, search engine algorithms are modified at least once a year, and new social networking platforms appear out of nowhere. It may seem like a daunting task, but if you engage with the right professionals they can make navigating the online environment a lot simpler. You do not have to do it all yourself.
Building an effective online business presence can take time. The data on recent shopping trends suggests that we are at an inflection point where the balance of power in local shopping has shifted to online. Whether your business is the local market, national or international in scope, the point remains the same, you need a solid internet presence to be successful in the modern business landscape. The recent collapse of companies like Toys R Us and Maplin’s have shown the pitfalls of not investing in an online presence. Every bit of time, money, and energy you pour into establishing your businesses online presence will pay off in the end and make your business ready for the brave new online world.
If you would like to see how Helios Web Design can help your business establish its online presence please feel free to get in touch by clicking here.
*1 Search Engine Optimisation, or SEO, determines how high up in Google search results your website will show up. A well constructed website will have effective ‘organic’ SEO and will perform well in google searches for a variety of key search terms. DIY website builders are not great for SEO so you can effectively be throwing your money down the drain with a DIY website that no-one can find.
I have used an number of hosting providers over the past year, including Godaddy, Hostgator, 1and1, PlanetHippo, TSOhost, SiteGround, Hostinger, Inmotion, UK2 and one does stand out among them all. In terms of website load speed, server up time, support and overall user satisfaction I have to recommend SiteGround. If a client now asks me to recommend a hosting provider, I can say without hesitation that Siteground is the hosting provider I would choose. Page load speeds are significantly faster than other providers and I have been impressed with their support as well. I am now using SiteGround for all of my new projects and when i get some spare time I will migrate my older websites on other hsoting plans over to Sitegound. Other notable mentions are Godaddy, for excellent telephone support; Hostinger for reasonable budget hosting for small static websites; Hostgator for good value VPS annd cloud hosting.