A thriving online presence is important for businesses big and small. While it once was customary to look up a company in a business directory or the Yellow Pages, in the digital era most people look to the internet to find recommendations, reviews and information about businesses. In fact, a strong online reputation can be a company's biggest asset, while a nonexistent presence can be its most significant liability.
BrightLocal, a marketing firm that connects with local businesses, says 90 percent of consumers used the internet to find a local business in the last year, with 33 percent looking every day. In addition, the average consumer reads 10 reviews before trusting a business. Forbes reports that nearly half of adults in the United States have entered a company's name into an online search engine before doing business with them.
Locally owned businesses should devote a large share of their operations to establishing and maintaining a positive online presence. Here are some ways to go about it.
• Design a professional website. This should be any company's first step toward establishing a web presence. Site builders enable business owners to create a website with ease at a relatively low cost. However, for those looking for an extra edge or a customized site, a web designer/coder is a worthwhile investment.
• Commit to social media. Check out what your competitors are doing on social media and then try to mimic some of their actions. Social media requires a strategy, so don't jump right in. Establish goals and think about how they can complement your business model, lead to brand awareness, customer generation, and more. Social media is fickle and since it is an open-ended platform, customers can communicate with you directly. That can be tricky when navigating both positive and negative feedback. Develop a customer service policy so everyone who is in position to respond to customer input is aware of the best way to do so.
• Optimize how web visitors find your business. Business owners should know about search engine optimization, or SEO. According to eTraffic Web Marketing, SEO is the science of directing customers to a company's website through search engines like Google. Keywords are the building blocks of SEO. These words and phrases are those someone would use when searching that will lead them to your website. Using these keywords in the copy on your website will help customers find your site through searches that much more readily.
• Create high-quality, authoritative content. Use your website and social media accounts to consistently bring new, innovative and informative content to the public. You also can increase your presence in the local community, providing expert advice on topics pertaining to your business and agreeing to be interviewed by local newspapers and bloggers to get your name out there.
• Put someone in charge of online customer review feedback. American Express suggests keeping on top of customer reviews from various sources (Facebook, Yelp, Google, etc.) and being in constant communication with customers to compete with larger businesses. This can help reduce negative feedback online and boost positive reviews.
Local businesses can increase their online presence to boost their chances of reaching core and new customers.