Starting a business can be daunting and building a strong online presence from nothing can seem almost impossible in the early days. Success requires a heady mix of technology and marketing expertise from the outset.
Here are eight simple but very powerful things you can do to help your business succeed online. They should all be very obvious. But the chances are you’re not doing them (which is a potential threat to your business). Your competitors are probably not doing them either (which is a big opportunity!)
1. First ask customers what they want!
All the SEO and traffic in the world won’t drive sales unless you’re offering what customers want, at a competitive price, on a nice site that works the way they want it to.
Do your research as early as possible. This really ought to be common sense but few businesses, regardless of size, actually bother to find out what their customers really want before building brands and websites with little or no input from the target audience.
There is really no excuse for this outdated attitude in today’s connected, social world. At the very least you should find out which products your target audience wants to buy and make sure your prices are competitive. But the web means there are no limits to how deeply engaged your customers could be with your brand.
Why not let them build your brand the way they want it? Your customers are expert consultants willing to design your brand, your website and your business on Facebook. For free. So at least have the decency to ask them what they want. Gaining buy-in from customers is extremely powerful: you know you’ll be launching something they like.
Involved customers are advocates too. In laymen’s terms that means you get a sales force that works for free. Most of your customers use social networks and can share your message with a single click if you give them something worth sharing.
In particular, time spent identifying and engaging with the people who influence your customers is rarely wasted. Never stop engaging. Never stop shaping your business to suit your customers.
2. Start SEO… NOW!
Search Engine Optimisation can take several months to take effect and it’s the best possible way to invest your marketing budget. So why wait? Get started right away.
Get a page live on your domain as soon as you have a domain. Any page will do: even a blank page is better than failing to get a page online ASAP. But why stop at a blank page? Why not invite free marketing by adding social media sharing buttons. If you haven’t already started engaging your target market and its influencers, why not tease them a little… start generating a little buzz about what you’re doing.
3. Launch: a unique opportunity!
Launch is a unique and enormous opportunity that will never come back. It’s likely to be your most newsworthy moment and it might even be your only truly newsworthy moment ever.
The news of your launch could win you coverage in popular and influential blogs and offline media – with accompanying links and social media activity to kick start your SEO, social and other online marketing campaigns, as well as brand awareness.
DO NOT squander this huge opportunity. You cannot put too much effort into publicising your launch and harnessing it for SEO. If you have a launch budget then most of it should be invested in generating buzz, coverage and online activity around your brand and your website.
4. Start blogging
As a new brand you need to let your target audience know you are there, win their trust and engage them. Blogging demonstrates your expertise and shows you are proactive.
It is also the first component of your content marketing strategy. Your blog posts will be of direct relevance and interest to your target audience. They will be shareable. If they are really compelling – and you make an effort to promote them – then they will draw links and social media activity that will boost brand awareness and SEO for free.
Unique content – tailored to your target market based on a deep analytical understanding of people within the market – is the foundation of SEO strategy.
Blogging is the easiest way to build that content foundation.
After all, how much of your product copy, images and videos are completely unique? (That’s something else you need to address).
And seriously, are your product pages, or the other pages on your site really interesting enough for people to share with friends on Facebook, or their business network on LinkedIn for B2B markets?
5. Be social
Use Social Media. Be proactive and helpful in social media channels.
Setting up Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest… all your key social media channels… it’s free. Why would you not do it.
It’s easy to put content out there using social media. At the very least you can tweet each of your exciting new blog posts and post them on Facebook.
Do your products have good, unique images? Share them on Pinterest. Do your best-selling products have videos? Probably not yet… but that’s another easy way for you to leap ahead of your competition right there.
Social media is not about broadcasting at people. It’s about engaging in dialogues. Reach out to people and have conversations. Help people. Make friends with people… It really is all about people.
6. Use PPC while SEO builds
Let me re-iterate that in many ways good SEO is the most powerful thing you could possibly do. But SEO usually takes a few months to deliver strong results.
PPC is a powerful way to drive traffic and sales almost instantly, in a highly scalable, controllable and measurable way.
It is particularly useful in the early weeks and months – before SEO begins delivering traffic and sales organically, dramatically increasing ROI over the long-term.
7. Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools
Google Analytics makes it easy to see how many people are coming to your website, where they came from and what they’re doing. All of this is essential for the success of any website.
Webmaster Tools lets you tell Google certain things about your website and in some ways look at your site from Google’s perspective. You can diagnose common problems your site may be experiencing that may harm the user experience or SEO.
Real SEO is about creating content that makes users happy when they find it – and making sure they can find it when they use search engines. Search engines like to help users find the best possible experience when they do a keyword search and these free Google tools help you understand the user experience – and Google’s view of the experience – so you can improve it. Therefore these tools are indispensable.
8. Find a good SEO agency.
Doing all these things really effectively requires specialist expertise – the sort of expertise you find within a good SEO agency.
If you have the budget then you should hire a good SEO agency.
You might consider hiring an in-house SEO as an alternative – but a good agency will deliver senior-level strategic thinking without paying out a huge salary for an SEO Director.
A really good digital agency with a specialist SEO team will also deliver proper integration and coordination between other digital and offline campaigns.
It would be extremely difficult to hire all those skills at senior level in house – let alone integrate them across all your marketing channels.
Here are some simple tips on how to identify a good SEO agency.