If your business falls into the categories of brick and mortar, local, or small businesses, you may not be thinking about building your online presence. Today we are going to show you why you should be, as well as sharingtips on getting found online. Your goal is to increase your sales, brand recognition, and monitor and gain control of your online reputation. Even if your business does not sell products or services online, consumers are still using the internet to search for products and services in your market. If your target customers cannot find your business online, you are missing out on a huge chunk of potential business. Setting up an online presence does not require a large investment, or a great amount of effort —and the return on investment will pay for itself.
5 Simple Steps to Set Up an Online Presence for Your Business
- Your Own Website: Many different do-it-yourself website tools and programs are available today. If you are not comfortable with one of these DIY set ups, or a free site on Word Press, then consider hiring a local web designer to set up a website for you.
- Claim Your Google Local Listing: Take control of what searchers see on Google by claiming the listing for your business on Google. A few simple steps like adding in some photos, your phone number, address, and hours of operation will provide a wealth of information to customers looking for your business online.
- Set Up Social Media Channels for Your Business: Social media sites are a great way to gain exposure, increase word of mouth, and connect with your target market. Social media channels are about interacting and engaging with your customers so only choose to set up the channels that you will be able to engage on. Social channel pages for your business will show up high in the web results pages to get customers’ attention. It also shows them that you are a real business and socially accountable to your customers. Studies have shown that customers are more likely to purchase from businesses that are active in social media. Utilize the platform that suits your business and clientele; most will use Facebook, but companies with strong visuals should utilize Instagram and Pinterest. Google Plus, while not as popular, is an important product to Google and should be kept up to date.
- Claim Other Local Geographic or Review Website Listings: When you search for your business, your location, or your competitors online, you will see a number of different websites that you can claim your listing on. These sites can include Yahoo! Local, Yelp, Yellow Pages Online, and any other local or review sites. This is almost always free.
- Promote, Engage, and Respond: Once your channels and presence are set up, you will start to see more traffic online and offline. Engagement will pick up and you will need to respond to customers’ questions, comments, and reviews. Do not be afraid of negativity from consumers online on review sites or social media. Instead, respond with professionalism and kindness to best resolve the issue at hand. Other consumers that see this will likely not care about the particular issue but will care that you responded and resolved the issue.
How Your Presence Online Increases Sales
As we mentioned earlier, even if you do not sell anything online, your customers are still there searching for you. Research published by comScore, NeustarLocaleze and agency 15 Miles focused on individuals who searched for local businesses online in the previous 12 months. The results show that 78% of local-mobile searches result in offline purchases. Even your previous customers are likely to search for information about your business online with the intent of making a return purchase. Making the information they seek readily available will increase the chance that they will return to your business. For restaurants, they might be checking for your hours, mapping your location, or looking for an item on your menu. For salons or other appointment based service businesses including doctors’ offices, online searchers might be looking to see if you have appointments open, or just looking for your phone number to make a call. To illustrate an example, I searched on Google for “Sushi in Miami”. As you can seem the results show a variety of restaurants that have spent some time optimizing themselves with websites and taking full advantage of online review websites, and their Google listing, which translates socially to Google Plus. Google features the best results along the very top of the page and even maps out those results for you.
If you click on any of the top images, you will be able to see more information any one of the restaurants listed to help make the decision to eat there. You can immediately see all of the reviews; sites like menupages.com which help restaurants post their menus online, Yelp reviews, Open Table reviews, and more. Based on the large variety of review sites and consistently positive, but not perfect reviews, many searchers might not even feel the need to look at individual reviews because glancing at the overall picture on the page, it appears that Sushi Samba has an overall positive reputation among past patrons. The large amount of listings relating to this one restaurant automatically instills confidence in an almost subliminal way. The aggregate of review sites, their own website, and social media listings paint a very positive picture for someone interested in having sushi in Miami.
How Your Brand Can Be Elevated by Your Presence Online
As most business owners and marketers know, branding has a big influence on shoppers’ decision processes. 71% of smartphone users search online after seeing an ad in another medium.Having a presence online in search results builds buyer confidence along with awareness. If they see your company information enough during their shopping and searching process, consumers automatically start to develop a trust along with recognition. The example of Sushi Samba above perfectly illustrates this idea of branding through multiple online sites.
How Your Online Presence Helps Your Reputation
Many small business owners cite fear of negative press as part of the reason they do not build a presence online or get involved in social media. Unfortunately, hiding from it only hurts your chances of capitalizing on this growing medium. Face it, consumers will be looking for your company and talking about your business online whether you have a presence there or not. Being there ensures that you can control the majority of the messaging and show the public the type of reputable small business that you are. A lack of an online reputation is dangerous because one or two negative comments can make your company look bad if there is nothing else online to the contrary. If the majority of your customers are happy, the majority of their online reviews of your business will be positive. Capturing reviews from past customers is one of the best ways to help your business because other consumers believe online reviews and the word of previous customers over advertising and company descriptions. Cultivating your own reputation online protects your company from the potential of a few bad apples spoiling the entire outlook of your company. Take the example of Sushi Samba above, the small amount of negative reviews actually keep the listing authentic and believable. If a business has only positive reviews, consumers are more likely to be mistrusting of that business because we all know the old adage “you can’t please all the people all the time” to be true. 100% or close to 100% positive reviews are often deemed fake or fabricated and can actually hurt your company’s chances of building a rapport with your customer base and target audiences.
Conclusion and Summary: Beating out the Competition
Many small businesses do not have an online presence. This leaves an opportunity for you to stand out among your competition and capture those sales. A BIAKelsey study showed that 60% of small businesses do not even have their phone number on their website! After reading this article, you have the steps and information needed to build your online presence, gain additional sales as well as other benefits and beat out your competition with some simple bits of information. The investment of both dollars and time will be well worth it when you start to see the return.
Elizabeth Victor is blogger and Brand Manager for iSentia. She enjoys sharing online marketing tips, as well as social media monitoring, and reputation management ideas.