So you have a new business, and you need to get your business online. It is no secret that online marketing is one of the most valuable tools in running a successful business. Developing and maintaining an online presence is arguably as important as having a product or service to sell.
Why? Well, you want to be front and center in the place that your potential customers are looking. Compared to conventional marketing mediums (print, television, and radio), online marketing continues to grow in popularity. In April 2019, Facebook reported a whopping 2.7 billion people use one of their platforms (Facebook, Instagram, or WhatsApp) each month. On top of this, online marketing gives you the opportunity to engage with your customers in a way that you never could with conventional methods.
In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, becoming relevant in the online arena is more important now than ever before. Small businesses around the world are re-evaluating the way they do business, and the most prominent solution is to move their business into the digital realm.
What’s in this article? In this article, you will find a step by step guide to getting your business online, as well as several links to trusted service providers and resources.
Who is this article for? If you are a small business and you are struggling to get your head around how to build an online presence, then keep reading. If you are looking for a service that will help you navigate through the online jungle, then please contact Rusty Studios to discuss your online marketing solution.
Choosing your hosting company
Choosing a good hosting company is important for 3 main reasons; speed, support and security.
People are impatient. Statistics show that on average, if your content doesn’t load within 3 second of someone landing on your site, they will navigate away from your page without even seeing your content. Your provider needs to be able to deliver your content quickly so you don’t lose your audience before you’ve even started.
Unless you are an expert, knowing all the ins and outs of web hosting is a mammoth task. A good hosting service will have, at the very least, an email, ticket and phone support. Some providers offer 24 hour online or phone support.
Like the real world, not everyone is honest. It’s important to make sure that your personal and business information is kept in a safe place, where there is a service actively making sure that online attacks are minimized. If you have customers that subscribe to your services and leave their personal information with you, you have a responsibility to ensure you keep this information safe.
Estimate how much traffic you expect
Hosting providers build their packages and charge based on storage and bandwidth usage. Knowing how much online space you need will help guide your choice in what package to choose. Make sure you go through all the details of the packages properly. If you have several people in your business that need access to an email address, make sure the package offers enough mailboxes. If you are an artist or photographer, and you expect to be sending and receiving large files online, make sure your disk capacity is able to handle the traffic.
TIP: Watch out for something called inodes. This is a metric which monitors how many files you upload to the server, regardless of size. Website builders, such as wordpress, are very heavy on individual files, and if you run out of space, you will start to see errors while trying to build your site.
Generally speaking, all major hosting companies allow you to change your hosting package based on your particular needs as they change. If you need more mailboxes, upgrade your package and pay in the difference. You should not have a problem here, but it’s always a good idea to ask up front to avoid problems later on.
Choose a Domain Name
Your domain name is the part of your website address that comes after the “www”:
The domain is also the part that comes after the “@” in your email address:
This needs to be as descriptive and as relevant as possible. Your domain is one of the first things Google looks at when returning search results.
How to choose a domain name
Your domain name is your business name tag on the web. It is important to choose something that represents your business and is easy to remember.
- Keep it short. Would you remember it if someone called it out to you?
- Keep it simple. Avoid special characters such as hyphens, and unusual spelling.
- Include Keywords. Think of what words you would use to search for the service or product you are offering.
- Think Local. Using specific geographic references will help market to your local customers. For example, if you sell cupcakes, and you live in Knysna, something like www.knysnacupcakes.co.za immediately tells the user what you do.
- Pick the right extension. The extension you choose also helps the user determine some context upfront. There are many extensions to choose from, but its best to go with the common ones to avoid making things difficult to remember. A .com or .co.za is perfectly fine.
How to register your chosen domain name
Now that you have an idea of what you are looking for, head on over to your chosen hosting service and see if the name you want is available. It’s a good idea to have several variations of the name you are looking for, as often you will find that some one will have taken the name you want.
- Go to hostking.co.za and navigate to ‘domains’ under the ‘other’ section of the main navigation
- Enter in the domain name you have chosen, along with the extension (.co.za or .com etc.)
- Check the “I am not a robot” check box and hit search.
- If your domain is available, you will be prompted to add to cart and then to check out.
- If not, it will give you several other automatically generated options, but these are generally not great. Keep repeating the process until you find something that is available.
- If you haven’t already, you can also add on a hosting package at this stage.
Make your purchase, and just like that, you are the owner of a shiny new domain name!
Planning your site
With your newly acquired domain, you now need to start thinking about your website. Like any proper business process, proper planning can go a long way to making sure your site does its job by generating solid leads.
What is it you want your site to do? Will it be a showcase or portfolio for your work? Will it be a place you can keep your customers and followers up to date? Do you want to be able to collect information from your site visitors?
