Online / Digital Marketing

Websites

Many small businesses choose to have an online presence in some way. This could be a social media account such as Facebook or Instagram, a crowd-sourced review site such as Yelp, a business listing on Google, or a business website, to name a few. According to Bizmap, LLC having a website is important for small businesses for many different reasons. A website provides a way for people to quickly and easily learn about your business. A customer looking for a product or service may first do an online search to investigate options. In this way a website can build credibility with customers as well as allowing you to capture leads and track visitors. Your website should be an accurate representation of your company. It can also be the source for ecommerce if you decide to sell your product or service online. Ecommerce is discussed in its own session of this course.

How to set up your business website

There are several steps to setting up your business website, which you may remember from the Ecommerce session. These include:

  • Registering your domain name
  • Hosting your website
  • Securing your website
  • Building and designing your website
Registering Your Domain Name

Each website has its own unique name, such as Amazon.com or Google.com. This is your “domain name.” It is a unique name that identifies you to all of the other computers on the internet. There are a number of companies, known as “registrars,” that will assist you in registering your website’s name.

Registrar examples (among many):

  • Domain.com
  • GoDaddy
  • Namecheap
  • Bluehost
  • Google Domains

Find an easy-to-remember “.com” name for your site, and check to ensure that your desired name is available. You can do a quick Google search and many registrar sites will have a domain availability checker.

Once you’ve successfully registered your domain name, it will remain in your name and control for as long as you pay to keep it. Think of it as leasing the name for as long as you are in business operating your website. There are typically promotions that give you the first year for a low price, however, you can lock those low prices in if you pay for and register for multiple years. Always check the pricing, length of term, and any hidden fees. It is easy to gather information from a few providers and then compare the costs and terms to make the best choice. A domain name is something you’ll keep for a long time (and continue to pay to keep it), so generally thinking long-term is a good idea.

To completely secure a name, it’s not a bad idea to also buy the .co and .org and .biz extensions for it. You can even get creative with extensions and buy ones such as .coffee or .zone. Just be sure to evaluate the price of each to determine if it is worth the price to buy additional extensions.

Hosting your website

Securing a domain name does not mean you have a website, but it is the first step in setting one up. The files that make up your website will need a place to reside so your website can be available when someone types in your address (your domain name). You may choose to buy (by having your own network server) or lease (by having your site hosted by a web-hosting service). In the vast majority of cases, people lease hosting space (or pay for a hosting service).

Most of the companies that you can buy your domain from will also offer hosting packages for your site. You should also attach an email to your domain through your hosting provider. For example, if your domain name is “www.myownbusiness.com” your email could be something like name@myownbusiness.com, info@myownbusiness.com, orders@myownbusiness.come, etc.

Cheaper is not always better. Check hosting companies’ packages to compare a domain with hosting and email, and read reviews on useability and reliability.

Hosting services can also provide “user statistics,” which track the number of visitors to your site and the behavior of these visitors on your site. This can be insightful in terms of user experience and if your visitors are finding the information they need.

Consider what website builder platform you will choose to build your website as you pick a hosting company. Some hosting companies are more flexible and compatible with certain platforms than others. Also, take into consideration the amount of resources your website will need to function properly. For an ecommerce website, a more robust hosting plan would be necessary. Shop around for different hosting providers and do some research to find the best one to fit your needs. Many different comparisons can be found online such as this list of small business hosting services from PC Magazine.

Securing your website – add an SSL certificate

As mentioned in the Ecommerce Session,  an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate provides authentication for a website and is used to secure and encrypt sensitive information like credit cards, usernames, passwords, and other private data sent over the Internet.

Most hosting companies offer SSL certificates that you can purchase for your domain. Website pages secured with SSL are those branded with the “https” rather than “http” in their URL addresses.

Building and designing your website

You will need to decide whether to hire a professional web developer to create your website or build your own. If you decide to create your own, look online for “how to” video tutorials, which can be very helpful.

Most of the companies that you can purchase your hosting and domain packages from have some website templates to make building your own site easier. You can customize the template with your own colors, fonts, images, text, and graphics to fit your brand. (It’s important to be consistent with the look and feel of your brand across your different marketing pieces.) If you plan to add ecommerce capabilities to your website, links to your social media, or perhaps a blog, be sure the template you choose provides a way to add these features.

Building yourself: website builders and CMS platforms

Website builder platforms, also called Content Management Systems (CMS) such as Shopify or Wix allow you to create and manage a website without much prior knowledge of web design. These WYSIWYG (pronounced “wizzy wig”) or “what you see is what you get” editors allow you to easily insert text and graphics onto your page without any coding required. You can see what it will look like as you go. They also may have pre-defined templates you can customize.

