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The internet has opened up a wealth of opportunities for businesses – not least enhanced advertising, wider customer interaction and the ability to create a brand and control its promotion. For those small businesses looking to create a digital presence for their firm on a budget or with few online skills, breathe a sigh of relief at these cost-effective tools.
A website should be your first port of call. You can create one free using tools such as WordPress, or pay an online agency to create a tailor-made one for you. It should include what you do, your location, a bit about your staff, and links to where customers can buy your products. You’ll also need to buy a domain name from somewhere such as GoDaddy. Remember a domain name is an important part of your marketing and it should be reflective of your product or service. Finally, you’ll need to organise a website hosting provider which can cost as little as £2.99 a month from firms such as TSO Hosting and GoDaddy.
“Did you know that 50% of organisations have no website whatsoever? That’s millions of people who are not benefitting from being online,” says Adam Ball, manager of start-up recruitment business Talent Cupboard, which is also launching a new service to help get businesses get online.
Experts recommend having a blog on your website to generate traffic on the subject of your business and to tell your brand story, as search engines such as Google ranks fresh content higher.
Another great free way to increase your online presence is through Google Local (formally Google Places). Simply put, it’s an online directory, hosted by the world’s largest search engine.
It allows you to register your contact details, opening times, photos and location, and a link to your website. The information goes to Google Maps so customers can find your firm via the phone app or an internet browser. This works well with service businesses such as accountants or gyms, so that people can search for businesses in their local area.
Being verified by Google symbolises trust, which means your presence will be higher in search results, gaining confidence among your customers.
Pay-per-click advertising allows you to place an advert on another website which redirects back to yours. You can directly target customers by interest or location. You can also pay to have your company come up first in search results, but this can be pricey depending on the search terms you bid on. You should also register with Google AdWords to get your website to appear in more online searches, for example when someone searches ‘coffee shop in Bournemouth.’ Google will often offer up to £75 in advertising credit when you first sign up, plus you only pay when someone gets to your website – and you can start with any budget you’ve got available.
Another option is to advertise on Facebook or Twitter, which is tailored to the reader’s social media activity, although you should test which platform and approach works best for you and delivers the highest value traffic to your website.
There are also alternative methods. Online spice and cookery seller Spice Kitchen does its advertising by featuring their products on a number of online shops such as Ebay and Not on the High Street. “We sell on a number of channels to as wide a portfolio of customers as possible,” say owners Sanjay and Shashi Aggarwal.
“For SMEs in particular, search engine optimisation (SEO) is crucial,” says digital marketing consultant Jeremy Walters.
This is the science of ranking your website on internet search engines based on what keywords, design, texts and tags you enter, and the links and navigations included. The better your SEO, the higher up on Google or Bing your website will appear, meaning you’ll potentially drive more traffic to your website generating sales.
“The trick is to ensure all your communications such as your website and social media are joined up as a whole from an SEO standpoint, so you will reach customers more directly,” he says.
This means using keywords that people will likely search for when considering your product or service and providing useful content. For more tips for beginners, check out this free PDF guide from Moz SEO.
Businesses that don’t know how to properly use social media can be stumbling through a minefield. But those who are familiar with its potential usually find it’s a great way to get noticed and promote your firm. Get yourself and your colleagues online to spread your brand on social media.
“Highlight your recent testimonials or upload galleries of your work to spread the word about what you do,” recommends CEO of MediaVision digital marketing specialists. “Ask your client to share it on their social media to help increase coverage.”
Be sure to have a strategy in place and train your staff to know what you want out of social media. Why do you want to use Facebook, Twitter and Google+? For customer service, audience interaction, or promotions and advertising? Plan extensively, execute cautiously.
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