The internet has transformed the way that we do business, increasing its reach beyond anything that could have been dreamed of just a few decades ago. Today, you can easily reachcustomers and clients across the world, while recruitment can take place on a global scale. The trend toward the digitization of business was sped up by the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw many businesses move online for the first time and customers becoming increasingly reliant on online shopping while physical premises were closed.
However, while the internet represents a world of opportunity, it is also a challenge. It means that instead of competing for business purely in yourown locality, state or country, you might be facing competition from across the world. To stand out from the crowd, businesses need to set up and maintain an effective online presence. How successful they are at this will have significant implications for how successful their business can be.
What is an online presence?
At its most basic, an online presence relates to how easy it is to find a business online. Whatever type of business you own – whether it is a small craft company run by a sole trader or a billion-dollar company with premises and employees across the world – you need to consider how easily potential customers can find you or whetherthey are likely to first find your competitors.
As well as wanting themselves to be easy to find, businesses also need to make sure that their digital presence is presenting the right image to the world. This image needs to be positive, but it also has to be authentic to prevent customer disappointment and a lack of repeat business.
The ability to set up and maintain an effective online presence is a key skill in business. Gaining qualifications in this area will make you more valuable to your existing employer and will enhance your prospects for promotion both there and elsewhere. There may be courses available to you at universities and colleges nearby that will help boost your skills. However, in today’s global world, you can just as easily access courses across the world as you can those in yourhometown. Online learning is something that has gained pace in the last 10 years. This has resulted in an array of rigorous and comprehensive courses at all levels that you can study in the comfort of your own home.
Those looking for a business qualification are likely to come across the Aston MBA online program.This program includes a pathway on digital transformation to teach students the leadership skills required for the fast pace of technologicalchange and allows a work experience route to entry for those who do not hold an undergraduate degree.
Your website is one of the key factors in attracting customers, and so it is vital that you take the time to get it right, with any investment in website design likely to pay off. The website needs to reflect your brand and the image you want to portray to the public. This starts with choosing your domain name. You will want something that makes you easy to identify but also intrigues people and makes them want to know more. When designingthe website, it is important that it gives an honestand realistic image of your company. This will enhance your reputation as a trustworthy brand.
As well as looking at the images and information you want to display to accurately reflect your brand, you also need to think about the layout of your site. Your customers will want to be able to find the information they need easily. Check how your website appears on a mobile device, as many customers today carry out their internet shopping on a smartphone.
If customers are buying directly from your website, make sure that your products are well organizedand attractively portrayed. Also, think about the checkout process – make it as straightforward as possible.
If you are selling a service, ensure that your phone number is displayed on your site so that customerscan make enquiries. It is also a good idea to have the option of booking online so that customers don’t have to wait for someone to be available viaphone. If booking is not possible, make sure thatyou respond with a confirmation at the earliest opportunity. A contact form is another method that customers might like to use, and again, theyshould be responded to as quickly as possible. In short, the more ways that your website can make you accessible to customers, the better.
To prevent your website from stalling or crashing, it is important to consider your hosting options to make sure that you have enough bandwidth and disk space to meet your needs.
Making sure that your website can be foundeasily
Having an effective website will only be able to help your business presence online if people are able to find it easily. If you are a very well-knowncompany that can command wide-ranging brand loyalty, it may be that your customers will simply enter your business name into a search engine to find your site. for most businesses, this is not the case, and can only become the case with lots of repeat business.
Usually, customers start to look for a business when they want the particular goods or service, so they might do an internet search for plumbers in their town or a particular brand of television they want to buy, and this is likely to bring up lots ofresults. Generally, the closer you are to the top of an internet search list, the more likely it is that the customer will go to your site. Even those who are in 10th place will have the odds stacked against them. Ideally, to bring traffic to your site, you will want to be one of the top three, and this is where search engine optimization (SEO) comes in.
When creating an SEO-friendly website, you need to make sure that you include the keywords that people might be searching for. So, for that above mentioned plumber, they might want to make surethat their site includes the words ‘plumber’ and the name of the towns, cities and areas they can work in. They might also like to include some of the work they can do, as people often do an internet search on how to solve plumbing problems before calling in an expert.
As well as the basic site information with the listingof products and services, you may want to have other content. This includes articles on your business or on aspects of your business, and again includes keywords that can draw people to your website. Creating content can be carried out in-house or you can employ experts to create it for you.
As well as your own site, create a Google Listingspage with accurate and extensive information on your business to further draw traffic to your site.
Reaching out to new and existing customers
Your online presence should not only be about helping customers to find you, but should also be about reaching out to new and existing customers. Visitors to your website can provide a wealth ofdata that you can use to help you better target your marketing campaigns. If visitors purchaseproducts from your website, you have their email address and can ask them if they want to receive updates. This enables you to inform them about special offers, new products and services or events. Even if visitors have not yet purchasedform you, you can invite them to sign up to your mailing list, perhaps with a special offer such as 10% off their first order.
Another way of reaching out is via social media. There are many different forms of social media,including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and it is worth finding out which forum your demographic most uses. That way, you can maintain a regular presence on the platform. It is a good idea tocreate posts on a range of topics.
As well as the special offer, events and new products, you can post the latest news if it relates to your business and articles that your customersmay find useful or interesting. Through sponsored posts, you can use social media to advertise, increasing the range of your social media content beyond that of your direct followers.
Many customers like to feel a personal connection to the businesses they use. Therefore, includeupdates on the business. This could be an award,or even personal anecdotes about your employees if they are willing, such as a congratulations message for a wedding or a new baby. With permission from your customers, you can share pictures of your work. For example, a builder might show an example of an extension they recentlyworked on.
Social media is interactive and provides you with an opportunity to respond directly to potential customers. By answering questions quickly, thoroughly and politely, you can enhance the image of your business. Even if a customer makes a complaint, you can turn it into an advantage by demonstrating your willingness to put the matter right.
While you can control the content you post on yourwebsite and social media posts, review sites are where the customer has their say. It is important to remember that no business can please everyone all the time and if the majority of reviews are positive, you do not need to worry about the occasional low rating.
You may also be able to encourage better reviews by emailing your customers who have recentlypurchased a product or service from you and asking them to leave a review with a link to one of the trusted review sites.
Reviews can also provide data to help you improve your business. If you receive criticism,you can take action to rectify it and follow that with an announcement on social media and yourwebsite on the changes you have made. Any praise you receive can point you to the aspects of your business you want to highlight. If members of your staff receive praise, you may have quotesthat you can use on your website.
Social media posts will be all the more valuable because they come from your customers. They may even inadvertently aid your SEO. For example, if someone uses the phrase ‘best Italian restaurant in New York’, this may help when usersare putting phrases such as ‘Italian restaurants in New York’ into a search engine.
Maintaining an online presence
Having an effective online presence is an ongoing task. Every day, new websites are set up, more content is created, and reams of social media posts are made. It is important to create newcontent so that your business is remembered and your rank does not fall down the lists of search engine results. This means that you need to be at the top of your game, creating a website and content that will stand out from the crowd and posting things on social media that gain interaction and reinforcement.
If you are hiring a new employee, it is worth finding someone with good digital knowledge if you currently have no one on the payroll who is confident in handling it. If you are an employee looking for ways to enhance your resume, a course that includes digital skills, such as the MBA online program, is well worth considering.