What Does It Take to Build an Online Presence?

Person working on a tablet, with a diagram of the online marketing infrastructure.

Last updated March 13, 2019.

When I start working with a new client, I quickly remember how overwhelming the world of digital marketing can be. People assume you know what they mean when they toss around terms like content, optimization, inbound, and organic. It can be frustrating when all you want is a straight answer to the question, “How can I build an online presence?”

My clients are smart people. They know they need to step up their online game but don’t have the time (or desire) to learn how to do it themselves. They want someone to help them understand the big picture and identify what’s missing so they can decide what to do next.

So, below is a high-level view of the components involved in building an online presence and a brief description of how they can support your business.

1)  An Up-to-Date Website

Most companies already have a website, but it might be time for an update if it’s more than a couple of years old. That 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.

At the very least, your website should be fast, easy to navigate, and mobile-friendly. Mobile-friendly means your site is equally viewable on both desktop and mobile devices. This article from HubSpot, titled “Is Your Website Mobile-Friendly?” provides further information and links to tools that will test your site.

Multiple devices showing a mobile-friendly website.

You can also assume your visitors will be impatient. This means your website must be visually appealing and easy to navigate. Visitors should be able to immediately figure out what you do, who you serve, and the value you provide, or they will quickly lose interest.

Building a website is no longer a discrete project. Today’s businesses budget for ongoing maintenance, regular updates, and often a blog. Ideally, they also work with professionals who understand SEO (search engine optimization). SEO helps you build an online presence by improving your website’s organic (unpaid) visibility in search engines like Google or Bing.

Finally, be sure to set up a website analytics tool such as Google Analytics. That will allow you to 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, set up an account and begin collecting the data. That way, it will be available when you’re ready to dig in.

2)  Fresh, Original, Quality Content

Four stars to indicate "quality."

Gaining attention for your website isn’t easy. As consumers, we’re bombarded with promotional material, and we’ve become quite skilled at tuning it out. Yet, we still need information. We seek answers to our questions online and want fresh, original, quality content.

Content marketing” is an area of digital marketing that involves planning, creating, and promoting materials (content) to attract a target audience. This content differs from traditional marketing in that it doesn’t overtly promote a product or service. Instead, content marketers strive to educate, inform, or entertain their target audience. They work to attract inbound leads by addressing the questions their target customers would ask when seeking solutions online.

Content takes many forms, including blog posts, videos, white papers, e-books, e-mails, and 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.

Like the rest of your website, this content should be optimized for search. You can publish content on your website, social media channels, or other online locations. Then don’t forget to promote the heck out of it.

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. With social media, you can post updates and interact with followers, effectively staying top-of-mind so they think of you when they need a solution you provide.

Using social media for business is an ongoing activity that requires patience and dedication. To achieve social media results, set goals and treat it as a networking opportunity. Social media isn’t just a forum for broadcasting updates and special offers. It’s where you can build relationships and humanize your brand by interacting with your community and providing valuable information. 

Social media icons shown on a mobile phone.

Identify the channels that are right for your business. Then, grow a following and develop a rhythm of daily engagement with your community. That will involve a mix of sharing your own information and responding to and re-sharing information from your community.

As with your website, you can (and should) measure the results of your social media activity and identify areas for improvement. The social platforms will provide much of this data, and you can combine it with your website data to get the bigger picture.

4)  Paid Promotion

People used to refer to content and social media marketing as “free” marketing. But the online world is competitive, and you must be creative to rise above the noise. While you should certainly strive to get the best results you can through organic means, don’t be afraid to experiment with some paid promotions.

Paid promotion can be as simple as identifying which content and social updates perform best organically and giving them a little boost to expand their reach. And obviously, it can also get quite complex to the point where you need a professional.

The extent to which you invest will depend on your business but don’t assume that advertising is a costly venture you can’t afford. Start small by setting a budget and experimenting with a niche target market. Then, measure your results to identify what worked and what didn’t.

How Can You Build an Online Presence?

It wasn’t that long ago when you could build an online presence with a website and maybe a few banner ads. That world no longer exists. The information I provided above is super high-level, but it should give you an idea of what to address.

Building an online presence can seem complicated and costly, but you don’t have to do it all at once. Understanding the symbiotic relationship between the components above is a good place to start. Just be sure to keep watch for the inevitable changes. 

Don’t let the technical-sounding terms and data analysis scare you off. Digital marketing is more of an art than a science. Start small and work to grow your knowledge over time.

Pull in professionals to help when necessary, but be wary of anyone who claims to know it all. Instead, look for digital marketers who love what they do. You need someone who cares enough to stay abreast of the constant changes and is stubborn resilient enough to endure a few disappointments in pursuit of something that works.

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