According to Google—knower of everything—a full, “94 percent of consumers research products online before buying.”
The search engine giant also notes that, “three out of five people use search engines as a go-to shopping resource.”
Starting to see a trend? The internet isn’t just for colossal corporations with the ample resources to build a robust web presence. Having an online presence is all but essential for businesses of every size, even if not especially smaller ones looking for cost-effective marketing strategies. Online marketing can be significantly less expensive than traditional advertising and promotional campaigns. Even if you need some expert help in order to get set up—and you probably will—the returns on investment can be pretty attractive.
Internet marketing may initially feel like undiscovered, jargon-heavy territory. That’s why we’re here to help. There’s no shortage of tips available online, and they ultimately boil down to the following considerations.
Express Your Brand
One of the nice things about a sharp-looking website is that it offers you ample room and flexibility to present information you could never fit into the Yellow Pages. This is a golden opportunity to be yourself in all the right ways.
What do you sell? Why are you selling it? What’s your backstory?
Give your site’s audience a glimpse into who you are, what you do and why you do it so well. This may require your leadership to first give these matters some additional thought. Sometimes we forget those first principles once the business plan is written. But as a small business who may well be competing with larger firms, it’s absolutely vital that you build and communicate a distinct identity. You should be highlighting what sets you apart in a potentially crowded market.
You can always take hints from industry leaders, but your brand should be unique. If you think about all the companies with whom you personally do business, you’ll probably have some rationale for why you prefer some to others.
Your website is a giant sandbox that allows you to make that pitch. It’s not just a vehicle for utilitarian information and logistics. It’s an image, and it may well be the first impression potential customers have.
Content Marketing (Set Up a Blog)
Starting a blog and regularly updating content on your website is increasingly becoming a necessity for just about any company with the requisite resources. If nothing else, it’s a free service that potential clientele will appreciate. And that means it’s a great way to build relationships with that target audience. The more they return to your site, the more they’re exposed to your products and services—the more they familiarize themselves with your brand.
Those are all real perks in their own rights. But they aren’t the only reasons blogging is a wise move.
The other big consideration is organically attracting new users to your site in the first place.
“By blogging at least twice a week, you significantly increase your website’s ability to be found on search engines,” explains Mike Lieberman, chief marketing scientist and president of Square 2 Marketing (per CIO’s Jennifer Lonoff Schiff). “The more you blog, the more traffic your site will get from Google, Yahoo and Bing… [because] you are adding fresh content to your site [assuming your blog resides on your company website]. If each of your blog posts includes a call to action, you might even generate some leads from your blog.”
That’s arguably the most tangible benefit associated with blogging, but it certainly doesn’t hurt that it can also give your brand credibility as a thought leader. It’s an opportunity for you to demonstrate your expertise and all the other things that make your company so great.
In terms of what you blog about, the sky is pretty much the limit. Ideally, however, you’ll cover topics that are consistent with what interests your target clientele. Remember that the big idea is attracting people who might actually buy stuff. If your blog is aimless, you’ll likely get random traffic with minimal interest in what you’re selling.
“You can’t realistically optimize your site for every long tail search term, but you can certainly write blog posts targeting niche keyword phrases that are likely to draw highly qualified prospects,” writes HubSpot’s Jonah Lopin. “For example, blog a reaction to a speaker in your vertical at a local tech conference. You may not draw much natural search traffic, but there is a good chance your blog will rank well very soon for searches like ‘vertical + conference + speaker + city,’ and those visitors may be highly interested in your reaction to the speech.”
Providing targeted, useful information can be instrumental to increasing your site’s exposure. It’s no coincidence that new blogs are popping up at virtually every turn.
About That Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
You can find more in-depth discussions of SEO best practices when roaming around our collection of articles, but it’s worth a brief mention here. We’ve established that regularly-updated content can help your ranking in search engine results, but it’s certainly not the only technique worth exploring.
Some factors—like populating meta-data—are technical enough that you’ll likely want to consult with an expert. But there are some basic principles you’ll want to incorporate to your content approach. For example, you should be familiar with the kind of keywords for which your target audience will likely search. And you should ensure that your content is tailored accordingly without jam-packing those keywords into the first few paragraphs. Google’s newest algorithms will actually penalize your rankings in the event you’re overtly attempting to game the system.
