Growing your business
Crafting Your Small Business' Online Presence
Your Digital Reputation
We live in an increasingly digital world, with now more than 45 million internet users in the UK alone . That’s 45 million commenters, consumers and creators with the potential to engage with your business – provided you’re online of course.
Having a strong online presence is critical as it is the most active and accessible way of representing you and your business. And with the right tailoring, your online identity can be a powerful marketing tool too.
And it doesn’t stop at your business’ website or social media accounts either. Your online presence can exist across a far wider variety of platforms than you might think, including your email marketing campaigns, blog or video content and your position in search engine results; altogether presenting huge opportunities for increasing sales, existing customer engagement and building your business’ reputation.
We conducted a survey with over 100 UK small businesses, discussing just how business owners understand elements of their online presence - we've combined our key findings into this graphic too!
69% of our participants said that they believed the biggest opportunity from developing their online presence would be to increase sales - and they’re not wrong.
Enhancing your online presence is making the best use of the internet as a channel of free exposure to vast audiences that could become potential clients. But that’s not the only benefit to be gained from enhancing the online presence of your business.
Knowing What You Want
As with all business advancements, a clear strategy should be established before trying to develop your online presence. This means defining your short and long term goals, and marking how each step you take will achieve those goals.
For instance, if you were to target increasing your website visits in the next six months. You might begin by setting out the steps for getting your website seen: choosing keywords, creating search engine campaigns, and most importantly tracking the results of all activities that drive users to your website.
It would be wise to also take your budget into consideration, in terms of both the creation and future maintenance of your digital marketing - and with a smart strategy in place, it doesn’t have to be too expensive.
As the main hub of your online presence, your website should function as a solid platform for the rest of your online activity. It should work to represent your brand, your product and services, and your overall mission. When asked which online platforms offered the most opportunity for growing sales, our surveyed small business owners cited their website as the strongest, expressing interest in increasing their rankings in search engines too.
Part of this may be down to the ownership and capacity for creating customer relevance that comes with owning your own site. Your website is a great place to showcase content that has been created by you, or by guest content providers, specifically for your business’ target customers.
The aim here should be to offer real value to your potential and existing customers by discussing topics of use to them, that you have sufficient authority on. For example, if you are a hairdresser you can write content about ‘how to style a new haircut the way your hairdresser does’ or if you run a hardware business you could write blogs on how to do DIY, suggesting tools that you stock to get the job done.
If you are effectively building trust and providing knowledge, your brand will gain credibility – especially if customers start sharing your content on their own channels.
Over 70% of our participating SMEs said that they already receive the most responses from their websites and social media channels.
Once you’ve constructed your website, you’ve got to get the word out – why put all that work into it if no one’s going to see what you’ve created, right? And this can be accomplished in several ways:
One opportunity that is low cost and has been proven to be effective is email marketing. Start a newsletter and invite people to sign up to it on your website, you could offer a discount if they do. This will not only drive more sales, but begin to grow a database of prospective customers that you can contact.
Despite the lack of opportunity our surveyed small business owners saw in online advertising - ranking it below that of email newsletters and social media - it’s worth taking another look at this platform, as it can be an incredibly effective and affordable marketing method.
At the core of online advertising is the strategy to bid on keywords and phrases that are relevant to your sector, service or product(s), and targeting people who are searching for these phrases on search engines through ads using platforms such as Google AdWords. These platforms then match the keywords to real web searches, in the hope that your advert will drive those users to your site.
This is only one part of what Google and other online advertising providers offer, from web banners and video ads to ‘taking over’ relevant sites with advertising and sponsoring content; all in aid of furthering the online exposure for your business.
The world of social networks is filled with opportunities for online marketing; giving you direct, and often free, access to communities of people with a shared interest – an interest that could include your product or service.
Our survey stated that the most popular social network was Facebook, with a total 85% of participants using it for their businesses.
This is to be expected, as Facebook is by far the world’s largest social network, with over 20,000 users visiting the site each second. Twitter came in as the second most popular with 56% of small businesses using it, followed by social business network LinkedIn at 37% and Instagram at 31% Photo sharing and inspiration ‘pinning’ site Pinterest ranked as the least popular used by only 15% of SMEs, most of which were somewhat surprisingly in the Healthcare and Hospitality industries.
Some social networks, such as Google+ and Facebook, also host customer review features which can be very valuable to your business’ reputation – with 90% of consumers reading online reviews before visiting a business.
59% of our surveyed small businesses said they already used customer reviews, a strong 86% of which supported the idea that using them helps to improve the customers’ perception of their business.
Consumers place trust in online reviews, much like the trust they have in peer recommendations. Customer review platforms can also be found externally with sites such as Feefo, Yelp and TripAdvisor, and can work in a text and/or star rating format – and 92% of users will use a local business if it has at least a 4-star rating!
The average number of social networks for each business to be present on was just 2, which is a positive for most business owner as it’s often more effective – in terms of time and effort - to be somewhere, rather than everywhere.
Your performance on social media can be monitored easily within the platforms through metrics such as followers, likes, and shares; this method of performance measurement ranked the most used with our small businesses owners too. Impact can also be tracked with social listening tools such as Google Alerts that will notify you when people are discussing your product or business. This way you can see which elements of your campaign perform well, and which don’t.
The content you produce for social networks should be equally as valuable as anything you host on your website/blog to maximise the value your audience gains from your business. Keep it consistently branded and you can add that beneficial layer or recognition to your customer relationship.
Does It Work?
Once your plan has been executed, you’ve got to make sure it’s making the right impact! And there are a huge range of platforms out there to help you do this.
We asked small business owners which methods they were most familiar with and, after the metrics of social media, our highest-ranking result was Google Analytics. This is a platform linked to your website that tracks a multitude of stats gathered from everyone who has visited your beloved website. You can use it to create dashboards based on which aspects of your site you want to track, such as number of visitors or the method which they’re finding you (i.e. how many visits come from social media or emails).
There are tools on the market that can make monitoring and maintaining your online presence even simpler, such as pioneering new business dashboard, Handle. Handle not only looks at the details across your digital channels but offer free credit and financial scores on your business. You can access all these reports in one online dashboard.
As well as scoring your performance, Handle curates reports to help you improve in the areas that you need it most. For instance, in advising how often you should post on social media accounts and whether your followers are reacting positively to what you say. We think it’s a brilliant tool for nurturing your online presence, which is why Liberis are now offering all customers free access to Handle accounts of their own.
If you would like to learn more about developing your business’ online presence, look out for more of our digital marketing guides and get in touch to find out about our upcoming small business workshops.