In the late 1990s and early 2000s, just getting your business “online” was considered a big deal. If your business had a website, its visibility was practically guaranteed thanks to the relatively uncluttered nature of the world wide web. Fast forward a couple of decades, however, and everything has changed: Today, competition is so fierce and crowding is so intense online that unprepared business owners run a real risk of having their websites languish, buried under pages of search results.
Clearly, just having a website is no longer enough. Instead, businesses have to take multiple steps to ensure that they become “visible” to users. They have to proactively work to attract customers online rather than passively waiting for people to find them. Above all else, they need to plan:
Only by having a coherent, efficient marketing strategy in place can your business hope to succeed within today’s tough online marketplace. Ideally, this strategy should include all of the visibility-enhancing techniques discussed below:
1. Search engine optimization.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of customizing your website so that it’s more engaging and “readable” for both search engines and consumers. SEO involves a set of best practices that include making sure titles, headers, image descriptions, etc.
Incorporate niche-relevant keywords, participating in link-building, and generating exciting content (among other endeavors). Each of these activities either make it easier for major search engines like Google to index your site or help to raise the level of “authority” attributed to your website.
(The more interesting and informative content you have on your website, the higher page rank Google will give it as you will be considered an authority within your niche.) When executed correctly, SEO will drive a great deal of free, organic traffic to your website, effectively getting you noticed by consumers.
It’s important to understand that SEO is a complex, multifaceted discipline that takes a great deal of time and dedication to master. For this reason, many small businesses hire professional SEO experts rather than tackling the process alone.
2. Register with Google My Business.
Registering with Google My Business is a simple, free, and extremely important way to connect with local customers. When you register with Google My Business, you ensure that your business will come up automatically on Google Maps when people input relevant search terms. You can also add vital information about your business, such as hours of operation, a link back to your website, images, etc.
Other Articles To Consider:
3. Actively participate in online review management.
Set up an account with all of the major business review services that customers turn to when trying to verify a business’s quality of service (Yelp, Google, Angie’s List, etc.) and monitor what people are saying about your business. Make sure to respond to negative reviews and politely tell your side of the story (or offer to make amends) while also keeping an eye out for fraudulent reviews (e.g., false negative reviews written by your competitors).
All of the major online business review services will remove negative reviews which are proven to be fake, so you should report unfair slander of your business before it has a chance to damage your reputation.
Actively managing your brand image in the manner described above will yield real and valuable results. Over 80 percent of consumers now rely primarily on online reviews when deciding which businesses to trust, so keeping your online reputation “clean” is of paramount importance.
4. Maintain a presence on social media.
Popular social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have become integral marketing channels in recent years. Indeed, maintaining a social media presence is so commonplace today that businesses who fail to do so are often seen as unprofessional.
Participating on social media will enhance your website’s SEO, show customers that you’re serious about providing thorough and accessible customer service, and help to spread the word about your business. Indeed, because social media content is inherently “shareable,” you might find that your satisfied customers end up marketing for you by “liking,” retweeting, and otherwise posting your content for their friends to see.
5. Remember that “content is king.”
Excellent SEO and high social media engagement both hinge on one thing: The regular provision of interesting, informative content. To that end, you should avoid using your business’s blog for mundane updates on the state of your business. Instead, fill it with insightful articles that offer real value to your customers. (Think guides, tutorials, and articles about newsworthy events within your industry, not rambling opinion pieces.) Try to upload at least one blog article per week in order to keep your site looking active and relevant.
Note that setting up a complementary YouTube channel (if you have the required time and resources) is a great way to maximize the impact of your content. Simply rework your blog articles into lively, entertaining video scripts and get shooting. Not only are YouTube videos an excellent way to reach new customers (especially those browsing on mobile devices), YouTube is now the second-largest search engine online, behind Google.
6. Consider creating an app for your business.
Though not every business needs an app, in many cases apps can be useful drivers of mobile engagement. Businesses can use apps to either directly enhance their services (e.g., by providing travel updates, a better mobile ordering experience, etc.) or to offer fun games, rewards, and other perks. Regardless of which approach you take, the end result will be the same: Better brand recognition for your business and improved customer loyalty.
Once you have implemented the strategies above, your business will be well-positioned to succeed even if there’s intense competition within your niche. There is, however, one final piece of advice to keep in mind: Be sure to promote your website offline as well! Some business owners get so busy with online marketing that they forget how effective “real life” word of mouth can be.
Don’t make this mistake: Your web address should be prominently displayed on your business cards, advertisements, and other printed materials so that interested consumers can easily locate you online.