You’ve heard it a million times: The Web has leveled the playing field for small businesses. Great. But what does that mean. The Web is intimidating. How does someone take advantage of that new playing field? Where do you start and how do you get the most bang for your buck?
Last week, Anita Campbell was kind enough to take part in Verizon’s Small Business series webinar and shed light on some of these questions, giving small business owners five ways to increase their Web presence.
Got a pen?
Start with a solid home base
When potential customers land on your Web site, it takes less than a few seconds for them to decide if you’re credible enough to do business with. And that decision often isn’t based on your reputation, your integrity or your product. It’s based on how professional your Web site looks. This is where a lot of small businesses fail, simply because they don’t understand establishing credibility on the Web.
Your first step is to get the best domain name you can afford. You want to make sure it’s short, easy to spell AND remember, and that you’re sticking with a .com domain, rather than a .net or .org. If you opt for a domain name that ends with something that is NOT .com, you immediately lose out on valuable type-in traffic, as people will just assume you use a the standard .com top level domain. Anita recommended registering the domain from registrars like GoDaddy or Network Solutions for the longest time increment possible, both because you’ll lose your whole site should you forget to renew it and because there’s some theory that the search engines “trust” sites more with longer registrations.
Get Found in Search Engines Naturally
Start with good copy writing, content that is geared toward humans instead of the search engines. You don’t want to invest in pages that are so stuffed with keywords that a human brain won’t be able to parse the information. Think of how a customer might search. What terms would they use? Try to come up with complete phrases instead of single words. How would someone look for what you offer?
Bolt a blog on your site. Blogs are great because they’re keyword-rich and a constant source of content. Anita suggested starting off with a free blog hosted on a site like Blogger, WordPress or Typepad because of how simple they are to set up. If you’re going to invest time in blogging, I think it’s worth “bolting” your blog onto your domain as early as possible so that you control it. Otherwise, you’re going to have to worry about migrating the content over at a later date and that can be a headache. And by “can be” I mean “it is”.
You also want to look at on page factors like your navigation. Would a user have difficulty finding the different parts of your site? Look at your URLs, are they user friendly? You should also make sure you have a reliable host so your Web site doesn’t go down and that your code is as clean as possible. If you know some HTML, pay close attention to your Title tags, Descriptions and Image ALT tags. Anita recommended getting a site audit by a professional SEO and I’d strongly agree with that. We do them for clients all the time and it’s a great way to pick out what parts of your site could be most easily tweaked for the biggest rewards.
Increase Findability Offline
If you want your site to rank, it is crucial that you’re able to develop links. This takes a mix of creativity and hard work and is a constant battle for most sites on the Web. Some ways you’ll be able to drive links to your Web site are to write content that will be useful to sites in your community, through social media, to make your site a resourceful or to experiment with thing like images or online video.
Another way to get backlinks is to list your site in the local search directories. These directories are important because not only do they count as trusted links to your site, but they ensure that your site is correctly listed in their index, which will in turn help you to rank.
Amplify your online presence with social media
Social media is a great way for small businesses to enhance their online presence. To get started, Anita recommended experimenting with sites like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and all the others that you constantly see other small businesses using. However, quickly focus your efforts to avoid spreading yourself too thin. When you’re out there in social media, share your information, but also listen. You can’t just walk into a room shouting, “Buy My Stuff!”. You need to meet people, talk to them and interact with them. Engaging in social media will also help you in the Google/Social Media index where Google will index some of your social mentions.
Know when to bring in a professional
At some point, you may decide it’s necessary to bring in a professional to help you market your Web site. At that point, it becomes learning how to identify the deceptive SEO companies from the trustworthy ones. You always want to run, don’t walk, from guaranteed results. Do background checks. Ask other small business owners for referrals. Ask for samples of their work
Also, don’t be afraid to hire based on expertise. Some firms are better apt to deal with Web design projects, while some will focus in social media. There are many different flavors of SEO companies – PPC managers, link builders, social media consultants, bloggers, email marketers, etc. Hire for your need.
A good looking home page is so important. We’re all visual creatures and make snap judgements based on the look of things. If your site is unorganized and hard to follow, people won’t come back and waste the time sorting through it. Spend a bit of extra time on it and it helps to get a few family or friends to give you opinions about it too.
Consistency is really important. Often it is easy to get really excited about online and then forget about keeping things up to date. All online pages date and there is nothing worse than seeing a blog which is inconsistent and out of date.
Thanks for writing this up, Lisa! Well I only hope I did the topic justice.
Great list of tips, Lisa! Really useful. Thanks!
Anita: You did this topic justice. It was a great primer and introduction to SEO and online marketing.
Lisa: Great write up!
I wonder about your take on Amazon’s ranking site called Alexa?
Martin: From an SEO perspective, I wouldn’t give Alexa much credit. The numbers are far from accurate.
The only problem is that anyone who picks up a book on SEO and Social Media, all of a sudden becomes an online marketing expert overnight.
SEO is pretty complex!
… or just hire someone to do it all for ya
“Web Design Myths” / Edwin Lap: You are right about that statement. I am working with a person who has been “working with online services since 1984.” He developed “a methodology called “Ten Metods” that includes all main marketing methods on the Internet” in 2000. Search on “Charlie Bloom” and you will find him! 😉
Lisa: I like Alexa as a “rule of thumb” indicator regarding the popularity of the site. It is only one indicator, but I think it could be a good start to check out. SEO entails so much more and if you want to really “rule” the net, you have to get a whole picture by looking at things like I mentioned in the first paragraph. Here is what @schwerdtfeger said on Twitter at the #imcmeet (Internet Marketing Conference) in Stockholm, Sweden:
#webify TIP A Google PageRank score of 4 is better than average. Logarithmic scale. More tips at Webifybook.com.
Oops! I used the wrong quote. Here it is by @schwerdtfeger:
#webify TIP Websites with an Alexa rank of 400,000 or less are getting at least 100 visitors/day. More tips at Webifybook.com
“At some point, you may decide it’s necessary to bring in a professional to help you market your Web site.” – Enlisting the help of a professional not only helps businesses to get better results, but it can save a significant amount of productivity, giving business owners the freedom to focus their attention on daily operations.
Hi Lisa, most always say Alexa refers to the traffic. Doesn’t that still made sense to you or something? Just wondering Lisa. 😉
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