Example CMS Platforms, to name a few:

  • Shopify
  • Wix
  • Squarespace
  • WordPress (+WooCommerce)
  • Google Sites
  • Weebly

These platforms have powerful capabilities and some are more user-friendly than users. Do your research and also search tutorial videos which can be very helpful, especially to navigate advanced features.

Hiring a professional website developer

Before hiring a web developer, it’s important to determine the purpose and budget of your website, as well as the ongoing maintenance needs. It’s also helpful to have an idea of whether you would like your site to be one page, providing different information as visitors scroll down, or do you prefer a site with several pages, allowing users to click different tabs or menu options to find additional information. Consider how many clicks it will take for your users to find the most important information.

Look at other websites the developer has created and ask for references. Did the developer deliver the product in a timely manner at the quoted price? Did the developer listen effectively and present a product that matched the business owner’s vision?

Once you’ve identified your developer, negotiate through a written contract the specific responsibilities of the developer, the timelines for project completion, and a complete budget for the total project. Be sure the final publishing of the site is included.

This may include arrangements for ongoing maintenance of the site, depending on how frequently you need to make changes, how complex your site is, whether you use advanced features like a shopping cart or scheduling tool, etc. You may keep it very simple and hire a freelancer to build and publish your site, where you would be responsible for the ongoing updates and maintenance. Or you may choose to hire a developer for an ongoing contract to provide changes, updates, and improvements to your website.

Contracting out your website offers several advantages. A professional developer has the technical knowledge to create a site that works with all browsers and can help you follow best practices. Investing in a professional developer will allow you to spend more time on creating a successful business and less time learning the new trade of being your own website developer. Freelance web developers can be found through sites such as Upwork and Fiverr.

Adding ecommerce capabilities

Once you have your website built, you may want to add ecommerce capabilities so that you can sell or conduct transactions for your business online. Several tools allow you to incorporate “shopping carts” or other ecommerce functions into your website. Visit the Ecommerce session to learn more about selling online.

Tips for developing a successful site

Make your site easy to use

No matter how cutting-edge your website design is, never forget the basics of user experience. If a visitor can’t navigate successfully through your site, the chances of achieving your goals of the site (i.e. a lead or a sale) will decrease. If you have a multi-page site, provide a clear, easy-to-understand navigation bar which will appear on each page of your site so a user knows how to return to a page they had previously visited or visit a new page that has the information they are looking for. Keep in mind the goals for your website, and tailor the user experience journey to optimize those goals. A “call to action” is a button or question which prompts users to respond. Make sure you have a call to action on each page and that it’s easy to identify and aligns with your goals for the site. For example, if a goal is for the user to purchase a product, do you have a “buy now” or “where to buy” call to action that’s easy to see?

Make your site easy to find and identify

As you will learn below in the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) paragraph, the words you choose for your website can help your customers find you, especially the words on your home page. Search engines will pick up on words and phrases from your pages and use them in complex algorithms to share your site based on searches.

Also important are the descriptions that appear in the search engine results page (SERP) when your website is listed. Most important of these is the title tag, or meta tag. The title tag is the wording that creates the title of a web page. In the example below, a search for SCU MOBI yields this result.

The title tag, just below the URL address, is “How To Start Your Own Business – Santa Clara University.” As you can see, the title tag plays an important role in telling viewers what https://www.scu.edu>mobi is, rather than just repeating the URL address/domain. An effective title tag can help identify what your business does.

As you consider word choice for your website, it’s important to provide authentic, useful content for your readers and customers and not focus only on optimizing your words for SEO.

Consider SEO and SEM

We all use search engines to find things online. Popular search engines include Google, Bing, DuckDuckGo, Wiki.com, Swisscows, StartPage, and many others.

There are thousands of well-designed websites, but few are visible on search engines. Almost 90% of internet users today use search engines to find the information they need, and over 3.5 billion searches are done per day worldwide. Search engines have a great capacity to drive traffic to your site, yet many businesses are not registered with search engines, and few new entrepreneurs have the know-how to tap into this resource.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) are key terms people use when discussing search engines as a marketing tool.

Search Engine Optimization: a method of getting your website pages to rank higher in search engines, or to appear at the top of the SERPs. Traffic to your website that comes through SEO is referred to as “organic search traffic.”

Search Engine Marketing: similar in concept to SEO, SEM uses paid advertising to increase your search rankings and ensure that your business’s products or services are visible in the search results. It is also known as pay-per-click (PPC).

