5 Steps To Get Your Local Business Online

A web presence is a major part of the marketing mix for most large companies these days. However I find many small businesses have still not taken the plunge.

With the rapid growth of local search and a tendency to research everything online a website is a must for smaller businesses in today’s competitive market. In fact research firm BIA/Kelsey notes that the website now serves as the core of local business marketing linking to all other forms of advertising including print, the Yellow Pages, mobile, SEO/SEM, social media and e-mail/direct mail.

Here are 5 steps to get your local business online.

1. Create a Website

There is no excuse for not having a website. The last thing you want is for a potential customer to type your name into Google or another search engine and not find you. Instant failure.

Your website should also serve as the hub to other parts of your marketing mix including direct mail, social media sites, print ads, review websites and the Yellow Pages. It’s where you can provide additional information on your products and services, provide customer support and news.

2. Provide Up to Date Information

Once you have your website make sure that it’s kept up to date. There’s nothing worse than a website with outdated information. There are a wide variety of CMS’s (Content Management Systems) out there that allow you to update your content rather than go back to your web designer for each little change.

3. Include Contact Details

Contact information, including your address and telephone number, is vital to ensure search engines and local sites pick up you website. They also clearly tell prospects where to find you and how to get in touch. Ensure they are prominently displayed on every page of your website.

4. Launch a Blog

I love blogs. I really love them. They are a fabulous way to keep in touch with your prospects and customers and the search engines just love them.

They are a great way to establish yourself as an expert in your field and to give prospects a glimpse of who you are. My Essential Guide to Business Blogging is a must read if you’re branching out into the blogosphere.

5. Get Social

I’m sure you’ve heard of Facebook and Twitter by now. These, and other social media sites, are the next big thing. People are talking about you and you can ether join in the conversation or close up shop. Join the large social networking sites and any others relevant to your industry and start talking.

With more and more people using the internet to find products and services can you afford not to have an online presence?

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Back to Basics: Building a Website 101

With the economy in decline I’m getting a lot of calls from businesses looking to increase their enquiries and sales in a cost effective manner. Many are finding they need to design or re-design their website in order to achieve these goals so I thought it was a good time to go back to the basics of building a website.

For too long a website was more of a vanity item, with no real thought into how it could make you money. Over the past few years there has been more talk on how a website should make a positive return on your investment (ROI) and boost your bottom line. Today that goes without saying and so a website that is not achieving your goals is a drain on your finances and a waste of your time.

The best way to ensure your website is a success is to plan it wisely. Be realistic about your online goals, budget a reasonable amount of money to build it, select the right web team and put time and effort into working together to build and market it. Do all of the above and you have a very strong chance of creating a successful website.

Be Realistic About Your Online Goals

The first step in building a successful website is to define your online goals. So step back and think about what you want to achieve with your website. These goals could include:

  • Promote your products and services;
  • Sell online;
  • Collect targeted leads;
  • To brand yourself;
  • Provide customer support;
  • Reduce postage and printing costs;
  • Build an online community;
  • Collect advertising revenue.

When determining your online goals bear in mind that they don’t all have to be achieved at once. If you are on a budget and can’t afford all the bells and whistles in the beginning plan a website that can have new features introduced over a period of time. Being realistic abut what you can achieve is really important. I can’t tell you the number of enquiries I get from people wanting to build the next eBay with a budget of $200. I kid you not.

Defining your goals is the first step in realising a successful website. Everything about your website should be geared towards achieving these goals. The clearer and more realistic you are about your goals the better the strategy you will develop, and the more likely you will achieve online success.

Set a Reasonable Budget

Once your website’s goals have been defined it’s time to start looking at your budget. When building a website it’s important to look at all the costs involved including website design, content creation, website hosting and ongoing marketing and promotion. Under each of these areas are issues you need to consider:

Website Design

The design of your website can include logo design, graphic creation and photography, such as product photography. Take a look at your current marketing materials and determine what can be used on your website and what will need to be  created from scratch. It’s important to keep in mind that your online image should reflect your offline brand. This can be achieved by using the same logo and colour schemes as well as utilising other elements used in your existing marketing materials.

Content Creation

Content creation more simply refers to the text on your website. This text includes information about your business and the products and/or services you offer. Are you able to write this text yourself or will you require someone to do it for you?

Website Hosting

Once built your website needs somewhere to live. This is known as website hosting. There are hundreds of thousands of website hosting providers which can make choosing the right one a daunting task. When researching your available options keep in mind the following:

  1. Reliability
  2. Speed
  3. Storage Space
  4. Scalability
  5. Support

Your web designer should be able to help you choose a website hosting provider to suit your budget and requirements.

