For some businesses, websites are an afterthought and social media is optional. But the COVID-19 crisis accelerated the shift to digital across industries. It’s increasingly important for small businesses to build a digital footprint. Here are four ways to help customers find your business online.
Get on board
If you’ve made it this far, you may be wondering why you should bother building an online presence. It’s simple: Customers and prospects today are increasingly searching for businesses online.
Consider the hypothetical Joe’s Auto Shop, which once relied on a steady stream of clients from the neighborhood. Joe never needed a website to attract clients, so he never bothered to create one.
After months of pandemic-related disruption, previous customers may wonder whether Joe is still open or if his hours have changed. If they search auto shops in the area, and Joe’s doesn’t pop up, he could lose customers to whatever auto shop a competitor that does have a web presence. The same is true for prospective clients, who want to not only find the closest location but also read some online reviews before making an appointment.
What Joe may not know is that he can start to build an online presence without investing time and money into building a website (though he may want to do that later).
Many people use third-party websites to find information about businesses, particularly since businesses began reopening and rebuilding. These third-party platforms are a great way to start building a digital footprint for your company.
You can register your business with review sites like Yelp and search engines like Google. (Creating a Google Business profile only takes a few minutes, though you’ll be asked to verify by mail that you’re the business owner. This helps protect your business but can take a few weeks.)
Not only do consumers use these sites to discover companies, the sites themselves often provide metrics about how many people searched for your business and what percentage engaged to find out more.
Action tip: Boost your relevance once you’ve registered your business or created a profile by asking customers to post reviews. Monitor these comments since they can help you better understand your customers, and good feedback can convince prospects to pick you.
Creating social media pages lets you share information without creating a full-fledged website. You can instantly communicate a product launch, for example. It also makes it easier to have two-way conversations with customers, which can be helpful if you’re not sure what products or services to keep or phase out.
Which social media platform you start with may depend on the type of business you run and your target customers.
- LinkedIn is a good platform to find corporate clients.
- Facebook and Twitter can help you reach everyday consumers.
- Instagram and Pinterest are especially great if your business is visual, like an interior design firm or a florist.
A number of social media sites also have e-commerce options, so customers can make purchases from your business via the social platform.
Get a website
If you’re seeing a lot of traction on social media, consider creating your own website. It’s much easier today than it was even a decade ago. A number of companies offer “templates” for websites, many based on the type of business you run.
- Squarespace, Wix, and Weebly offer a range of templates for any type of business.
- Shopify and BigCommerce focus on e-commerce.
- WordPress and others allow more custom coding.
In most cases, you’ll just need to follow the prompts to select your website address and domain, enter text, and upload photos. If you’re worried the web-version of your business name is taken, consider adding your city or state to it, and explore “.org” or “.net” in addition to “.com.”
To make your site different from your social media or third-party pages, fill it with unique content, like a blog or descriptions of your products or services. Don’t be afraid to get into the details and talk about what sets you apart. If Joe just got a new tool to let him do diagnostics in-house at the auto shop, he could create a post or video explaining how it makes for a faster and cheaper visit.
Action tip: Link your Google business profile, Yelp profile, and social media accounts to your website — and vice versa.
COVID-19 forced many people to do more online, and those new habits are likely to continue even as we go back to in-person dealings. It’s more important than ever for small business owners to get online so customers can find and choose your business.