Fostering the Right Online Presence
While getting online sounds easy, creating your online presence and voice is actually complex. Not only do you need to have a social media presence, a well-designed and easy-to-use website, plus some reputation management skills, but it all has to come from a cohesive brand.
Your online presence needs to remain consistent throughout all channels and communicate the important information as well as the feeling of your business.
To start, you need to get your site listed, so that you’ll appear when people are searching
Make sure you submit your site to all of the local online directories, such as Yelp and Google Local. A simple and free way you can do this is by going to www.getlisted.org and submitting your site.– Neil Patel, QuickSprout & KISSmetrics
Then, you’ll have to get going with the big one: your website.
Building a Website
There are a couple of different avenues to take when it comes to your website--you can create one yourself with limited website-building skills thanks to the world of templates, or you can work with a web design company to have a site constructed for you. Either way, you’ll have to put together a site that includes all of the necessary info.
What Does My Website Need?
Your website has function and design needs to make it a useful source of information. Focus on these points to ensure your website is user-friendly and conducive to business.
Make your website useful, accessible, and easy to consume. Many local sites don't load properly on mobile devices despite the fact that mobile is a primary way we find local businesses. Others have complex navigation, or lack critical information (like a menu you don't need to download in PDF or hours, phone number, and address on the homepage). Make it easy on your web visitors, and you'll earn more in-person visitors.– Rand Fishkin, Moz
- General information. This includes the basics: Hours of operation, location, services, and FAQ.
- Contact page. A way to get in touch with the business via e-mail or phone (or both.)
- About page. Information and storytelling about who’s behind the business and how it all began.
- Social media links. A quick way for customers to connect with you on social media outlets. This includes review sites such as Yelp.
- E-newsletter sign up. An email submission form helps collect addresses for e-updates, which are a great way to directly reach interested customers. (Plus, it’s impermissible to send e-mails to addresses that are not user-submitted.)
- Samples of your work, testimonials, and other examples of “social proof.” For a customer to choose you, they have to see that you’re reputable. Portfolio pieces, testimonials, and positive customer feedback displayed on your site will help get new customers
- Simple, clean, easy to navigate.
Your website needs to be user friendly—and your users come from a variety of age ranges, education levels, and computer experience.
- Logo and branding elements reinforced throughout pages.
Don’t let the user forget what website they’re on—this is an opportunity to let your branding shine!
As the world becomes increasingly mobile-centered, it’s best to have a website that will display properly on smart phones and tablets.
Example: The Inn at 835 has a website that is easy to use. It’s socially connected and communicates the inn’s formal yet homespun image through color and font choices.
The Do-it-Yourself Route
How it works: Squarespace makes it easy to design a first-class business website. First, you’ll select a template to customize and fit to your needs. The templates are broken down into categories such as e-commerce, personal, business, etc. Once you’ve customized your page by adding logos, website, you’ll select an available website domain (i.e. www.yourbusiness.com) and choose a package based on your needs.
Features: Analytics for studying your traffic, social integrations, hosting services, custom domains, and customer support.
Skill level: Beginner (super easy to use)
Pricing: Packages range from $8-24 per month based on the amount of features you need.
How it works: Like Squarespace, Wordpress has customizable themes and custom domain offerings, as well as some free resources for blog-only sites (with limited customization.) You’ll first sign up for an account, choose a theme, add your customizations, pick a site address, and from there, you can start spreading the word.
Features: Analytics, social plug-ins, a mobile app for posting on the go, multilingual translations, customer support and spam blocking.
Skill level: Intermediate
Pricing: $99 or $299 per year based on features and package. You can install Wordpress for free on your site if you already have hosting. You don’t need “wordpress.com” to reap the benefits.
Other great options:
Hiring Out Web Design
When hiring out a web design company, you can find a firm locally or go with a large company--it really depends on your budget. Maybe someone you’ve met at a local networking event can help, perhaps even for a discount!
Regardless of the avenue, it’s important to have a strong vision when bringing in an outside party. Having a clear vision of what you want and need will help cut down on time and costs. Have some concrete examples and reference sites to share with the designer so you’re clearly communicating the image you’re going for with the website. Make sure you check out the company’s portfolio of past work.
- How often will I need to update my website? Will I be able to do it myself?
- Will it be easy for me to change content and photos?
- Does this company’s previous work match my vision for a website?
- Am I willing to spend top dollar for exactly what I want? How much is my budget? When is the next time I foresee a website update?
We’ve gathered a few mid-sized and large companies to give you a feel for what web design companies can offer.
What they do: E-Websmart is a mid-sized web design company that offers custom website design based on a variety of wireframe setups that are tailored to a company’s needs. Not only do they design and develop the website, but they also have graphic design services to help create a unique logo and customize social media outlets.
Pricing: Expect to spend anywhere from $4,500-$12,000 based on your needs.
