Wednesday, March 17, 2010

More Evidence SMBs Need A Web Presence | Small Business Trends

Still not sold on why your small business needs to establish a Web presence? Well, I have some numbers that may finally change your mind. According to the “User View Wave VII” from BIA/Kelsey and ConStat, 90 percent of Internet users search online for nearby businesses, with 97 percent looking toward online media. That’s right. Nearly all of your customers are going online to find out what’s right around the corner. It may sound like fuzzy logic, but it’s a sign of the times. It’s also a sign that without a Web presence, your SMB may find itself invisible.

But isn’t that a lot of work? How can a SMB owner create the needed presence without draining time and resources? I’ll show you.

Claim Your Web site

Your Web site is step one in building and maintaining a presence on the Web. Even if you plan to be really active in social media you need to start here. Your Web site is the place on the Web that you own and can control. You can’t control what happens to all those other sites. Set the groundwork for your online identity by becoming the master of your own domain before someone needs to call a Twittervention.

Once you have it, use your Web site to share your company story and information, target your neighborhood by providing localized content, give answers to common questions, establish your own authority, and to help you grow an on-site community. Your small business Web site should tell the story of who you are and why someone should trust doing business with you. If you need help, here’s a bit more on why your SMB needs a Web site and some tips for creating one. And don’t forget, once you have your site, you’ll need to claim your local business listings Everywhere. These listings are super important in helping the search engines figure out who you are and where you’re relevant to.

Start a Blog

Once your site is up, get blogging. Blogging provides SMB owner with two really great benefits. First, it allows you to talk to, engage and interact with your community the way you can’t do from your site. By giving your audience a voice and talking to them about the issues related to your business, you establish yourself as a thought leader and give them a reason to keep coming back. You make your business the ‘go-to’ place for a particular topic and you help them to become invested in your brand. The more engaged you can make them, the better.

Your blog also allows you to go after long-term keywords to help your site earn rankings for terms you’re not targeting with your main site. Often you’ll find terms that are too niche to warrant a silo on your site, however, by simply writing a few keyword-rich posts on the subject, you may still be able to get your domain to show up.

Invest in Social Media

Creating a plan for how you’ll navigate social media is becoming increasingly important as more customers enter the fold and as the search engines put more weight on social signals. LAST MONTH, Google put Social Search into its search results and changed the way we look at online relationships. You don’t have to be everywhere in social media, but you should pick two or three sites to focus on and create a strong presence on each. If you’re not sure which sites are the best matches for your customers, do a bit of research. That may entail asking them, looking at your site logs to see where people are coming from, checking out niche sites, performing searches for [industry + social network], etc. Don’t just assume that your audience is on the most popular social networks. They may not be.

Once you figure out where you need to be, learn the social media ropes and find ways to integrate your social efforts into your site. Social media doesn’t have to be a crippling time investment. The experts say just 60 minutes a day should be enough to keep the competitors away. And frankly, you could probably do it in less.

Pay Attention to Reviews

Review sites have changed the way that customers discover businesses in their areas. Searchers go to Yelp find a good Mexican restaurant in their area and to do their homework on the place the new dentist they were thinking about using. They look at CNET reviews before they purchase a new television or laptop. They read reviews about potential chiropractors on Google Local. Searchers are seeking out these destinations more often for trusted first-hand experiences and the engines are giving them more weight in the search results, as well. That means you need to manage reviews better so that you know WHERE people are leaving them and WHAT they’re saying about you. By managing your reviews you not only help create a good site-wide conversation about your business, but you earn double the points when users find them in the search results.

The days where you needn’t worry about your online presence are over. Regardless of how big or small you are, customers are going online to do their research, which means you need to be there. The four simple steps above can take your site from invisible to search engine favorite.

About the Author

Lisa Barone Lisa Barone is Co-Founder and Chief Branding Officer at Outspoken Media, Inc., an Internet marketing company that specializes in providing clients with online reputation management, social media services, and other Internet services. She blogs daily over at the Outspoken Media blog.

Connect with Lisa Barone:

Go online if you really want to meet your customers and/or prospects...

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