6 Easy Steps to Take Your Business Online
It’s hard to believe that in 2014, with the web over 20 years old, there are still some businesses that aren’t online or which barely seem to make an effort. It’s critical that you don’t let yourself fall behind like this. People are looking for local and small businesses online, including yours. Not being present on the web, or not being easily found, is like having a “Closed” sign hanging on your door when customers show up.
Below, I’m going to cover a few things that I think every business should do when it comes to being online.
Get Your Own Domain Name
There are plenty of ways to get online, including services like WordPress or Tumblr. You can make a website off their domain (i.e. yourbusinessname.tumblr.com), but many services will also allow you to use your own domain name, if you have one. Get one, and use it. You can buy a domain through a variety of services, like GoDaddy or Namecheap.
Having your own domain name is like having your own phone number, rather than using an extension of someone else's. When you use someone else's domain name, you're hitching your future to them. If you move off their publishing platform, you can't as easily take all your visitors with you. If the platform closes suddenly, you lose your address and traffic.
So get your own domain name, or ensure that whoever builds your website understands this is a requirement. It's cheap insurance for your future.
List Your Business on Yelp, Google and Elsewhere
Like it or not, whether you know it or not, there are local search engines already listing your business, allowing others to gain information about it or leave reviews.
You should claim those listings for your business. While it doesn’t mean you can prevent bad reviews, it does mean you can improve the other information they provide and join the conversation. Claiming your listing gives you a platform to respond to bad reviews, as well as to thank the customers who are giving you good ones. You may also discover things that you’ll want to improve about your business, things that customers may be too shy to comment on in person.
Have a Blog
Content, as they say, is king or queen. Consumers want more than price lists, menus, hours and product offerings from businesses. They appreciate expertise. If you offer this, they benefit directly, plus they may share your expertise with others—potential new customers.
So consider writing about things you think are of interest to you and your customers through a blog. It could be as simple as new special deals you're offering. It could be a recipe from your restaurant’s menu. It could be your take on a change happening in an industry. For example, if you sell insurance, you might want to give tips on dealing with a new law or advice on reducing premiums. This helps establish you as an expert while getting more eyes on your website.
Start a Twitter account. Start a Facebook account. Start a Google+ account. All of these sites either have big audiences that may be seeking you on social media or offer benefits that help you rank higher in search results.
If they make sense for your business, also consider Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram or other social services. You don’t have to do them all at once. It's enough just to establish an account as a placeholder. Do that, and you can watch to see if people naturally start to follow your business or reach out to it. That can help you understand if you should begin to be more active on a social network.
You don't have to immediately jump in and try to be the best social participant out there. Most new business owners don’t have enough time to devote to all social media networks. It's okay to ramp up slowly, get practice and spend time where it makes the most sense. But ignoring social media is like ignoring other types of marketing channels, such as print, radio, TV or outdoors. You should at least experiment, especially since this channel is growing so much.
Get Familiar With SEO
You've probably received some email out-of-the-blue pitching you on "search engine optimization," or SEO as it's known in short. You can safely ignore those cold-call emails as the junk they almost always are.
For a local business, perhaps the best SEO tip might be this: Have your full address in a standard format somewhere on your site, and it’s even better if you make use of options to also embed it on your site in a machine-readable format commonly called Schema.org. This will help immensely when people search for businesses near a given location.
One study recently found that about half of the small and midsized businesses surveyed lack a website. If you think the other half are somehow ahead of the game for having a website, think again. Only about 6% of them had a site optimized for mobile.
You see, it's not just about being online these days. You also need to ensure you're online in a way that captures people on mobile devices, especially considering 50% of mobile searches are deemed to be local in nature and 30% of consumers only get online with mobile devices.
The Work Is Worth the Payoff
Not all the above suggestions are easy, but running a business isn't easy either. Part of running a business is finding new customers as well as keeping your existing ones happy. Almost all of those customers are online, so reaching out to them on the web shouldn’t just be something extra you do when you find the time. It's a fundamental business practice you need to be doing now.
Danny Sullivan is the Editor-in-Chief of Search Engine Land and a former columnist at CNET and Search Engine Watch. He has been writing about search engine optimization for over 10 years.