Manage your business's online presence the same way you'd manage your business's physical presence.
The Internet has been with us now for over thirty years, and try as we might to wish away its negative consequences, we’re stuck with both the good and the bad. So as the song says, let’s accentuate the positive and focus on how to take advantage of the good opportunities that the Internet makes available. For a small business, that starts with managing your online presence.
In the old days, when your business consisted entirely of a brick-and-mortar location, whether a factory, a store front, or an office, you’d make sure to sweep the sidewalk out front, wash the windows, maintain the landscaping, and put out a respectable sign. You’re trying to manage the physical presence of your business so as to signal to potential customers that it’s a good idea to do business with you.
Managing your business’s online presence is no different. You’re trying to manage the digital appearance of your business so as to signal to potential customers who first interact with your business online that it’s a good idea to do business with you. But while you can’t exactly hang a flower box on the window of someone’s web browser, here are four things you can do to tell potential customers that it’s all right to come on in.
We feel a little out of date expressly saying what everyone has long known to be true, but you need a website, and a good website at that.
Notice what we did NOT say here: We did not say, “You need a website,” and leave it at that. We said, “You need a GOOD website.” That means that you don’t get to check off this box just because your brother-in-law set you up with something that was clunky even for its day and hasn’t been updated since 2002. You only get to check off this box when you have a modern, clean, professional-looking website.
What counts as a “good” website is going to mean different things in different industries, and that’s going to require a little brain damage on your part up front before you actually start building your website. Think a little bit about the actual function of your website in the context of your business. Will customers actually buy your product through your website? Or are they more likely to use your website just to gather information about your business and to validate that you’re legit?
If you’re running an e-commerce store, then enabling your customers to buy through your website is pretty much the whole point of it. But if you’re a service provider or working professional, then the main function of your website might be simply to get the customer to reach out to you for an initial conversation about whether to hire you. Or if you’re a destination or experience business like a restaurant, bar, or comedy club, then your customer might just want to find some basic information about your business while seeing enough positive images to convince him that he’ll have a positive experience if he stops by.
Notice also that we did NOT say that you need a super complicated website with lots of bells and whistles. Your website needs only the specific features necessary for it to serve the particular business function you’ve just set out for it. Try to have answers to those questions before you go hire a web designer, and try to spend a little time looking at the websites of competitors in your industry to see what you like and what you don’t. The more thought you put into your website before hiring a web designer, the more efficiently you’ll be able to use his services, and the more cost-effective service you’ll be likely to get, too.
But one bell and whistle that you should try to incorporate into your website is landing pages. A landing page is a special web page on your website that hits a particular target customer with various marketing appeals before issuing a call for the customer to take some action. Sometimes that call to action might be to download an application. Other times it might be to schedule an appointment or sign up for a newsletter. Or it might be to enter the customer’s contact information into a web form. The goal of a landing page is to convert visitors into leads by getting them to fill out the form.
Just to avoid confusion, a landing page is different from a home page. A home page is what you probably think of when you think of a website. It’s the main page that first comes up when you type in the main domain address, and it’s what you navigate back to whenever you click the home link from somewhere else on the website. All of your customers can easily see it, so it needs to speak to all of them. In contrast, a landing page might not be easy to navigate to and may only show up when a customer enters particular search terms in a search engine or clicks on a particular advertisement, and that allows you to deliver much more specific marketing messages that are tailored to particular types of customer segments.
Again, what counts as a good landing page is going to vary both by industry and by customer segment. Put that marketing hat on and think about the different customer segments you serve. We’ve written before about how to segment your customer base here, and it’s exactly the type of homework that you want to have done before you start spending money on a web designer.
Okay, so you’ve got a few landing pages up that specifically target particular customer segments that you serve. So what? If a landing page doesn’t get any traffic, then it’s like a tree falling in the forest when no one’s around. So your next goal is to drive traffic to your landing pages.
Paid advertising is one way to do that, and it’s exactly what it sounds like. You can use Google Ads to target potential customers based on the search terms that they enter into Google, or you can use Facebook Ads to target potential customers based on their location, interests, or demographics.
There are pluses and minuses to every option in this space, and trade-offs abound. For example, Facebook might end up being a little cheaper than Google Ads, but because you’re targeting based on demographics and characteristics that are static, as opposed to purchase intent, you might be sending your marketing appeals to someone who fits your target customer persona but who isn’t really in the market for whatever you’re selling. In contrast, Google Ads could end up being a little more expensive, but because you’re targeting someone who you know is searching for something relevant to your business, you might stand a better chance of getting your marketing appeals in front of someone who actually does want to make a purchase, and soon.
A word to the wise, though: When you’re first starting out with paid advertising, make sure that you set a low daily budget on any campaigns that you run. That way you won’t run the risk of coming back to your campaign a week later only to realize that you’ve unexpectedly run up a huge bill. You’ll also be able to see the performance of your ads in an analytics dashboard, and then you can tell whether you’re getting your money’s worth and whether it makes sense to continue or whether you need to retool a little.
But you may not want to start out paying for advertising just yet, especially if you feel like you don’t have the budget for it. Two other options that don’t cost you anything out of pocket–just a fair amount of time–are content marketing and social media marketing. Both can be effective ways of driving traffic to your landing pages, but the goal here is to make sure that you’re using these tools in a way that’s consistent with your business model and your offerings.
Content marketing involves creating helpful, informative, and engaging content to engage your customers. We’ve written about it in greater detail here, but for now just think blog posts, infographics, videos, or ebooks. Search engines can pick up your content marketing and bring potential customers to your content organically, and then your landing pages will have the opportunity to convert them into actual customers.
Social media marketing involves posting content on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter to drive traffic to your landing pages to generate leads. You might post anything from plain text posts to articles and videos.
So how do you use each in a way that’s consistent with your business? That’s a question of judgment that really depends on the nature of your audience, and there aren’t any hard-and-fast rules. But in general, if you think that your customers spend a slightly larger amount of time reading blog posts or watching videos about topics in your space than the average person, then content marketing may be a good way to reach them. If you’re targeting a B2C audience on the younger side, then social media marketing might be worth a try. On the other hand, if you think that you’d feel out of place in a particular channel like Instagram or Twitter, then there’s probably a reason for that, so listen to your gut.