Key components of successful search engine optimization for a website:

  • Start with a descriptive domain name: The domain name you choose is important because the name itself can help your website be more relevant to search engines. Pick a domain name that is easy for your clients to remember.
  • Submit to the top engines: Submit your website for review and indexing only to the top search engines where people are actually doing their searches such as Google, Yahoo, MSN, etc. Be careful to read the submission guidelines for each search engine before submitting. For example, have a look at Google’s search engine guidelines. Check in with Google frequently as they sometimes have classes for the business owner on how to master optimization on their platform.
  • Make sure your business is included in common business listings online. Register for Google Places and other business listings. The more your business is visible on the internet, the higher your optimization will go.
  • Focus on your homepage: Your homepage is the single most important page on your site. Your homepage represents your business and its image. Make sure you focus on developing the content and the relevancy to search engines for this page.
  • Develop content-rich pages: Add content that includes keywords and phrases you are targeting. Many search engines consider the location of the keywords in your site along with their frequency to assess how relevant your site is to those keywords.
  • Keep an eye on your competition: Stay informed of your competition’s rankings. Top-ranked pages rank well for a reason – so see what you can do to be more competitive! Can you offer something they do not offer?
  • Add new content: Keep your website fresh and updated with new content. Your visitors will appreciate it, and the search engines will look favorably upon it.
  • Networking with others: Expand your “link popularity” by gaining more inbound links to your site. Get the word out and let other sites know about your site and how to link to it. The more links coming into your site, the more doorways you open for visitors to find you.
  • Title tags: Make sure the title tags across all the pages on your site are relevant to that particular page. Your domain name is not a good idea for a title tag. Make sure your title tag fits what your business does and matches content on your website.
  • Pay- Per-Click Advertising: Consider “pay-per-click” strategies to enhance your overall marketing strategy. Pay-per-click offers local search options to better reach a targeted audience and will allow you to choose a maximum dollar amount per day that you are willing to spend to fit your budget.
  • Review your activity logs: “Activity logs” or “server statistics” provide you with statistics on the number of visitors coming to your site, where the visitors come from and what keywords are used. Some web servers/hosts provide this information free. Google also offers this as a free service called Google Analytics.

Provide useful content

Don’t just sell! These days, it’s not enough to have a website that lists your products (and services) and provides a shopping cart for purchases. If you want your visitors to return, you’ll want to provide meaningful content and a mix of “Serve” and “Sell” based content.

Serve” based content is information that you are providing to address the needs of your user, follower, or customer. For example, a tax consultant site could publish tax tips and offer links to IRS forms. A catering service could offer blog posts on how to host a successful party.

Sell” based content is like the name suggests – it is meant to sell something to a user, follower, or customer.

On your website, this additional content could be in the form of a blog, a landing page (a specific web page you design as part of your online marketing to capture leads), or informative pages like “Top Ten” lists, “How To,” instructions, “Before and After” images, customer case studies/testimonials or a photo gallery of past projects, or a “Helpful Resources” page. You can update this content once a week, month, or quarter, whatever works for you, to keep visitors checking back.

The content can be used on both your website and social media channels as a means to bring visitors from your website to your social, and vice versa, to encourage cross-promotion.

Optimize your site for mobile viewing

The majority of internet browsing today is done on mobile devices. Most website builder platforms have templates that are built for desktop, tablet, and mobile views, so be sure to check each view to make sure that your website displays correctly. If you have advanced features, test them on mobile devices to make sure searching, scheduling, ordering, or purchasing can be done just as easily as with a desktop computer.

Utilize social media to drive website traffic

Include access to your social media accounts on your website. Place your social media icons with appropriate links into your navigation headers and footers. This shows you are active on social media and encourages your customers to engage with you beyond your website.

Below is an example of “serve” based content in a social media post form that directs a user back to the website. This example is from a bakery. This example is of the text-only; the full post would also include a compelling image:

Cake decorating for beginners! Learn how to make beautiful cakes for any occasion! Visit our website this week for simple and easy frosting techniques, our favorite pro tips and tricks, fun ideas, and a short list of tools to enhance your designs.Join us on Facebook Live this Wednesday as we create a beautiful ombré floral buttercream birthday cake. Link in bio.

Examples of a “sell” based content as a social media post from the same bakery, that would prompt a customer to inquire or visit the website for more information:

Learn everything you need to know about cake decorating! Take our Cake Decorating 101 course and learn simple frosting techniques, piping tips, fondant application and more!Online or in-person classes offered! Take just one or the whole series. Receive 20% off any item in the bakery with a class purchase! (Equipment & tools included!) . Transform your cake designs for all your upcoming occasions, get started today!Have questions? Feel free to comment below!

