We get asked all the time, “how do we get started with an online presence?” We hear this from new businesses, established businesses, nonprofit organizations, and even individual experts or thought leaders hoping to develop their personal brand online. This article walks through the basic steps to building an online presence and helps provide strategies for the managing an online presence.
Set up the infrastructure first
It goes without saying, you are going to need a website. There are very few organizations that can get by without one, but the level of effort applied to the website should depend on the audience and how they are likely to interact with the organization via the website.
There are a wide range of technology options to consider:
- Simple and affordable DIY web site builders (Squarespace & Wix)
- Easy ecommerce (Shopify & Squarespace)
- Fully custom websites (WordPress)
Some website pointers:
- Choose an easy to spell and memorable URL
- Make sure the website is SEO-ready, fast-loading & mobile-friendly
- Set up a Google Analytics account & submit the sitemap through Google Search Console
Social Media Platforms
It’s important to focus on the platforms that are frequently used by your audiences. You may have more than one audience and they might use different social media platforms and engage in very different ways! Start small with just a few channels—what you can afford and can manage.
You will probably also need to set up paid advertising accounts in each social channel you plan to use. Organic business reach is very limited for businesses on social media with the current algorithms, and you will need to pay to run ads to specific audiences. This is another reason to carefully consider how many audiences you will go after and how many channels you intend to use.
Review & Referral Sites
For some types of businesses (restaurants, hospitality, homes services, etc.), reviews are a critical step in the consumer decision-making process and should be given as much consideration as the company website. It may even be the place that your potential customers go first. If you aren’t sure which review sites you should be considering, google “____insert your industry____ review” and see what comes up. This is what your potential customers are doing when they are researching.
What You will need to get set up online
You will want to ensure that you are communicating a consistent message and positioning to your audience across all of your online channels. If you are adding new channels or doing a review of your online reputation, take a minute to step back and review all of your sites for consistency.
To get a solid presence set up online, you will need branding. This includes several visual components such as logos, colors, fonts and graphics as well as a basic description of the business.
Products & Services Descriptions
Additionally, most online sites will have the option for you to include products and/or services descriptions and related imagery.
Photos & Video
In addition to photos, video is now widely supported on almost every platform, and with reason – they tend to preform very well.
Following those simple steps will help you build the infrastructure to get started with your online presence, but just because you build it does not mean people will come to these sites. You will also need some ongoing strategies to drive people back to your online properties.
Ongoing Marketing Activities to Build an Online Presence
There are lots of marketing strategies to drive awareness, engagement and visitors to your online properties on an ongoing basis. You should select your marketing activities based on your specific audiences, goals and budgets. Here is a list of some of the most common online strategies that can be used to create visibility for your organization.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
If there are people actively searching for your organization, or even more generally for your products and services, you will want to take some time to do some basic search engine optimization, which you may also hear referred to as organic search and SEO. This requires a website to be SEO friendly from a technical standpoint, and to follow best practices for the use of specific keywords and copy length on each page. This type of SEO setup would require researching the most commonly used search phrases, comparing that to the content on your site, updating site content to better match the keyword data and creating new content based on key search phrase that will appeal to both your intended audience and the search engines. This tactic requires some up-front work and ongoing adjustment as search patterns shift, but if you can put in the time for regular content creation, this tactic will pay off over time.
SEO is not for everyone, however. You may be in a heavily saturated market that makes it hard to rise in the search engine listings, or you may even be in an industry that is new or has very little search volume. In those cases, you will need to use some of the other tactics listed below.
Paid Search Marketing
If you are in a highly saturated industry for organic search, you may be able to use paid search advertising to rise to the top of the search results. Paid search bypasses the need to optimize your site for organic search and can help you appear at the top of the search results as soon as you turn your ads on. However, if your site is not optimized for the keywords you’re buying, your performance may be less than what you would like. We almost always recommend combining your paid search and organic search efforts to make sure they are aligned and work well together.
Digital marketing is a very broad term used to cover a whole lot of ground. Digital marketing involves placing ads or content in front of people to create awareness and drive interest back to your properties. Unlike with search, in digital marketing you are targeting people based on a variety of triggers even if they aren’t actively looking for what you are selling. A few examples: Google Display ads, social media advertising, streaming audio/video advertising, native content placement, etc.
Content marketing is a great opportunity for businesses who have the ability to generate new pages on their website on an ongoing basis. Most commonly, this takes on the form of newsroom posts, blogs, videos or other resources. Most content marketing programs involve the creation of this content as well as shares on social channels and in email marketing. It might also include an ongoing SEO strategy to optimize each new page of content that is created.
PR / Earned Media Strategy
Using PR and earned media mentions can be a great way to create visibility for your organization. When popular and high-ranking sites post articles that mention you and your business and link back to your website, you have a two-fold benefit. You will be reaching a new audience through the publication, and you will receive “cool” points from Google (also known as building backlinks to boost your page authority in technical marketing jargon).
If you have a clearly defined list of people that you have permission to email, this is a very affordable way to create regular engagement and traffic back to your website and any of your digital properties. Almost any organization capable of collecting emails with permission should develop this strategy, because unlike the other mentioned tactics, it is 100% under your control, and the costs are practically free. An email marketing strategy includes two parts: 1) growing the list and 2) creating engaging and meaningful content that your audience want to receive.
Social media can be a great way to drive ongoing awareness, engagement and traffic to your various online properties. This requires ongoing posting on a regular basis. The guidelines on frequency will vary by industry and audience. Done really well, social media will also include engagement strategies to interact with your audience, monitor competitors and your own reputation. Also, as previously mentioned, for most organizations an effective social media strategy will also require ongoing paid advertising.
Last but not least, those review sites you set up will require monitoring and responses. If customers are happy, you should be thanking them for their business and harnessing the power of their positive words. If they are unhappy, quickly responding to any issues is important. Most platforms allow the complainers to adjust their reviews once an issue has been settled. Even if that is not possible, the world will see your attempts to quickly remedy the situation.
Every business, nonprofit and brand is different. A solid marketing plan can help identify the best audiences and market opportunities, which will in turn guide the infrastructure decisions and marketing tactics. Contact us if you need help establishing an online presence. We have more than 25 years of experience helping businesses grow and hit their goals.