Personal connections have always been a foundation for growing a business. Traditionally, networking meetings, conferences, fancy restaurant meals and golf outings have been central components of business development activities—and this relationship-building approach has been rewarded with more sales. People prefer to refer, recommend and do business with people they know, like and trust, and these mutually beneficial relationships are forged by spending quality time together.
But while these connections are invaluable, and who you know can give your business a competitive boost, this decades-old approach has its drawbacks. For starters, word-of-mouth referrals and networking are often limited by geography, and they rely on the most precious, limited commodity: time. It takes a substantial investment of time to generate the goodwill to sustain a business solely on word-of-mouth referrals, and that takes a toll on business leaders. Besides, there are a finite number of personal connections that any one person, however gregarious, can make.
Many businesses combat this networking fatigue by having a website to reach more prospective customers. Indeed, a 2019 survey of 529 U.S. small businesses found that 60% of small businesses have a website. On the other hand, an astonishing 40% of small businesses do not have a web presence—and that means they’re leaving sales opportunities on the table.
In this digital era, businesses that use their web presence to establish their legitimacy build relationships online with a wider audience. Here are seven ways to create an online presence that will move your business beyond just people you know.
Without a website, potential customers can’t check you out and get to know you and your business. They might assume that because you don’t have a website, your business is new or not trustworthy, which could lead them to dismiss your products or services.
A well-designed website with a thoughtful “About Us” page introduces your company to a global audience. This frequently visited page gives you an easy way to make a stellar first impression on potential customers. It’s also an opportunity to improve your brand awareness by showcasing your skills and marketing products and solutions, so potential customers can assess whether your business is the right fit for them.
A frequently asked questions page is another useful option for your business’s website. Here, you can explain the key aspects of your business or industry and establish your credentials as an authority in your field. Potential customers can also quickly find answers to their concerns, while you can avoid explaining the same things over and over—which leaves you with more time to do your work.
A web presence enables businesses to reach new customers anywhere, anytime. It serves as a virtual salesperson, introducing your company to new prospects and engaging in lead generation activities. Moreover, a website allows your company to compete against other businesses with an online presence.
Bear in mind, though, that consumers’ online behavior mimics their real-life behavior. People prefer to research before they buy; statistics show that only 2% of web traffic converts on the first visit. So, while you want to make a great first impression with your website, you also need to follow up, just as your sales team would do in person.
Online, you can stay in front of potential customers with an approach known as “retargeting.” With retargeting, you embed a bit of code, called a cookie, on a visitor’s device when they visit your website. The cookie allows you to follow the visitor on their online journey, showing them different types of ads along the way. Retargeting is a cost-effective way to advertise online to those people who have already demonstrated that they have an interest in your company.
In the digital age, businesses that don’t use data to develop their messaging and branding are missing out. With a website (and user consent), your company can conduct a deep dive into granular data about your customers, helping you to understand buyer personas, refine your audience and identify any unmet needs. Your can then tailor customer outreach efforts with personalized offers for each persona. In a Think With Google case study featuring Celebrity Cruises, the travel company revealed that its personalized communications strategy yielded a 140% increase in year-over-year revenue.
By including blogs, podcasts, eBooks and alerts on their websites, businesses can improve their reputations as industry leaders, becoming known as experts through useful thought leadership content. When businesses provide their customers with valuable online content, they build their brand credibility and show that they are experts regarding the latest trends, tips and topics. These companies can distinguish themselves from their competitors through their tone of voice and the depth of their content.
To be successful, this content must be high-quality (interesting, creative and well-written), published regularly and targeted to the right audience. It should also align with corporate objectives. The construction and mining equipment manufacturer Caterpillar is a prime example of a company that displays its passionate expertise within various industry segments through its blogs, forums and podcasts.
There is little reward for developing a rich, meaningful brand or website if it goes unnoticed. Online competition is fierce, so brands need to develop strategies to be seen and heard. Search engine optimization (SEO) is an essential component of online brand-building. SEO requires businesses to develop organic content rather than relying upon paid ads. It’s a cost-effective long-term strategy: once you’ve built a presence, you only need to maintain and update it to remain relevant in online search results. Note, though, that Google continuously updates its algorithms, which makes it imperative that businesses stay alert to their ranking factors to make the most of their content centers.
Google also rewards companies that provide users with good website experiences. To rank well, a website must display good design and brand consistency. Mobile optimization, which enables a website to appear correctly across a variety of devices, is also an imperative. Creating longer content (at least 1,200 words) with long-tail, targeted keywords makes for a strong SEO strategy that can lead to business success.
With an always-on website, your business can generate leads even as you sleep. When you add in the power of artificial intelligence, your company can become a state-of-the-art leader in customer service.
Chatbots, short for “chat robots,” use artificial intelligence to provide live chat sales and marketing experience. These on-demand, real-time customer communication tools cost a fraction of staffing a call center. Chatbots enable companies to provide excellent customer service around the clock by delivering a personalized welcome message and the opportunity for visitors to ask basic questions without searching the company’s website. Amtrak uses a chatbot to help visitors navigate its website, plan vacations and book reservations. Its chatbot, “Julie,” answers 5 million questions per year and generates 30% more revenue per booking.
You can also use your website to gather customer feedback and provide post-sales support. Convenient and effective customer service turns satisfied customers into repeat customers. Online customer satisfaction surveys also help your business pinpoint where it needs to make improvements.
Best of all, professional websites are affordable. Most small businesses spend less than $10,000 to design, build and launch a website. That investment is minor compared to the dividends it provides in return.