Establish Your Digital Presence
If there’s one thing we learned about small businesses in the past few years, it’s that nothing is set in stone. We’ve seen business models disrupted, customer habits and behaviors altered, and businesses transformed. Many of these changes involved adopting new technologies and embracing digital strategies.
Now, let’s explore how adopting digital strategies can help you establish a robust online presence, reach more potential customers, cement relationships with your existing customer base, and build brand awareness for your entire company. Because consumer behavior has changed, you'll have to meet them where they are: online.
Most shoppers are likely to choose businesses with fully online service
Surveys conducted by Software Advice show consumers embracing online shopping channels and maintaining those shopping preferences post-COVID:
- 67% of shoppers report they are more likely to choose a provider with a “fully online service”.
- When asked about their preferred mix between using online channels and in-person interaction, 35% of shoppers prefer to “mostly interact through online channels” in a post-COVID-19 world.
- 94% report the overall experience they’ve had with online interactions with service providers met or exceeded their expectations.
Consumers are buying online, but not necessarily waiting to get their purchases. In fact, there’s been a significant surge of what they call click-and-collect, which is a buy online and pick up curbside system. Click-and-collect e-commerce sales account for 9.1% of all retail e-commerce sales and should reach $154.30 billion by 2025.
This change in consumer behaviors is not just confined to retail sales. No matter what they’re looking for, consumers are turning to the internet to find it.
How to set up your online presence
So, if consumers are spending money online, how can your small business best reach them? You need to create a robust online presence. There are a few ways you can do that.
Build a professional website
Websites are essential for every business. If you don’t have a website, they’re relatively easy to build yourself or outsource the task to a professional. You’ll need a domain name, but your preferred name might be taken. Don’t worry though, numerous companies sell domain names, and most are relatively inexpensive.
Your domain name does not necessarily need to match your company name. Instead, you can use keywords describing your business. Think about the words a consumer would search for when looking for a business such as yours.
If you need help generating a domain name, check out SCORE’s name-generating tool.
Retain and target customers on social media
Social media usage in the U.S. is widespread. According to Statista, there are about 300 million social network users which is almost 90% of the U.S. population.
The Manifest reports 74% of consumers follow brands on social media; 96% of these consumers interact on social media with the brands they follow.
You don’t need to be present on every single social site; instead, focus on the ones that are most popular with your target market. However, you should still register on all the other sites so no one else can use your name.
Build an online store
Since 55% of shoppers prefer to shop online, a website with that capability is important. If you plan to sell products online, you’ll need an e-commerce solution. You have several options here:
- You can build an e-commerce platform on your own site by adding e-commerce tools.
- Many web hosts offer e-commerce packages.
- Sign on with a hosted provider, such as Shopify or BigCommerce.
- Create a store on one (or more) of the mega online marketplaces, such as Amazon, eBay, Walmart, or Etsy.
You don’t have to choose just one of these options. You can, for example, have your own solution on your site and sell on the mega marketplaces as well.
Plus, your online store doesn’t have to be fancy, but it does have to be clear and easy to navigate. 95% of consumers say clear images, product descriptions, and stock availability are the primary factors that lead to an online purchase.
An important note: Many consumers are browsing and making purchases on their mobile devices, so it’s crucial your site and online store are mobile-friendly.
How to drive traffic to your new online business
Unlike in the movie Field of Dreams, “if you build it, they will come” does not apply to online businesses. You have to drive traffic to your site and raise awareness for your company. There are various ways to do that and they’re all foundational to building an online presence.
Let’s look at a few of them.
Drive traffic to your business with search engine optimization
Optimizing your site so consumers can discover you when they search online is crucial. Search engine optimization (SEO) is a component of search engine marketing (SEM). Both can get a little complex, so you may want to outsource this task.
About 93% of online activity starts at a search engine. That applies to online searches for local businesses as well. To optimize for a search engine, use Google’s Keyword Planner tool to find out which keywords are most popular for what your business does. It also helps to use those keywords in your website copy, especially headlines, subheads, and captions.
Make sure you’re updated on all online directories
Increasingly, consumers rely on online business directories, which are simply online listings of businesses (think the online version of the Yellow Pages), to find the products and services they need. Start by claiming your free listing on Google Business Profile. Your business may already have a listing, but if you haven’t “claimed” it, it’s probably not correct or complete.
Use your Google Business Profile information to create listings on the other search directories and local maps. Currently, the five best online directories are Best of the Web (BOTW), Google Business Profile, Facebook Business, Bing Places for Business and Yelp. If your industry has its own online directory, such as Houzz and TripAdvisor, add those to your list.
Convert more customers with online reviews
Make sure you claim your listing on the online ratings and review sites. Many consumers “discover” new businesses when looking up other companies. These sites help build your online presence because consumers frequently refer to these sites.
- 98% of consumers read online reviews for local businesses
- 73% of consumers only pay attention to reviews written in the last month
- When writing a review, 20% of consumers expect to receive a response within one day
It’s crucial to take the time to respond to every review across these platforms, good or bad because customers who see you engaging with positive and negative feedback will have more confidence in your ability to provide them with excellent customer service.
Take advantage of ad retargeting
A small online advertising budget can get you big results and quickly build your online presence and brand awareness.
Often, consumers need more than one impression to drive a sale. Retargeting ads help push tire-kicking consumers through the sales funnel. Some statistics show that retargeting is over 1,000% more effective than other ad placement strategies. A bonus of retargeting is consumers see your products—and your brand name—all over the web as they surf to other sites.
Google AdWords is the most popular platform for search advertising, but don’t ignore buying ads on Bing or Yahoo. You’ll pay a small fee every time someone clicks on your ads—this is known as pay-per-click (PPC) advertising.
Advertising on social media channels is also a cost-effective option. Check out Hootsuite’s thorough guide to social media advertising.
Use content to build brand awareness
“Content is king” became a big buzzphrase a few years ago, and it’s an essential element in building an online presence. The more content you create, the more opportunities consumers have to discover your business.
Of course, you should be adding content to your own website and social channels. Consider posting video content to your social platforms (including YouTube). Think about the websites your potential customers use. Do they accept guest posts? Writing for other sites is a great way to spread brand awareness.
Pro tip: Increase visibility for your brand by adding a “share” button to your content. This makes it easier for readers to share your content and brand to their networks.
Bottom line: Get online now, even if you don’t think you’re ready
If you want to show up online, you need to show up online. Be present. Be active. Engage.
Even if you don't know how to 'show up' online, it's still crucial that you do. Software can help you digitize the parts of your business that will keep you efficient and effective.
Need help building your online presence? Work with a SCORE mentor now.
Copyright © 2023 SCORE Association, SCORE.org
Funded, in part, through a Cooperative Agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration. All opinions, and/or recommendations expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SBA.