There are many things that must be done when starting a new business, but helping customers find you online can be one of the most important. The internet has changed how many people and businesses shop for services and products; as a small business, you want to be where the customers are. While it can seem overwhelming at first, the following steps outline several core aspects of helping establish an online presence for your business.
Step 1: Launch a Business Website
Whether you sell business-to-business or to consumers, there are several reasons you may want to publish a website:
- You get to tell your story. A company website can be a great place to introduce yourself to new customers, give a history of the business, host testimonials, and make a case for why people should buy from you instead of a competitor.
- You can sell online. There are many ecommerce solutions that make online selling much easier today than it was in the past. A successful website can expand your reach to customers all over the globe. If you’re in a service business, you can use a website to book appointments.
- You can link to your business’s other online efforts. Linking to your social media profiles or YouTube channel from a single website can help customers and search engines find more of your content and learn about the company and its products.
- You can gain access to website analytics. Connecting your website to an analytics tool can provide insights on which keywords are attracting customers from organic search, how many visitors make a purchase, which pages don’t seem to resonate, and more. This is real-world data that would be hard to come by any other way.
- It’s another channel to help you provide great customer service. Listing a customer service phone number or email address on your website can make it easier for people to bring questions or complaints directly to you--and that’s often just what you want. Frustrated customers might vent on third-party sites, which can make your business look bad in a forum you don’t control.
Step 2: Sign Up for Google My Business
Google isn’t the only search engine people use, but it does get the lion’s share of search traffic in the United States. While the specifics of how Google’s various algorithms work are closely guarded secrets, its Google My Business tool is intended to help businesses share basic information online. These details can be shown on Google Maps, right-rail listings, or within other search placements.
The first step is creating or claiming your GMB listing. Next, you follow instructions to try and verify your business. Once verified, you can enter the company address, hours of operation, website URL, contact number, and other important details that you’d like Google to display.
While there’s no guarantee that Google will show what you want, verifying your business and providing information can be advantageous for several reasons. While it can collect public information online, Google may inadvertently list outdated details or omit information you may have thought could be found easily. Giving them the data yourself may make this less likely to happen. Second, unscrupulous competitors may be more encouraged to try and sabotage your business details if they suspect no one is watching. GMB isn’t a perfect solution, but it can be a powerful tool for business owners.
Step 3: Create Social Media Profiles for Your Company
Many people--including new business owners--have a complicated relationship with social media. Maybe you don’t think Instagram, Facebook, or YouTube have much to offer in terms of driving sales. It’s true that not every business benefits from maintaining a social media presence, but creative companies have found success in attracting, converting, and retaining customers through this channel.
Potential customers may look for contact info on your social media profile, browse comments, or even reach out to ask a question before making a purchase. Ideally, satisfied customers follow or subscribe to your social media pages, allowing you to update them on new products or promotions. A well-timed post can remind them that they really enjoyed dining at your restaurant or shopping at your store, and maybe it’s time to visit again. Done well, maintaining social media accounts can be an effective and inexpensive marketing channel.
Step 4: Engage with Business Directories
Many people visit business directories like Yelp to research a company or provide feedback. Some of these websites allow you to claim your business, similar to what we discussed with Google My Business. You may wonder why you need to be active across multiple directories. The answer is simple: whenever possible, you probably want to be party to conversations about your business.
Perhaps a customer shares a story about a poor experience with your company. Wouldn’t you like to respond and learn more about the issue, rather than letting the comment sit unanswered? There are at least two possible benefits to engaging with reviewers: you may be able to resolve their complaint, and people who read your post can see that you took a customer’s concerns seriously. The latter can even help you if a customer is clearly being unreasonable or dishonest.
Establishing a new business’s online presence often takes time and extra work. Remember that the goal is making it easier for people to find your business, engage with it, and hopefully make a purchase. Along the way you may discover opportunities to improve how you operate, learn more about your customers, and become one of their favorite businesses, and these are the types of things that get many entrepreneurs excited.