If your site is older, you may want to look into upgrading it to ensure it’s easily indexed by search engines. Again, talk to a web designer and at least get a check-up.
The best, tried-and-true SEO strategy is producing regular content that’s relevant to trending topics, things people are searching for.
As Forbes’ Ken Krogue put it in 2012, “But what does Google want? They want relevant, real content on the internet that people want to read and tell other people about. If Google doesn’t bring you the most relevant content when you search they aren’t doing their job.”
Build steady and interesting things people like to read or look at, and eventually—with a little help—people will start paying attention. And that means, before long, they’ll be paying attention to your products and services, too.
An ever-increasing share of search traffic is happening on mobile devices, and you’ll want to make sure your site looks good on smaller screens. Page loading times and font scaling can make a big difference, and your site should ideally be “mobile responsive”—meaning it automatically appears as a mobile version for people using smartphones or tablets.
This will also help your SEO bottom line. Google likes sites that look good on mobile.
“Today you either have a mobile-friendly site or you don’t,” writes Business 2 Community’s Gary Taylor. “There’s no middle ground. Without realizing it, a large number of businesses are being penalized for failing to provide a mobile-friendly website. This is crippling their success online.”
Make sure your site is user-friendly on smaller screens and test it on several different devices.
Exploit Social Media
Next to organic search traffic, sharing content via social media can be one of the most cost-effective ways to expose your brand. Building a legitimate following via major platforms like Twitter and Facebook can take some time, but it’s well worth the effort.
“If your small business isn’t using social media, it’s time to start,” says HubSpot CMO Mike Volpe, according to Schiff. “Social media produces almost double the marketing leads of trade shows, telemarketing or direct mail.”
You should keep your accounts humming and automate regular posts, especially on Twitter, where you can get away with the occasional re-post without annoying too many people. You’ll need to strike a balance between posting frequently and becoming an annoyance, but don’t be shy. Diversify the kinds of posts you make and avoid being too promotional all of the time. Share content that will engage, interest and entertain your target audience, things they will find useful.
You’ll also want to assign some personnel to maintaining your social media presence(s), at least one officer to oversee the effort. It’s important to have someone who can communicate the brand and respond to questions and comments in timely fashion. This is about building relationships with current and prospective clientele.
Build Relationships With Others in Your Industry
The other important relationship is with competition in your market. You can post other’s sites content and offer to write blog posts for them. You should also be linking to other content and sharing other sites’ content on social media. Be friendly. People will return the favor.
It’s also good to get ideas from competitors and know a thing or two about what’s trending in your particular niche. You can also gain perspective, inspiration and a better idea of who you have to beat.
“Take a look at your competitors’ websites,” writes Moz’s Morgan Chessman. “Ask yourself: ‘What are they doing well? What aren’t they doing well? How do they talk about their company?’ You’re looking for holes in your industry, a way to make your company different than your competitors.”
By becoming a unique commodity, you’ll increase the likelihood that others will share and link to your content. This is another reason to focus on the quality of your content—it’s good for SEO and social media purposes alike.
Email Your Current Contacts
In your bid to attract new traffic and clientele, don’t forget to show your current customer base some love. Proud of the content you’ve been producing? Be sure to share it with those who’ve already shown interest in your products and services. Give them an opportunity to sign on for regular newsletters, and be sure those newsletters are full of useful and engaging content. A weekly mailing should keep them happy without overly annoying them at the same time.
Customer engagement of any shape is usually a good idea, so long as you aren’t overwhelming anyone’s inbox. In addition to putting your content in front of more eyes, it can even help you turn those previous buyers into returning customers.
This is all about investing on the marketing wave of the present and future alike. Your mileage will likely vary, but paying attention to the basics and investing in a little help can go a long way toward replacing dependency on those old Yellow Pages and billboards. And the best news is that your return on investment can be exceptional.
Websites weren’t meant to gather dust. They should be living, breathing, active hubs that you use to attract news clientele and retain those with whom you’ve already done business. Don’t pass up the opportunity to increase your site’s visibility and usefulness.
Smaller businesses will likely need to task current employees with some of these responsibilities, perhaps offering some mild training to that end. That’s perfectly okay, especially if you seek out some consultation to help with the more technical elements like SEO. You don’t need an endless budget in order to afford a first-rate online presence. And that’s precisely why building one should be a top priority for businesses of all shapes and sizes.