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  • 29 April 2014
  • Dr Billy M.

An online business primer: Help customers find your business online

As you are reading this, someone is agonizing over what sushi restaurant is the best place to bring a date, another just wants to cut his hair, and yet another is having a major disaster and needs help — the plumbing just failed and there is water everywhere. If your business is able to assist any of these customers, how can they contact you pronto?

The web has become the place where people gravitate to find things. People use the Internet to conduct everyday errands, find the best route to get to the dentist on time, buy flowers at nine in the evening, and even solve mysteries. Simply put, your business needs to be discoverable at a moment's notice. And since very few people scroll past the first page of search results, you need to make sure you can stand out from the pack.

Simply put, your business needs to be discoverable at a moment's notice.

Online presence

You can maintain an online presence in several ways: website, social media, and online ads — but first and foremost among these is to have a website.

The business website

There are two simple truths when it comes to getting your business online. First, you can get your business online easily and very quickly. Second, it has become harder to stake your claim online.

Let us examine the second one for a moment. Standing out online is becoming increasingly difficult. Web searches for the name of your small business will not always lead to your website. Entities with similar or splashier domain names, random product listings, and a horde of surprisingly unrelated results will often beat your business to the top of search engine results.

But before you can worry about any of that, you have to get the website up and running — here's how.

  • Step 1: Register a domain name. Your domain name will be the online address for your business. Decide on a name that reflects your business, main activity or industry. A number of domain registrars can register your company for a year at a minimal fee, ranging from pennies to about $20. If the name you want has already been registered but is available for sale, you may pay a premium for it.
  • Step 2: Choose a hosting provider. A domain name is just that: an Internet address. You need a host to store your business pages. Often, domain registrars can offer hosting services, but you are not obligated to use the same company. Your host will provide you with a dedicated DNS, or domain name system. The DNS will give your user-friendly domain name an Internet protocol (IP) address, which makes it easier for computers to identify. You can get hosting at a yearly or monthly rate.
  • Step 3: Design the website. Most hosting companies, such as Web.com, will provide you with templates to set up your initial pages or they can do it for you. The usual practice, though, is to design your site offline and then upload it onto the hosting platform. You can get free templates for websites with a simple online search. For example, WordPress has tons of free themes that you can use to design your site and later migrate to your host.
Social media presence

A presence on the various social networks will help your business generate buzz and allow you to interact with customers. Social media also helps you respond to feedback in a timely manner — you are more likely to see a comment about your product or service on social media rather than by direct email, enabling you to address it appropriately.

You can showcase your products and services to potential customers by creating and regularly updating your pages on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest or Twitter. Leverage YouTube's platform to show short videos demonstrating the uses of your products.

Online ads

With this type of online marketing, a company like Google will display your ads so that your company can be found organically as people search related items. You will be charged for every click on your ad. Another option is to pay owners of websites with high traffic to place your banners on their sites to bring traffic to your business site.

Enhancing your visibility

Embark on ways to boost your business visibility by getting your business out there on the Internet. One effective method is to submit your site to Google and all the other search engines. Others include:

  • Content marketing. This can be effective in increasing traffic to your website. Offer free, original, quality content that educates the reader. It should be information your visitors need to solve a problem, achieve a goal, be entertained or just have a good laugh. Good content has a positive impact on the reader, and it should be unique information they cannot obtain elsewhere, or at least, not to the level of quality you are offering. Keep it fresh, relevant, and regularly updated to ensure repeat visits. A blog is a great place to house your content.
  • Search engine optimization (SEO). To counter competing websites with similar products and services, you have to increase your website's visibility in search results to receive high traffic flows. SEO involves finding and incorporating into your site the right keywords, search terms and phrases that people use when searching for your type of business. The keywords should flow naturally with the rest of your text and should never be overused. They should be incorporated into both page names and headings and also into meta tags — the part of the software code not seen by website visitors but by search engines. SEO will increase your search rankings and ensure your business is easy to find on search engines, leading more customers to your door.
  • Get linked. By exchanging links with other websites closely related to the subject of your business website, you can potentially draw more website traffic. It is a two-way street — you must provide a link to those websites, as well. Be careful to link only to credible sites that truly help your visitors. You can also trade banner ads with other sites to enhance visibility.
  • Give freebies. Consider offering free resources to your visitors. One possible example is an eBook of well-written and informative introductory material with your business's logo on it. Visitors can share it, increasing your ad exposure and traffic to your site. Have a chat room where you can hold free online classes or seminars, especially if you are an expert on some topic. The idea of live information will entice viewers to visit your site. Or offer a free startup package — this should be for a limited time, just enough for the customer to sample and practice with the online product. If they like it enough, they will pay for continued use.

The proliferation of mobile devices demands that you optimize your site so that it is compatible with mobile browsers. If necessary, have an app for your online business. In addition, ensure your contact information and business hours are clearly visible on your site, not buried somewhere at the bottom. When you establish your online presence, you have to make sure that it is designed in a way that will attract viewers to your site and keep them returning for future visits.

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