Marketing and Promotion

The final consideration in developing your budget is the promotion of your website. A common mistake is the assumption that if you build it they will come. Not so. The Internet is huge, and growing every day, if you want people to visit your site you need to promote it, just like you would an offline business. Website promotion can include a multitude activities including:

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

  • Pay Per Click (PPC) Advertising
  • Link Building
  • Newsletter Creation
  • Blogs
  • Promotions
  • Forums

I’ll talk more about these marketing activities later in the article and you can also view our online resources (link at end of the article) for more information.

When it comes to setting your online budget I often find it’s better to look at your budget in terms of what you are prepared to spend in the first 12 months as opposed to just budgeting the initial development of your website. By having a budget for the first 12 months you and your web designer can look at the best way to allocate your money. It may be that you spend 60% building and hosting your website and the remaining 40% to promote it.

Choose the Right Web Design Team

Ok you’ve defined your online goals and set a reasonable budget. Now you need to find someone who can help you achieve these goals. Enter the web designer.

With so many web design firms available the biggest problem will not be finding one but making sure that you find the right one for you. The right web designer will not only make a website that looks good but will understand your site is a business tool that needs to perform for you. In order to find the best web designer for your project you’ll need to spend some time researching the market, looking for potential design firms and talking with them to make sure you are a good fit, that they understand your needs and can deliver a successful solution.

Ideally you want to become a team with your web designer, developing a long term relationship where they can help with your ongoing efforts to create a successful website.

Put Time & Effort Into Marketing Your Website

Once you’ve got your website online you need to market it to attract targeted prospects. A mix of the following internet marketing efforts will be a good start:

  • Search Engine Optimisation – usually best done in conjunction with building your website. Search engine optimisation (SEO) is the process of creating a website that ranks highly in the search engines for keyword phrases related to your business. A motel in Cairns would want to rank well for phrases such as “cairns motel” for example.
  • Link Development – links from credible, related type websites will not only bring targeted prospects to your website it will also help you with your search engine rankings.
  • Advertising & Sponsorships – seek out other websites that you can advertise on. Look for sites that attract an audience you think would be interested in your products and/or services. Consider banner ads, sponsorships, competitions and newsletter advertising, to name a few.
  • Pay Per Click Advertising – the two main players in the Pay Per Click (PPC) market are Google and Yahoo! PPC allows you to create advertisements that only display when specific keywords, chosen by you, are searched on. When your ad is clicked on you pay an amount (or bid), set by you. Bids start from about AU$0.10 and a campaign can be up and running in a few minutes.
  • Online Newsletters – online newsletters are a fabulous way to communicate with prospective customers. It’s an opportunity to showcase your knowledge, provide information about your products and services and promote special offers.

Ongoing marketing and promotion takes time and money but on the plus side you’re able to track and measure your results accurately which will ensure the money you spend is returned twofold.

It’s the old adage, you’ve got to spend money to make money. With the right approach to developing your website and creating a positive return on your investment (ROI) your online efforts will help you build a successful site and help you ride out these economic down times.

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Planning a Successful Website

As the internet has matured so have business’s requirements in a website. No longer is it enough to just have a website, or have a website that looks good. A website is now a vital part of a business’s marketing arsenal and is a valuable sales tool in itself. In order to ensure that the money spent you spend on your website is well spent and will provide a return on your initial investment you need to spend time planning your website and setting attainable goals.

This document will help you plan your website design and get you thinking about all the issues you need to address. It will also help you when talking to web design firms as you will be able to give them a clear idea of what you are after.

It Starts With the Planning

It probably goes without saying but the place to start is with the planning of your website. This can be broken down into four (4) main steps:

  1. Defining your website’s goals;
  2. Determining your target audience(s);
  3. Reviewing your competition;
  4. Determining you traffic sources.

Define Your Website Goals

The first place to start is by defining the goals of your website. This is also what you will measure to evaluate the success of the venture. Ask yourself what do you want to achieve with your site? Some goal suggestions:

  • To sell online?
  • To collect targeted leads?
  • To provide information about your products and services?
  • To brand yourself?
  • To provide customer support?
  • To entertain?
  • To build a community?
  • To receive advertising revenue?
  • To reduce printing and mail out costs?

When you define these goals bear in mind they don’t all have to be achieved at once. Your plan could involve a roll out of goals over a period of time.

Determine Your Target Audience(s)

Who is your target audience? This can be broken down into:

  • Primary Audience
  • Secondary Audience
  • Geographic Locations

Primary Audience

Your primary audience is who the majority of your website will be targeted to. Generally this will be one or two groups who are most important to your business and those you expect to receive the maximum return on your investment (ROI).

Secondary Audience

Your secondary audiences are everyone else you expect to visit your site. List as many of these as you can.

Geographic Locations

The beauty of the internet is that you don’t necessarily have to market just to your local area, unless you provide a service that is only available to your local area of course. If you are only targeting a local area again it is easy to focus on just that region. List all the geographic regions you would like to target – think local suburbs, states and countries.

