How’s your online presence?

Working for a client recently required me to visit the websites of more than thirty firms of varying sizes. In the process, I was shocked to discover that the vast majority of these websites (easily 85%) were … how do I say this nicely … seriously outdated, did not present a professional image of the firm and were awkward to navigate.

It seemed obvious to me that most of the websites hadn’t been touched in years.

As a first-time visitor to these websites, I would be unlikely to contact any one of them to find out more about their services. The decision might not even be conscious, but I would have left each website within seconds of arriving.

Unfortunately, many small business owners are so busy trying to build their business that they don’t take into consideration how their online presence (website and social media) and other branding (flyers, business cards, signage) are impacting their business.

While perception may not be reality, sometimes it becomes reality. How we position our business online, how consumers perceive our brand through what they see and experience online, will impact our business. Sadly, we may never know this first-hand – but there will be indicators, if we know where to look.

Your online presence

Building an online presence is no longer an option for any business serious about developing and growing their business and profitability. It doesn’t matter whether you are a home based business or a Fortune 500 company, a realtor or a small business with 10 people on staff, an artisan or a plumber. Today, consumers expect to be able to find out about you and your business online BEFORE they call or email you, usually.

And, this means both your website and your social networks! Your website, for almost any business, is the hub of your online presence. Spending time and money on social media and driving traffic to an outdated website is counterproductive.

It’s not about having the best website in the world! It is about having an attractive, functional, easy to navigate website that is informative, helpful and easy to view on mobile devices, of any size. A website that visitors find useful and relevant. And, seriously, don’t neglect relevance – it is becoming more and more important all the time, in driving search traffic to websites.

With social media, it isn’t about being on every network on the planet, or even all of the so-called ‘top’ social networks. Less is often more when it comes to the number of social networks you’re on, unless you have the time and money to manage and work them, and they are right for your business.

Social Media Basics

Joining one or more social networks is just the start of the journey with social media. There are some basic, but important, things you need to do at first, and others you need to do on an ongoing basis. Here are a few of these:

  1. Complete Your Profiles: Make sure you have completed your social network profile. Bare minimum: profile photo and/or cover image, about section and other pertinent data, distinct URL – if not automatically set when setting up the account. For LinkedIn basics when completing your profile check out this article 6 LinkedIn Profile Areas You Shouldn’t Ignore.
  2. Ensure Consistent Branding: Ensure your branding represents your business well and that it is consistent across all your online networks and print materials. Visitors should be able to tell, without trying, that your website and social networks are tied to the same business.
  3. Share Content Regularly: Post updates to your social networks regularly – and regular means different things for different networks. Take advantage of social media management tools like BufferHootSuite or others. Facebook’s post scheduler is also a helpful tool for scheduling posts on their network only.
  4. Timely Responses: Respond to visitor comments and inquiries in a timely manner. Again, each network is somewhat different as to what is acceptable but as with most things customer related, faster is usually better.
  5. Customer Focus: Post content that customers and potential customers will find interesting, helpful, inspirational and/or valuable. Social media is not traditional advertising and content needs to be seen as useful to those you are hoping to reach. If not, people will tune you out.
  6. Strategic Content: Share content that includes a link back to your website where it makes sense. This may be to a blog post, information related to a frequently asked question, a free resource download, contest information, product information, sales information, etc.. As noted in #5, think “interesting, helpful, inspirational and/or valuable” for customers and potential customers.
  7. Images: Use images to help get your message across. Images tend to cause what you are sharing to ‘pop’ and can make the difference between someone checking out your post or passing it over.
  8. Prepare to Pay: Be prepared to spend money to promote your posts and advertise your business, at least on networks like Facebook – and others down the road. Social media for businesses may have started out free, but it is rapidly becoming less so.
  9. Persevere: Real progress or growth is often a slow, steady and sometimes painful process, especially when you are just getting started with social media. Like most anything of value, social media requires time, attention and especially perseverance to produce results.

The importance of your website and social media

Today’s consumers tend to go online first to search for information about a specific business or business person, before they call. They may also ask their connections for input on social media and then do a search online to find out more. And, of course, consumers search online for information about products and services in general.

When first-time visitors arrive on your website or visit one of your social networks, within seconds they’ll have made a first impression about your business. Will it be a favorable one?