An important part of modern marketing is how you use the internet. But you don't need a complex, thousand-dollar website to advertise online. Here are the 10 steps to creating a simple but effective web presence for your small business:
1. Be Present
It may seem silly to have to say this, but the first step to an effective web presence is to have a presence at all. A Facebook business page is a start, but ideally, you want a website. This website should have a real domain — yes this is worth paying for, no matter how small your business — and not a free one that looks like gibberish. Ideally the URL should also not be an obvious extension of something else (like a free Google site has "sites.google.com/a/yoursite").
Once you have your domain, make sure your business' name is on it, and that your focus is on your business and what it does. It doesn't matter how fascinating the owner's antique car collection is, unless you're selling or servicing antique cars they do not belong on the home page, nor as the focus of your blog.
2. Stay Present
Now you have a website - great! But you're not done yet. You need to keep this website updated. Make sure all information is up-to-date and accurate. If you have a news or blog section, post to it regularly; if you can't manage regular posts don't include a news section or blog.
An abandonded website is almost worse than nothing. Prove to your potential customers that you care, and that you're still in business. Basic maintenance of the site — keeping information updated and outside links working — is what proves there's someone alive behind the site and gives you a real web presence. Without this, there's only an empty chair in a vast crowd.
3. Connect to the Real World
Okay, so now you're present and accounted for: you have a professional website and you keep it updated. In order to get anything out of this however, you need to connect back to the real world. So a potential customer has found your site — do they know what to do next?
You don't have to build an online store to effectively market yourself online. What you do need, is contact information. Where are you, and how do customers reach you? Be sure to provide an address, phone number, or other contact information in a prominent place.
4. Answer Main Questions
Next, ask yourself what people call you up and ask most often. Is it hours? Services? Pricing? Menu? Whatever your most frequently asked questions are, can you answer them on your website?
The key to an effective web presence is to make your site truly useful. If you offer take-out, be sure to include your menu, phone number, hours, and delivery radius on your website. If you provide appointment-only consultations, include how to schedule such an appointment, how long one will last, and what to expect from it.
You can get creative. A farm might provide regular updates on what crops are ready or almost ready. An outdoor theme park people travel long distance to might provide the local weather forecast. Just make sure that whatever your potential customers are wondering, they have the answer at their fingertips.
5. Impress Visitors
You can't have an effective presence without good content. But the content may not have a chance to matter if you can't present it cleanly. That's why a good layout is so important.
Design your website to look clean and uncluttered. Stylize to express the character of your business, but never sacrifice usability. Make sure all important content is findable and readable. The most important points should be in the header and/or on the home page - don't ever make the customer have to look for it. Bonus points if your website has cool, unique features that don't interfere with usability.
6. Be Flexible
Half way there! You now have a well-planned, consistently maintained website. But have you tried looking at it on your phone?
Your website will be in many different ways — be sure your layout is responsive, working no matter what operating system, browser choice, or screen size your potential customer has. Why waste good work?
7. Join the Community
Now you've built a sturdy platform to stand on: you have a helpful, user-friendly website. The next step is to reach out and bring people to you. Remember that Facebook business page that wasn't enough on its own? Now's the time to set it up, if you haven't already.
Along with Facebook, there's Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and many other social media sites. These are a great way to interact with customers - but if you get it, maintain it! Just as you should not have a blog if you cannot maintain regular posts, don't set up a social media account unless you are prepared to at the very least respond to anyone who contacts you through it.
To get the most out of social media marketing, be proactive. Don't just respond; post content and start conversations. Commit to regular posts, and for best effect, make a social media content plan.
8. List Your Business
A lot of sites will list businesses, with web links and/or phone numbers, for free. Take advantage of these! A good place to start is Google Business. Taking the time to maintain these listings can literally put your business on the map — Google Maps, that is.
9. Stand Out From the Crowd
Now you're actually well on your way to a truly effective web presence, but to optimize, use Google Analytics to track your website's performance. Make sure you include meta data on your pages, and adjust content as needed for SEO (search engine optimization).
Finally, it's time to advertise. Advertising online will increase your reach once you have a good website with useful landing pages. PPC ("pay-per-click") advertising puts your site in front of thousands.
And that's it! Look how far you've come.