Review Your Competition

The internet is a great tool to research your competition. Spend some time on your competitor’s websites and ask yourself:

Is the website professional looking?
Is it easy to work out who they are and what they do?
Is it easy to use? Can you find what you are looking for?
Would I do business with them based on their website?

It’s also important to remember that your competition offline may not be the same as your online competition. If you are wanting your website to rank in the search engines take some time to see what sites are currently ranking well for keywords relevant to your business. The top ranking sites are your online competition. Take a look at their websites and answer the questions above for them too. You may also need to consider what effort they took to reach the top of the search engines and talk to your web designer/search marketer about what will be required of your site to achieve similar success.

Determine Your Traffic Sources

Where will the visitors to your website be coming from? I’m not going to address offline marketing here just the online marketing as some of the options need to be considered before the site is designed so they can be done together – such as search engine optimisation (SEO.

Here are some of your online marketing options:

  • Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
  • Pay Per Click Advertising
  • Links on Partner Sites
  • Email Campaigns
  • Website Sponsorship
  • Forum Participation
  • Content Creation
  • Blogging
  • Other – you may have other ideas.

It’s important that you tell your web designer what online marketing strategies you are planning to use so they can take that into account if need be when developing your website.

Develop Your Online Strategy

All of the above will help you in deciding what information you should have on your website and how best to structure it.

Determine Your Website’s Content

Now is the time to decide on the content you want on your website. By content I am including text, images, illustrations, support documents and the like. Here are some of your options:

Product information – descriptions, specifications, photos, user manuals, warranties, reviews, pricing etc.

Online ordering help – payments accepted, shipping info, returns policy etc.

Service information – services offered, locations covered, warranties, pricing etc.

Company information – history, staff profiles, photos etc.

Contact details – address, phone and fax numbers, email addresses, contact names etc.

Location details – maps, parking options, opening hours etc.

News – business news, special offers, features etc.

Articles and resources – information to help support your offerings and educate your prospects and clients.

Forms – quote requests, contact forms, newsletter subscriptions etc.

Case studies – examples of successful work done to date.

Develop Your Website Structure

Often called an information architecture or site flowchart – the site structure is like the architect’s blueprint of the organisation and layout of your website. The content you want on your website will help determine the structure of the site. It’s best to break this down into main section which will then have sub-sections off of that.

As a starting point I’ve listed the main sections that most sites would have. This can be added to or deleted from as required.

  • Home - Products/Services - Product/Service 1

  • Product/Service 2

  • Product/Service 3

  • Product/Service 4

  • Company News

  • Resources

  • Articles

  • Guides

  • About Us

  • Contact Us

  • Site Map

This will give potential web design firms an idea of what is required in your website and will help them prepare a quote for you.

Putting It All Together

Once you have completed all of the above you are ready to have your website built. If you have not done so you will need to select a web design firm. Provide all the information you’ve put together from above, discuss your requirements and budget, provide examples of websites you like and talk to them to see whether they are a good fit for your business. You want a company that understands you and your goals and that you feel will help you ensure that your website is a success. With the right web design team and the planning you did using the above structure you;re sure to be on the path to a successful website.

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The Employable Web Designer by Andy Rutledge

I hear many hopeful web designers explain that if they had better tools they’d be able to create better work. Andy Rutledge’s great article The Employable Web Designer debunks this and provides a great list of skills one really requires if they want to succeed in website design.

Note also that nowhere in this list do the words Photoshop, Illustrator, Dreamweaver, or Fireworks appear. As I and others have observed plenty of times before, tools do not make a designer. Anyone can learn to use Fireworks or Dreamweaver in an hour or less, but nobody can be a competent Web designer unless they possess a foundation in the things listed above. Choose your own tools and learn to use them, but don’t let the tools define your abilities; tools won’t create a place for you in the profession.

If you’re wanting to become a web designer it’s a must read. In fact if you’re wanting to hire a web designer it’s also a good read. Web design requires a broad range of skills, that if the designer doesn’t possess reduces your chances of a successful website.

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Too Many Web Designers to Choose From?

With the number of web design firms around getting a website should be easy. Sadly too often the opposite is true. There’s too much choice along with too many differences in services and price.

What to do?

Obviously budget is important but I feel it is far more important to choose a company that can meet your expectations. A company that can understand your business needs and provide a strategy, and develop a solution, that will fulfill those needs. A company that will listen to you and explain concepts in a language you understand. A company that understands a website is about more than looking pretty or ranking #1 in the search engines. A company that understands that those elements are just part of the equation – the site must convert those rankings into sales.

Sure look at prices but also look at how they communicate with you and how confident you are in their ability to provide what they promise. You want to build a relationship with your web designer that brings you both success. Focus on that when you’re reviewing proposals and it should help guide you to the right company.

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