Website best practices

When having someone else design your webpage, once completed, ask for all the files related to the website, and be sure you get any important account information like usernames and passwords. This way, if for some reason the designer is no longer available and something happens to your site, you can give these files to another designer to work on.

Additionally, always backup your website. Your hosting provider may offer automatic backup systems that you would have to set up, usually with a small fee. Backups are best done on the hosting side, where all of the files reside. Setting up automatic backups will save you time and headache in case anything happens to your site. If you have a recent backup, you can always restore to a previous version of your website.

Social media

Utilizing social media to drive website traffic is just one way social networks can promote your business. Social networks are a cost-effective way to reach existing and new customers, whether or not you decide to have a website as well.

Social networks, what’s right for your business?

Popular social networks today include platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Twitter, TikTok, and many more. There are also sites that publish crowd-sourced reviews in certain industries like TripAdvisor, or across many industries such as Yelp. Nextdoor is a popular community-based social network, and there are many others by interest or industry. Depending on your audience one platform might be a better fit than another. Likewise, you might decide a website is better for your business than social media, or vice versa.

It’s a good idea to think about your business and customers to determine what’s the best marketing strategy for you. For example, if you sell home-made jewelry, a photo-based platform like Instagram, Facebook, or a website might be a good fit. Or if you are providing online exercise classes where you are producing a lot of video, you might consider creating a YouTube channel to grow your audience. If you are an electrician, it might be most important to include a list of services, locations served, license number, insurance information, contact information, and possibly some customer reviews. In this case, a website alone might be the best option, or website and Yelp page.

Here are some things to consider when pursuing social media marketing:

  • What is your product or service? Think about your product or service and how you plan to sell it. Do you have frequent updates, special offers, menu changes, or other reasons you need to frequently update your customers? Or is your product or service fairly consistent so information doesn’t need to change often? Can your product or service be visually represented?
  • Who are your customers? Where do your target customers typically go for information, how do they shop?
  • What type of content do you generate for your business? Do you typically create a lot of photos or visual elements? Do you create videos? Are there opportunities to provide before and after comparisons, or new product features? What information would you like to provide to your customers about your business? How is it best represented?
  • How much time do you have to engage with online marketing? Social media can take up a lot of time. It’s important to be consistent with your online presence. For example, you don’t want to post on social media three times a day for a week and then not again for several months. Decide on a pace that is sustainable for you and makes sense for your business. Whether once a week or once a month, your online updates should make sense for you and your business. Keep in mind not only do you need to create posts; but when customers interact, you want to be sure to respond. This takes time as well!

Content and copy

What should you post about? There are many ways to engage with your audiences on social media. In general posts that include a visual element are more popular than posts that are just text. Here are just a few suggestions of things you might want to post about:

  • Updates to your product or service offering/new products
  • Seasonal specials or changes
  • Changes to hours
  • Coupons
  • Before and after photos
  • Topics or tips that would be of interest to your customers
  • Customer testimonials
  • Product demonstrations
  • Short video clips (30 seconds or less)

What should you write in captions? Captions or “copy,” meaning the words that accompany your images in post, are largely a matter of preference. It is a good idea to do some research to understand common terms and keywords customers search when looking for a product or service such as the one your business provides. Using these common words can improve your search engine optimization. Some platforms might limit the number of words or characters. For example, Twitter allows just 140 characters. You might need to get creative with the way you say things in your posts to make the best use of space and characters. Keep in mind that the greatest number of people will read the first word of your post as they skim through feeds, fewer will read the second word, and so on. The example below illustrates this difference:

Sample post 1: “Ever wonder how to show someone your love when it’s a special occasion like Valentine’s Day? There are so many options to choose from, how about flowers this year? Our store has many different bouquets, and this year for the first time we are including chocolate with some of our purchases. Visit our website to learn more.”

Sample post 2: Flowers! #ValentinesDaySpecial FREE box of chocolates from @ChocolateStoreHandle with every doz roses purchased, while supplies last! Visit www.sampleflowerstore.com for details or to order.”

Hashtags and handles

Hashtags: It can be helpful to include hashtags and/or handles in your posts. Hashtags (#) provide a way for users to follow and search for topics. For example, if you add “#smallbizideas” to your Twitter post, someone who searches #smallbizideas will see your post. Do some research to make a list of hashtags others in your industry are using, create your own, or use a combination of existing and new hashtags.

Handles: Handles are identifiers or “names” that people, organizations, or groups use on each social media platform. By including a handle for someone or something in your social post you are “tagging” that person or organization. Tagging is a way of cross-referencing or cross-promoting online. As shown in the example above, if you have a flower shop and you are offering a Valentine’s Day promotion including a free box of chocolate with every dozen roses, you could add the handle of the chocolate supplier in your social media post. That supplier would see/receive your tag and could then share the post with its own audiences. Be sure you use the right handle for each specific platform.