If you plan on using your site to sell your products and collect payments, then you need to look at setting up an e-commerce site, also known as an online store. For this you will need a shopping cart, payment processing facility and an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate.
There are several online tools, such as Shopify.com, that package all these with a website builder that you can use to develop your own site. Generally, you will be required to pay a monthly fee (anything from $29 – $299 per month, depending on the level of functionality you need), plus they will charge you a percentage of each sale. If you are thinking of going this route, it is a good idea to research the fee structures first. A web designer may be expensive up front, but in the long run, you may be saving a lot of money in fees, plus you will have the benefit of an experienced designer behind the functionality of your site.
Choosing a Web Designer
This is the point where you need to start putting together a whole lot of very confusing coding languages that all seem to be acronyms; HTML, CSS, JS, etc. Luckily, there are MANY website builders that allow you to build your site visually. Some of the more popular content management systems are Wix.com, Squarespace.com and WordPress.com.
All the above come in tiered pricing levels, adding various levels of functionality as they get more expensive. As you would imagine, an e-commerce store is always the most expensive option, often by quite a margin. They all come with built in templates to choose from, and these days all templates from reputable sources are built with responsive web design in mind.
Having said all this, even with the various tools available, building a site to YOUR specifications can be a daunting and time-consuming task. Especially if you have a complex business, and you have a lot of information that you need people to see. You may find yourself days, weeks or even months into the process and still no closer to being finished than you were when you started. In the long run, hiring a web designer will save you time, money, and a lot of heartache. Having someone with experience on your team means you will end up with a website that is well designed in terms of looks and functionality. It also means that your site will be up and running a lot sooner, and ultimately generating those all-important business leads.
Develop killer content
If you take nothing else away from this article, remember this… The most important aspect to a successful online marketing campaign, is quality content that your readers will be interested in reading and may even be inclined to share and use as reference.
Look at your business like a story:
- What got you into your industry?
- When did you start doing what you do?
- Why do you do what you do?
- What are the problems that you are solving for your customers?
- Where do you operate?
Think about your passion, your mission, and what makes you stand apart from the competition. People love a compelling story and including this on your site gives people a better idea of what they are buying in to.
Establishing a presence on social media for your business will give you the ability to interact with you customers in a much more direct way. Imagine your website is a stage, and your product is the music. You spend months refining and practicing the songs so that when you are up there, you present them in the best possible way to your audience so you can make sales.
If the stage is your website, then social media is the after party. People make lasting connections more often in social circles than they do in a business environment, and you can be sure that even if you’re not at the party, your competitors will be.
Build lasting relationships
Building a following on social media platforms will allow you to connect with a growing audience on a consistent basis. You will also be able to engage with them by targeting specific customers requests or questions while making the information available to other followers as well.
Share your expertise with your audience. Give them some behind the scenes insight that will improve their lives in some way. Doing this will help build your companies credibility in your industry, and you will establish yourself as a leader.
Social platforms allow you to link back to your website. Use every opportunity you have to drive people to where you have the best chance of generating leads.
Establishing and maintaining a solid social media following takes some serious commitment and time. You need to constantly be updating and developing content. The upshot is that in doing so you will be raising brand awareness and consistently putting your business in places that people are looking.
Choose your platforms
You could choose to post your content on all possible social media platforms, but this would be a bit like a restaurant with a menu that serves Italian, Greek, Japanese, Indian and French cuisine all at once. It’s impossible to be everywhere at the same time, so choose 2 or 3 max and focus all your efforts there. The best thing to do is to research your market and find out what platforms they are most active on.
For example, if you are a photographer, your marketing would naturally be geared towards the visual. It makes sense then that your market would be looking in places like Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook. Focusing your efforts on these 3 platforms will allow you to target specific people, and make more meaningful connections.
Tip: Instagram is owned by Facebook, and they offer several integrations that allow you to post your content in both places at the same time. BOOM… Mic Drop.
Adding your business to various listings online is not online good for getting your business found, but it can also help your business gain credibility within your community. Using a business directory immediately instills a sense of trust in the people searching for a service.
Improve your SEO ranking. Having your business listed will help with your credibility on search engines by sending signals to Google about your activity online. Google wants to be trusted, so the more information they have about your business from various sources, the better your chances of ranking well in searches.
Attract new customers. Online directories come with the added functionality of being able to search by category. If your business is carpet cleaning, as soon as people use those key words, your business will pop up. It is a minimized version of any search engine, but by localizing the information, you have a much better chance of converting your hits into business.
Promotes Word of Mouth. Word of mouth is by far the best way to gain credibility about your business. These days it takes the form of online reviews and testimonials. Having an online listing gives customers the ability to give real time feedback about their experience with your business.
