It wasn’t all that long ago that Web-based commerce was new and exciting — and maybe a little bit confusing. Being able to trust a business to take in a consumer’s order and debit/credit card information, and then to deliver the product — that was an enormous change.
It’s now a crucial element of daily business. New small business owners can sometimes get stuck in the brick-and-mortar ways of thinking. For those looking to launch a business, the Web must play a significant role. Here’s a look at several stepping stones to having a successful Web presence.
If you build it …
There are many places a small business can turn to when looking to start or improve its web presence. A recent study by GoDaddy and Alignable surveyed more than 100,000 small business owners. The results showed that 51 percent of small businesses hire professional Web services to design and build their sites, and 26 percent use “DIY” building sites. Free building sites came in at 23 percent.
Here’s how one of the surveyed business owners described the importance of a strong Web presence: “A website is no longer an investment that needs to be made every three to five years. It is a marketing tool that constantly needs to be refreshed, upgraded, and renewed. Even for small businesses, if you don’t have a mobile-friendly website that you yourself can update, then you need to think about upgrading.”
The concept of branding can perplex new small business owners. How do you brand yourself on the Web? The design has a lot to do with it. Ian Mills examined this in a piece for The Huffington Post, noting that a website (along with the business logo and brochures) “should all be designed for maximum aesthetic appeal.”
“Beauty and elegance exude professionalism and trigger feelings of comfort and reassurance which reinforces the value of your brand in the customer’s mind,” he says. “Impressive design doesn’t always mean graphics and animation. Typography, page layout, UX design, and design for readability are all important factors in an engaging and effective brand image. What’s most important is to design to impress your niche.”
Social, social, social
If Facebook, Twitter and other social networks are not a part of a business’ Web plan, it’s time to rethink the strategy. It goes beyond having a mere presence on those sites. Rich Mintzer writes about this for Entrepreneur, saying that it helps to “get active in the groups that cater to your web audience,” and to keep the information flowing with updates.
“Like any community-oriented activity online, you don’t want to cross the line into spam,” he says. “Only ‘friend’ people when it makes sense. And keep your profiles updated. If you’ll be participating in real-world events with your business, put that in the ‘events’ section on your Facebook page, for example. If you’ve updated a section of your site or added a new product or service, broadcast that on your Twitter feed to instantly alert your audience. Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest and other social media platforms are ideal ways to draw traffic to your website with links and content that tie into your site.”
Selling products outside of a business’ website may initially seem strange to a new small business owner. Having a presence on high-profile commerce sites (Amazon, eBay) can provide a major boost, Mintzer explains.
“Those sites let you identify yourself to viewers, and a few dollars spent on highlighting your items on those sites may just bring in lots of traffic from surfers seeking more information. … Even if you sell those specific goods at no profit, the traffic increase your site may experience could well justify your efforts by leading to additional, or future, sales.”
Here’s another way to utilize Web content and reach out to customers. As David Ronick describes for Inc.com: “An e-newsletter is like a magazine stripped to its essence: One article plus one ad, emailed every day. Most articles are under 180 words, with a consistent voice and theme, catering to a specific audience. But it’s not just about efficiency — it’s personal.”
How personal? Ronick quotes Ben Lerer, founder of Thrillist Media Group. “When someone subscribes, they invite you into their inbox on a regular basis,” Lerer says. “That’s why advertisers continue to love email as a marketing tool. It gives them a chance to build a one-to-one relationship with consumers that few other types of media can match.”
As smartphone and tablet usage has skyrocketed, so has the importance of a strong mobile presence. There are revenue opportunities here, so mobile sites cannot be relegated to an afterthought. Lauren Indvik examines this for Mashable.com, including results from a Google survey.
“This is a no-brainer: Shoppers are more likely to buy a product or service if your site is optimized for mobile,” Indvik writes. “Three-fourths said they are more likely to return to a site in the future if the experience on mobile is good. If your site isn’t optimized for mobile, shoppers will go elsewhere.”
Find the little opportunities
We typically think big when it comes to marketing, with multifaceted campaigns designed to attract a wide audience. There are smaller, subtle ways to add to a small business’ outreach — even something as small as an email signature. As Mintzer writes, the signature is “an especially powerful and absolutely free tool.”
“Create a signature with a link to your website in it and have it automatically attached to every one of your outgoing emails,” he explains. “It takes only a few seconds to create an email signature, and it may bring in visitors to your site every day.”
Having video content on a business site is great, but it doesn’t have to be limited to that one spot. With the rise of YouTube and other video providers, businesses have opportunities to reach more people. Tommy Charles recommends making good use of these sites in a story for Demand Media.
“Potential customers love product videos because they get to see the product in action,” he explains. “Create videos that are topical in nature and not overt advertisements. Try to show your product solving a problem in an imaginative or entertaining way. Do not miss the opportunity to link to your website, blog and social media sites in the video description.”Business & Finance Articles on Business 2 Community