In today’s article from around the web we visit B2C where author Scott Metcalf explains why every small business needs an online presence in this day and age. As always, read, comment, share and enjoy!
Yes, your business is small. Yes, your customer base is made up almost entirely of local patrons. And yes, you still need an online presence. Locals have the internet too, and they use it to research almost everything, from restaurants to professional services, big to tiny. In order to be as successful as you can, you must build your online brand.
Build Credibility and a Solid Reputation
There simply is no better vehicle for bolstering your reputation with prospective customers than a solid online presence – even for a typical local business with a direct sales force. Let’s say you have a salesperson named Pete; I bet that one of his top business development activities is networking with other businesspeople. So, on any given day, Pete might network and meet 2-5 other businesspeople. I guarantee that once that face-to-face encounter is over, the people he met are visiting Pete’s company website and his LinkedIn page to verify that what Pete represented in person is congruent with reality. You see, reality today is your web presence. No one is going to take the time initially to visit your office or manufacturing facility to check for congruence. People are going to use their Smartphone, tablet, or PC to draw their conclusions about you and your firm.
Steele and Loeber, Chicago’s oldest and most respected garage building company, saw the direct results of creating a strong online brand. They are well known within their industry but people want to be able to see exactly what a company is about online before taking any action. My company, FetchLocalCustomers, performed a complete site redesign for Steele and Loeber to capture their brand identity and within the first 20 days of the new site going live, they received 15 new leads from the website!
Bring in Local Customers
Online commercial effectiveness, at its simplest, is a pretty straightforward concept. Consumers visit search engines when they have an unmet need, and begin searching for the products and services that they hope will meet that need. In order to be commercially effective, a company must place at the top of the search results for those phrases most frequently used by consumers in their market. We call these “buying phrases” because we want our clients targeting those phrases that lead to commercial actions, as opposed to “research phrases” that may have a high volume of traffic but low action-oriented intent. A good buying phrase would be “painting contractors,” while a highly searched research phrase is “painting ideas.” See the difference?
Another client, McAdoo Cosmetic Surgery, was able to save thousands of advertising dollars by utilizing smart search techniques online instead of the old-school Yellow Book ad approach. Their online search efforts provided the best return on their marketing investment, as online leads quickly became their biggest source of new patients.
But, ranking highly in search engines is simply not enough these days. You have to have a website that is professional, and designed to get your visitors to take the action you most desire. You need both traffic (visitors) and conversions (desired actions) to truly achieve a high degree of online commercial effectiveness.
Manage Your Online Reputation
Reputation management, of course, plays a role. Along the way, just like in the offline world, you are far more likely to receive feedback from the few customers that perceive they have had a negative experience than from the majority who have had a positive experience. Having a process in place to help your satisfied customers place positive reviews on the web is both the best way to build a positive online reputation and the surest way to rehabilitate a tarnished one.
The internet can also help build up a reputation in your respective industry. For example, your small business may have a huge following within your geographic area, but those potential clients outside of your area may have never heard of what you can provide. Why would they travel outside of their area for your services? That’s where a website comes in to build up your reputation within an industry. One of my clients, Jeffrey G. Bishop, previously relied on referral business for his executive coaching services. By developing his online brand and reputation in his industry, Bishop now receives new customers from outside his drivable territory. Developing referrals are still critical, but cultivating a solid online reputation just magnifies those efforts and results.
Enjoy the SEO and Traffic Benefits
This is an interesting situation and a bit of the classic chicken-and-egg story, since SEO, traffic, and online reputations are all interrelated. In 2010, I developed a model I call “online gravity” to help explain how and why building your online reputation is so important. Essentially, the model shows that your ability to pull in new customers online is a function of your businesses’ online mass (amount of content) and how closely this mass relates to your desired target prospect (a function of search engine rankings for your site and distributed content).
Here’s how it plays out on a daily basis:
- Authority sites have a large amount of content pages.
- Authority sites have large numbers of link-backs from other sites.
- Search engines value and highly rank authority sites.
- Highly ranked authority sites get large amounts of traffic.
Therefore, taking steps to build a strong online reputation through content creation and content distribution helps build SEO and drive traffic. It’s a bit of a virtuous circle. It’s hard to build a strong online reputation without good SEO and content to start with, but once the reputation is built, the link-backs and traffic from your enhanced reputation further enhance search rankings and increase the online gravity of your brand even further. More online gravity pulls in more new customers.
As you can see, no matter the size of your company, from 5 employees to 5,000, you need an online presence. You need to create it, build it up, get your customers involved in enhancing it, and manage it every day. Remember: local customers have the internet, too!