What Does It Take to Build an Online Presence?
When I start working with a new client, I quickly remember how overwhelming the world of digital marketing can be. Terms like content, optimization, inbound, traffic and organic are thrown around casually and used interchangeably as if everyone knows what they mean.
My clients tend to be incredibly smart people who know that they need to step up their online game, but either don’t have the time or desire to do it themselves. They also want someone who can help them understand the big picture. Only then can we identify what they already have in place, how well it meets with current expectations and what we need to address next.
Below is a high level view of the components involved in building an online presence with a brief description of the level of sophistication that is currently expected.
1) An Up-to-Date Website
Most businesses already have a website but if it is more than a couple of years old it might be time for an update. This may sound aggressive, but the speed of technological change has created a reality where websites rapidly become dated and can no longer meet consumer expectations for performance.
At the very least, your website should be fast, easy to navigate and mobile friendly. Mobile friendly (also referred to as having a “responsive design”) means that your site will be equally viewable on both desktop and mobile device. This article from HubSpot, titled “Is Your Website Mobile-Friendly?,” provides further information and links to tools that will test your site.
Websites should also be designed with the assumption that visitors will be impatient. This means that they must be visually appealing and should immediately convey the value you provide. If your visitors must spend more than a minute or two figuring out what you do they will likely lose interest.
Building a website is no longer a discrete project. Today’s businesses must budget for ongoing maintenance and regular updates and they should work with professionals who have strong knowledge of search engine optimization (SEO). SEO is the practice of improving a website’s organic (unpaid) visibility to search engines such as Google.
Your website should also be connected to an analytics tool such as Google Analytics. Website analytics tools keep a record of what happens when people visit your site so you can identify areas for improvement. Even if you have no intention of analyzing this information right now begin collecting the data anyway so it is available when you need it.
2) Fresh, Original, Quality Content
Gaining attention for your website is not easy. As consumers, we are bombarded with promotional material and we have become accustomed to tuning it out. That said, we still need information. We seek answers to our questions online and we are attracted to fresh, original, quality content.
“Content marketing” is an element of digital marketing that involves the creation and promotion of
materials (content) designed to educate, inform or entertain a target audience. This content differs from traditional marketing in that it often does not directly promote a product. Instead, content marketers address questions, needs or desires that their target customer would search for online and for which their product could be a solution.
Content takes many forms such as blog posts, videos, white papers, e-books, e-mails or visual images. Ideally, you will create content to appeal to your target customers at every stage of their research process (often referred to as the buyer’s journey) so they encounter your brand repeatedly and grow to trust you.
Similar to your website, content should be optimized for search engines. Once developed, it may be housed on your website, social media channels or other online locations and you can share links to it as part of your social media activity.
3) An Interactive Social Media Presence
A powerful way to gain visibility for your business is to establish a supporting presence on relevant social media platforms. Done properly, social media will keep your business top-of-mind with your followers so they will think of you when they need a solution you can provide.
Using social media for business is an ongoing process that requires patience and dedication. The goal is to build relationships and humanize your brand by interacting with your community and providing valuable information. To achieve results, you must approach social media as a networking opportunity (where you build and nurture trusting relationships) vs. a forum for broadcasting updates and special offers.
Identify the channels that are right for your business, grow a following and develop a rhythm of daily engagement with your community. This will involve a mix of sharing your own information and responding and re-sharing information from your community.
As with your website, you can (and should) measure the results of your social media activity to identify areas for improvement. This can be done through the social platforms themselves and in combination with your website analytics.
4) Paid Promotion
Content and social media marketing have received quite a bit of attention as “free” promotional opportunities, but those opportunities are dwindling as more and more companies join the fun. The online world is competitive and getting your company heard above all that noise can be a challenge. While you should certainly strive to get the best results you can through organic means, don’t be afraid to experiment with some paid promotion.
Paid promotion can be as simple as identifying which content and social updates perform best organically and giving them a little, inexpensive boost to expand their reach. And, obviously, it can get quite complex to the point where you need to employ the assistance of a highly trained professionals.
The extent to which you invest will depend on your business, but don’t assume that advertising is a costly venture that you can’t afford. The social platforms, in particular, typically allow you to set a small budget and target your efforts to gain maximum results.
It wasn’t that long ago when all you had to do to establish an online presence was to build a website and maybe throw up some banner ads. That world no longer exists. The descriptions I provided above are super high level. The amount of sophistication required for each of these components will vary and some practices (like search engine optimization or inbound marketing) must be woven into everything you do.
Building an online presence can be complicated and costly but you don’t have to do it all at once. Understanding the symbiotic relationship between all of these components is a good place to start and be sure to keep watch for the inevitable changes. Despite the technical sounding terms and the fact that there is data involved, digital marketing it is more of an art than a science. Start small and grow over time with your business and level of expertise.
When necessary, pull in professionals to help but be wary of anyone who claims to know it all. Instead, look for digital marketers who love what they do, stay abreast of the constant changes and who are
stubborn resilient enough to endure a few disappointments in pursuit of something that works.