Helpful creative tools

You don’t have to be a graphic designer to create images for your website or social posts! Tools like Canva provide a free platform to design and create a variety of graphic images that can be used for websites, social posts, flyers, signs, and other collateral. Here is a list of the Top 10 Best Graphic Design Tools for Beginners from Software Testing Help, and you can search on the internet for free graphic design tools as well.

Helpful management tools

It can be difficult to manage several social media accounts. You may want to schedule posts in advance, monitor your engagements, post the same photo on several platforms, share the social media marketing responsibilities across a few members of your team, and more. There are helpful social media management tools that allow you to do it all in one place. Some include Hootsuite, SocialPilot, Sprinklr, SproutSocial, Zoho Social, just to name a few. Many offer a free trial so you can try it out before deciding on which one to use.

Email marketing

Email marketing is one of the most important channels for ecommerce businesses. Having an engaged and active email list is more powerful than having a huge following on social media. This is because your subscribers have made an active choice to receive more communications from you. Your customers can make this choice by signing up for a newsletter, clicking a box to receive ongoing communication, or “opting-in” to your mailing list.

It’s important to note that it is not an ethical practice to add someone to your mailing list just because you have their contact information. The choice to opt-in for ongoing communication should be the customer’s, and there should be an easy way to opt out with every communication.

In 2019, global email users amounted to 3.9 billion users (Statista, 2020). This figure is set to grow to 4.3 billion usersin 2023 (Statista, 2020). That’s half of the world’s population! Through email marketing, you have the power to reach people 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Invite your customers to “opt-in” to receive a newsletter or notices of specials running at your business. Make this information relevant and useful for your customer. Consider providing a “coupon” that will give them a discount on their next purchase. A well thought out email marketing strategy using broadcast and “drip” campaigns (discussed below) can earn you a higher return on investment.

Below are a few types of email campaigns:

Broadcast email: A single email that is sent to a large group of contacts at once. Broadcast emails work best in awareness campaigns designed to inform your readers and promote new announcements.

Drip campaign: A series of emails often triggered by an action. Such actions include a welcome email to a new subscriber, abandoned cart reminder, or a post purchase follow up. This type of email campaign is created and scheduled based on the subscriber’s entry into the drip campaign.

Example: a customer adds a product to their cart and enters their email address, but they do not complete the purchase and leave the website. Two hours later they receive an email reminding them they did not finish their purchase. If the customer still doesn’t complete their purchase, they are reminded a day or two later, although this time there is a promotional code that will give them an incentive to complete the purchase. Drip campaigns can be very effective and only need to be set up once – and then keep an eye on their performance.

Email automation: There are platforms that can help you set up email automation, so that when your customer does a particular action an email is sent automatically. This can be a single email or a drip campaign.

A note on data collection and privacy compliance

When dealing with email marketing which involves collecting user data, complying to privacy law is mandatory. If you conduct business globally, particularly with the European Union (EU), become familiar with General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). GDPR is a data privacy and security law drafted and passed by the EU, but imposes obligations onto organizations anywhere, so long as they target or collect data related to people in the EU. The GDPR’s purpose is to protect users’ data and privacy.

In terms of email marketing, what the GDPR does is clarify the terms of consent, requiring organizations to ask for an affirmative opt-in to be able to send communications. You must also make it easy for people to change their mind and opt out. An email violates GDPR if it does not present the option to unsubscribe, is sent to someone who never signed up for it, or does not advertise a service related to one the receiver uses.

These are also general best practices for email marketing, but legally speaking should not be ignored. Look more into GDPR to be sure you are covered if you are conducting business globally.

Text or SMS/MMS message marketing

Text message marketing can be an effective tool as well and generally a more personal connection than other digital marketing efforts. Text marketing isn’t appropriate for every situation, but it can be effective for exclusive coupons, limited specials, and new offerings your customers can make use of right away.

It’s important to be aware of text marketing laws to avoid penalties and fines. According to an article in Textedly, under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), in the US businesses may not send messages to consumers without their consent. Businesses are required to obtain explicit written consent to add subscribers to their subscription list. As consumers opt in to text/SMS/MMS marketing campaigns, they must receive clear disclosure of the messages they will receive, and they must agree to receive them on their mobile device. Consumers must also have a way to unsubscribe. Similar laws exist in the EU through GDPR, in Canada through Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL), and the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) and Data Protection Act in the United Kingdom.

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