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Get the most out of your online presence with these suggestions.

Every business is different; but, there is one tool that is vital to the growth and success of nearly each one. It is a tool that you should be leveraging already to help your sales and marketing team. But, if you’re not, you are about to discover why you should be.

If you haven’t already thought of your website, you need to. This is the biggest must-have tool for any business to attract and gain new customers. What other tool lets you market to potentially millions of people, every second of every day, regardless of whether you are in the office?

However, it’s not enough to have a website these days. Instead, you must consider how you can leverage your website to help promote your brand, increase leads and ultimately grow your business. Depending on your location and industry, thousands of dollars’ worth of business potentially can be made as a direct result of your website. This article will look at a variety of factors to consider when determining how to get the most out of your online presence.


Build Credibility

You have to admit, anyone who searches for a specific company online only to realize it can’t be found will more than likely move on to a competitor that is online.

A company website, regardless of its complexity, provides confidence to those interested in your services that your business exists and that you are openly offering a view into your company’s story, products, services and other general information.

Much like a retail store, a website allows you to highlight why a consumer should purchase from you. This can be done in an assortment of ways. First, a clean and organized store that is visually attractive is far more appealing than one that is cluttered and unorganized. At the end of the day, your website acts like a typical store, the only difference being that it’s online. If the experience of visiting your website is an unpleasant one, and a viewer has a reason to doubt your authenticity, this may determine whether he or she chooses to do business with you or with your competitor.

How can you prove your business’ credibility? Highlight key features consumers want to see. Your website is the perfect spot to be open in every aspect. Let people know what you do, let them know why you stand out and give them lots of ways to contact you, because unless you are running an e-commerce store, you will need to speak with that person to make the sale.

For example, visitors often will look for evidence that you have satisfied customers; therefore, allowing clients to post testimonials and reviews of your service on your website can be useful. Even if you get a bad review, don’t fret—this actually can be a great opportunity. If it’s a negative review that you can respond to publicly, do so. This will show people that you will work hard to make every situation right. Testimonials and reviews are one of the most convincing sales tools you can leverage on your website. When you can offer real stories from real customers, you’ve built powerful credibility in a nonsales way.

Including professional associations that your company is affiliated with further enhances your credibility. Use your website to showcase that you belong to organizations and associations that require your business to uphold standards of quality and service. The relationships you’ve built with industry organizations as well as awards or certifications your company has received can act as a stamp of approval to your visitors. Your company’s website can be one of the best resources for improving the credibility of your business.


Get Found

For better or worse, people are busier than ever these days and do not want to spend a significant amount of time searching for information. Gone are the days of flipping through phonebooks or newspapers to search for companies. Today, people look online; your website better be up to the job, or you will be missing out on a huge base of consumers who are ready to purchase products or services.

You may have the best product or service to offer in your industry; but, without a website, you can bet the majority of your target market will be contacting your competitors. Relying on phonebooks or other print advertising methods as your only source of advertising automatically excludes the largest percentage of potential customers from finding your business.

In a time-crunched society, consumers are often on the go, turning to the most convenient method of finding information: the World Wide Web. Mark Beccue, senior analyst at ABI Research, indicates in a recent report from Internet Retailer that 57 percent of smartphone users go directly to a business’ app or website when beginning the search process. If your business is not available to them online, they will choose a company that is.

The reality is that we are now connected with the Internet in ways we never thought possible. With smartphones and tablets in the hands of most consumers, online search traffic has shifted significantly from desktop computers to mobile devices. In fact, studies reveal that the total amount of searches on mobile devices will exceed 50 percent of all searches for the first time in 2013; that number is expected to continue to grow.

Whether you are serving clients locally or internationally, you want to make sure potential customers can find your website. Include your Web address on all of your marketing materials and develop a search engine optimization strategy to ensure that consumers who might not know your business find you when they search online. If you’re not sure what people are searching to find you, make sure you have Google Analytics (a free service) installed on your website and don’t be afraid to ask people when you talk to them.

At their simplest, sales and marketing strategies hinge on knowing who your customers are. Understanding how they look for your product or service is a key component in creating content for your website. Ask your customers what devices they used and the keywords they searched to find your company online. This information will help guide you in improving your website to meet the needs of real customers.

If you find that a large majority of people are using mobile devices, then you want to make sure that your website is mobile friendly. The latest innovation is called a responsive website, which adapts accordingly to the device being used to provide the best user experience. Frustrated visitors do not become customers.


Stay Connected
Even after your business closes for the day, a website allows consumers continuous access to information surrounding products and services. Your website is the only “salesperson” who works 24 hours per day, every day of the year. You’ve now gone from letting potential customers learn about you roughly 40 to 50 hours during a regular business week to giving them access whenever they want. Imagine the sales potential and customer growth that could occur during these off hours.

The website is your ideal tool for sharing information; update it regularly. Core information may not change regularly, but promotions and offers, community involvement and industry information are all great and easy things that you can add to the site and update frequently. Frequent updates have the added benefit of getting search engine robots to visit your website more often.

Do you have the same content in your print brochure as you did five years ago? Most likely you do not because it is out of date. Old information on your website can look just as bad as no information at all. Create new content, and you will start to see the benefits.

Increasingly, consumers are turning to social media for information and advice pertaining to companies, products or services. Connecting social media accounts to your website provides an additional source of support to visitors. If you actively engage with people on social media, it shows a real person is behind your business and is easily reachable. When a company is willing to be personable and social, it is evident the company truly cares about building relationships with customers.

Keep in mind, some people will prefer calling your business and others are more comfortable connecting online, perhaps through social media. Bottom line: You can never offer too many ways for potential customers to connect with you.

The online community continues to grow. Taking advantage of free marketing tools and social interaction are smart business practices for companies of any size.


Generate Leads
A website needs to do something. Whether it provides extra value to your visitors by delivering interesting information, coupons or your hours of operation, give them a reason to dig deeper into your site. By incorporating newsletters, RSS feeds, online promotions, blogs, image galleries, contact forms and more, you are adding quality information that will benefit the consumer, which in turn will benefit your business.

Besides being incredibly valuable for marketing, your website has the potential to be your best sales tool. You just have to figure out how to drive conversions by turning visitors into leads, either through a form submission, a phone call or, if you have e-commerce, an online sale. Give visitors a reason to contact you. It doesn’t always have to be a promotion or discount, but those can help. If visitors contact your company using a form on your website, respond as quickly as possible. They are contacting a number of companies, and the first to respond usually closes the sale.

In today’s business world, it’s critical to remember that not having a website may be costing you. The initial cost of a custom-built website may surprise some, but remember to look at it as an investment. If you compare the cost of other methods of traditional marketing with that of a website, the cost per impression is minimal and continually decreases as time goes on. Analytics and other conversion tracking tools make it easier than ever to measure your return on investment.

A well-thought-out and frequently updated website will yield results, making it clear why it truly is the biggest must-have tool for your business.

 

The authors are with Barrie, Ontario-based NetGain SEO, www.NetGainSEO.com, which provides Web development, content management system, search engine optimization and social media integration services.

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