What they do: Orbit is a large agency based in Chicago that has created sites for companies large and small. They offer web design and support services that are sure to wow the consumer. Past collaborations have included names like Vienna Beef and Liberty Bank.
Pricing: Each project is assessed on a case-by-case basis due to different pages having different needs and requirements. However, it’s safe to assume that custom site design typically falls in the $5,000-$25,000 range.
Other great options:
Creating a Social Media Voice
When speaking through social media channels, it’s important the communication style remains consistent across the board. Wondering which channels you should be on in the first place? Don’t worry, we’ll get to that in the next chapter.
How to find your voice:
- Study your fellow business owners.
A search for “top (your industry) blogs” will give you some examples to study. From there, you’ll have a better idea of what you like and don’t like.
- Identify your tone.
Ask yourself, “What does my brand sound like in my head?” Is it conversational in tone? Is it quirky? Is it formal and prestigious? Consider your product and target demographic.
- Apply your voice in long-form writing.
If you have a blog, this is a fantastic place to use your voice and connect with the audience. Sharing stories, ideas, and news will help increase your SEO, too.
Use your real face on your social media accounts. Business logos are obviously very important, but your customers want to talk to you - the owner - and not a logo. By having your face on your social media accounts your customers will recognize you and feel more comfortable approaching/talking to you - better personal connections with your customers leads to more loyal customers.- Tom O’Keefe, @Bostontweet
For more information, read: Which Social Media Channels Are Best for Your Small Business?
Managing Your Online Reputation
If you own a business, there are places that customers can review your company online in the form of a public posting. Many sites - even your Facebook page - have a place for reviewing. It’s an awesome opportunity to see the good and the bad-- you can see where your business is being complimented, but also where it’s lacking. You can use the negative feedback to figure out what you can work on.
Part of managing your online presence is keeping an eye on what reviewers have to say.
Where to Look
There are plenty of places where customers can post reviews. But keep in mind: these sites vary by industry. In order to keep tabs on what customers are saying, you have to know where they are.
Here’s where you should look:
- Yelp is one of the more popular review sites, especially for restaurants and personal care services like hair salons.
- Better Business Bureau catalogs formal complaints from customers and clients. Businesses can benefit by becoming accredited.
- Angie’s List focuses more on home projects services, like remodeling and construction companies
- TripAdvisor is popular for tourists and travelers, focusing on hotels, restaurants, and cool places to go (like museums, parks, and scenic destinations).
- Google Local and Facebook also offer review options for company pages.
- Amazon, Etsy, and other ecommerce sites encourage users to write reviews of the products they buy.
- Foursquare is an app for “checking in” to various places, allowing users to get deals and rack up points. It includes reviews.
- Niche sites by industry such as RateMyBurn (for gyms & fitness classes), Huavote, (for Chinese workers venturing overseas), Houzz (for architecture and interior design) and Spiceworks (for tech stuff).
How to Handle Feedback
Interact with reviewers. Sites like Yelp offer an opportunity for owners to respond to feedback. It’s a good idea to thank users for positive reviews and to reach out to negative reviewers to see how you can do better next time.
Don’t get into an argument. The customer is always right, remember? Let the unhappy customer vent and see what you can do to make it right. Never argue with a reviewer. If you find false information being shared, reach out to the review site—not the individual
Share positive reviews as testimonials. Happy customers that are willing to take the time to share their great experience should be showcased!
For more information on responding to feedback, read: How to Respond to Customer Feedback to Boost Trust
Review Site Advertising
Sites like Yelp and Foursquare that offer customer reviews are also helpful tools for directing customers to your business through their advertising options. These ads can target customers searching for products or services in your area--and can be customized with photos or a landing page video to show customers around.
Getting Started: On both Yelp and Foursquare, you’ll begin by searching to see if your business already has a page started with reviews. Then, customize your page with updated business information and enter your target audience based on industry and location.
How much should I spend? Packages on Yelp range from $300-$2,200 per month with features increasing at the higher spend levels. Foursquare uses the Pay Per Click method, so you’ll only pay for instances when viewers click on your ad information. For new users, a budget of $100-200 is a good starting place to test for results on Foursqure.
Success Stories: J & C Import Car Care saw a 46 percent increase in reviews and website click throughs from their Yelp.com listing. Bronx Beer Hall saw a 55 percent ROI through their Foursquare ad.
- Yelp allows you to remove competitor ads from your business page - a good idea for keeping the focus on your business.
- According to Foursquare, 78 percent of people who search locally on their phones make a purchase - being in the top results for those local listings through review sites is a big help in attracting those buyers.
- Photos and videos on review sites make people feel safe (and more comfortable) about making a purchase - so adding your own professional photos and videos puts your best foot forward.
Overall, a strong online presence is all about being interactive, helpful, and a resource to your audience. With well thought - out elements, your online representation will be a positive reflection of your business.
Make sure you have all of the different aspects well designed and planned for before you get started to ensure consistency. From there, the relationship-building process begins!