Increase Brand Awareness. When a user searches on a business directory, your listing will pop up with a brief description of what you do. Even if the user doesn’t click through to your listing, they will see your profile. These are called impressions, and in this way you will gain brand awareness.
If you are in the Garden Route, a business directory that is growing in popularity is Pangol.
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is the process of refining a website and its content to achieve higher ranking on search engines and promote organic visitors to your site, without using paid ads.
Once you have developed your site content, you (or your web developer) will need to do some work in the back end of your site to attract the attention of search engines like Google and Bing. This involves adding code to your site that tells Google where to look and setting requests for google to ‘crawl’ your site.
Once these ‘search bots’ know you exist, they will scan your page, index your site, and analyse the content to determine where, when and how it should be displayed on the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).
Understanding SEO is a mammoth task, but luckily there are plenty resources online to help guide you through the process.
Driving traffic to your site
We have spoken briefly about driving traffic and SEO (Search Engine Optimization), but it’s worth going into a bit more detail on this one.
Create content that is search worthy
Yes, I know. This message has been made abundantly clear! But it can’t be said enough. Create stuff that people want to read, and can’t find anywhere else, your content will shoot to the top of search rankings, and your brand with it. Other sites will start creating links to your content (backlinks) and your stats will start to grow exponentially.
You can use your unique domain to create compelling branded email newsletters that you can send out to your customers and subscribers. Every time you send a mail from your domain, you are marketing your website and your brand.
Remember to include ways for people to link back to your website within the body of your mails. The most effective way to do this is with a CTA (Call To Action). Create compelling content that will encourage your readers to link back to more detailed content on your site.
Post short summaries of your blog content on social media and emails with link backs to the entire post on your site. Make sure your blog posts have plenty links to relevant content on other sites as well. You can even get some influencers in your industry to contribute to your blog, and then ask them to post links on their site and social media that link back to the content on your site.
If you have an online store as well as a physical shop, offer online only promotions. Send out links on social media profiles to specials that are only redeemable through your site.
Online ads are designed to put your business squarely in front of your target audience, and drive traffic to your site. As was mentioned in the Introduction, these ads are generally much cheaper than conventional marketing methods such as print, tv and radio channels, with an added benefit of being able to track your impressions and reach. Getting an ad online is also relatively quick, so you can react in real time to things that happen socially or economically.
Alright, now that you have spent all this time driving traffic to your site, you are probably asking yourself, “how do I generate leads from my website?”. To do this you need to figure out who is visiting your site, contact them and convert them into paying customers.
Collecting Contact Details
Your website is a great tool for collecting contact details from your visitors. If your site is interesting enough, people will be more than happy to leave their details with you if they want more information or would like to contact you directly. Just make sure you make it as simple as possible for them:
- Include a contact form on your website that allows people to fill in their details and possibly some specific information that you might need to help to convert a lead into business.
- A sign-up form for visitors to receive emails from you. You can also include an “Opt In” check box on a check out page (for e-commerce sites) or on your main contact form.
- Add value to your subscriptions by offering your visitors a special deal when they sign up to your newsletters.
Review and revise
PHEW!!!! That’s a lot of information to get through. But, if you have made it this far, then you are well on your way to successfully marketing your business online. However, it doesn’t end here..
Stay relevant on Social Media
As your business grows, you will need to adjust your strategy from time to time to stay relevant and continue engaging your followers. Whenever you are evaluating your efforts, ask yourself the following:
- Which of my content is getting the most positive engagement?
- When are my followers most active?
- What platforms are working best for my business?
- Should I consider paid advertising?
You may find that your time is being stretched way too far by the demands of an online social life. If the task starts interfering with your daily grind, then it may be time to consider hiring a marketing professional to manage your pages for you.
Keep your website up to date
No matter how much effort you put in, the information on your site will eventually become irrelevant if left alone. It’s important to keep the content on your site relevant to maintain your search rankings. You can do this by updating what is already there, and by adding relevant content consistently.
If you have any content on your site that pulls dynamically from another source, be sure that the support for this is consistent. For example, if you have a section on your site that displays the weather, the data will most likely be pulled from an external source. If this source stops working, it will stop working on your site.
Track your performance
Making informed decisions is important when you are re-evaluating your efforts. You can track the performance of your website through tools like Google Analytics. These tools can give you some useful information about your audience, such as:
- Demographics (Age and Gender)
- Geographical information (Country and Language)
- Behavior (New vs. Returning Users, Time spent on your site etc.)
- Device used (PC, Tablet or Mobile Phone)
- Acquisition (Where your audience found you)
- And much more…
Understanding these metrics will help you drive your strategy in a direction that will most benefit your business.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article. If you found this information useful, please do share with anyone who may find it helpful. If you would like any further advice on how to get your business online, please contact Rusty Studios for a free consultation.