I dont need to convince you that a small business must maximize its online presence if it has any hopes of surviving, let alone thriving, in this tough economic climate.
After all, marketing methods that worked in the past are now antiquated with the ubiquity of the Internet, which contains seemingly everything youd ever want to know, from business listings and reviews to recipes and news.
The question, of course, is how to build up your companys Web presence. I know that I was fairly lost in that regard that when I left the corporate world for entrepreneurship in 2008, and I run an Internet company. Now our main property CardHub.com is one of the leading credit card comparison websites in the United States, receiving about 10,000 unique visitors per day.
Here are five things I focused on in bridging the gap.
Build a website
People expect to find a companys phone number, address, hours, services and perhaps even the opinions of customers when they search for it online.
You can think of this as an Internet-era phone book listing, and its important regardless of whether your business has a national presence or operates on the most local of levels.
Fortunately, there are a number of reasonably priced services, such as GoDaddy and 123 Web Design, that enable you to customize pre-made templates to quickly give your business a respectable-looking online home tailored to your needs. Just remember to keep things simple and use a common-sense structure that clearly presents the most relevant information up-front, thereby minimizing the number of clicks consumers must make to find what theyre looking for.
Learn about SEO
Setting up a website is only part of the battle. You also want your site to appear high on search engine results in order to garner the business of consumers who may not know your business by name but are looking for the same types of products and services that you provide.
Studies have shown that people click on the listings displayed on the first page of search engine results more than 90 percent of the time. Thats where search engine optimization comes in. There are a number of helpful resources you can consult on the subject, including SEOMoz, but the basic premise is that credible sites with helpful and highly relevant information are displayed highest in search engine results. Its therefore important that your websites content isnt static but rather up to date and consistently featuring new material.
Using a website design platform that allows you to maintain a blog can be helpful in this regard.
Leverage social media
While improving your websites search rankings through SEO is a long, difficult process, you can quickly get your companys name out there by leveraging sites like Yelp and Google Places that allow you to create customized profiles. You can use these sites as well as a variety of other social media outlets (e.g. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn) to advertise specials, hold contests, showcase your expertise, answer consumer questions and address complaints. The best part is that social media is free and (relatively) easy to use.
Just make sure to keep your information up to date, provide value and be active enough to engage folks without annoying them.
While social media naturally lends itself to grassroots marketing, its also helpful in terms of traditional advertising. For example, Facebook gives you an unprecedented ability to customize advertising, allowing you to target ads based on where someone lives, where they go to school, what their favorite activities are, etc. Being active on the Web also means you can collect customers e-mail addresses and start a mailing list or even showcase your products and services using videos.
My advice is that you focus your efforts on marketing that both provides some sort of benefit to consumers and enables you to contact them in the future without incurring an additional cost.
Share your expertise
One particularly interesting way to highlight your companys value is to provide evidence that youre an industry expert. You can answer customers questions, blog about current events, make yourself available to the press, get active on Twitter and more. That will help you make a name for yourself, thereby drawing increased attention and business to your company.
Ultimately, while the Internet might at first seem like a scary place thats best to avoid, its clearly one of the most important marketing tools at your disposal, so you need to conquer that fear quickly.