Even businesses who once thought of the internet as an unnecessary frontier, are now realizing that the web is an important place to connect with new customers. They’re starting sites, hiring SEO agencies, and trying to figure out social media. The coming years will see hundreds of thousands of these small and medium sized businesses (SMBs) come online, and start a web presence (or at least try).
Some will succeed. Others will fail. Below are my thoughts on how SMB’s should go about starting a web presence that will stand the test of time. We utilize many of these basic principles on our client campaigns, so if you have a question, give us a call. We live in New York City, so we’re always working.
Reserve a domain name, and set up your own hosting account
SMB’s should own their websites, and domains. The idea is to be able to manage a web presence independently if need be. Unfortunately, many marketing companies will reserve domains, and host websites for clients, without the business owner understanding the ramifications of delegating domain registration and hosting. The domain registrar affects not only where your site is hosted through DNS records, it also impacts email through MX records. Even when SMBs require help setting up email, and hosting, there is a benefit to creating their own accounts, and keeping track of the login information. Understanding where your domain is registered, and where your site is hosted, gives the SMB owner control over who they choose to work on their website. Of course, there is nothing wrong with allowing a marketing company to host a site, but the decision should be made with full knowledge of how it will impact business going forward. When a marketing company owns the domain, and hosts the site, it may be difficult to change providers.
It’s a slightly more expensive option than some, however, the domain registrar/ hosting combination I recommend is Godaddy for registration, and WP Engine for hosting, assuming the website will be built on WordPress, which it probably should be. There is no requirement that the domain registrar, and host be purchased through the same company.
Create content geared towards your customers
Content should come before the website is even designed. One of the big mistakes made by SMBs is to assume that putting up a website is enough. Putting a website won’t do much, unless it helps address questions and concerns faced by clients. Think of the most common issues your clients face, and the questions they ask. Invest time putting together content that answers these questions. It could be that questions can be answered with photos, or perhaps videos or articles are better. Whatever the case, content should be a valuable resource for clients. The goal should be to make the SMB website more informative, and easier to use, than competing sites.
Once the content has been created, a good SEO form can help organize it into a sound site architecture.
Build a website on WordPress
Once the SMB has content in place, they can enter the website design phase. Most businesses will want to invest in a WordPress website and utilize mobile responsive design. Responsive web design gives the SMB a seamless mobile solution, as the website will shrink or contract based on the pixel count of the device it is viewed on. WordPress is a good solution because it allows for easy updates, and content publishing. Many hosting providers make it easy to publish a WordPress site through their cpanel dashboard, but most SMBs will find they need to work with a graphic designer to get the look and feel they’re looking for.
For more information, see: Does my business need a new website?
Set up Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools
Both Google analytics, and Webmaster Tools, are governed from the “Products” area of the SMB’s Google account.
Google analytics gives website owners a vast amount of data about the types of visitors their site attracts, how long they stay, source of traffic, and much more. Establishing analytics is important so that traffic, and conversion progress can be measured. For a detailed rundown on setting up Google analytics, take a look at this post.
Webmaster tools gives webmasters a “backstage” look at the way Google sees their site. It’s an important step to take to confirm that site health is optimal. Data like crawl errors, potential malware, traffic, rankings, and link penalties can be found in Webmaster tools. For more on setting up Webmaster tools, see this post.
Create a dedicated email address
Create a dedicated email address to manage all login and password information for all of the social media accounts, and directory listings, you’ll need to manage. Maintaining a consistent presence across the web is one of the most important basic steps you can take to ensure visibility for local searches, but most SMBs don’t keep track of all this password information. This becomes a major headache when new marketing firm takes over their account, or when they want to move offices.
Make sure name, address, and phone information is accurate on these sites
Most SMBs want to be found in Google search results, especially for local searches. Every year, Moz puts out a list of the factors that contribute to visibility in local search results. There are over 10o on the list, however, the core principle of consistent name, address, and phone number information (“NAP”), run through many of the ranking factors. It’s important for search engines, as well as users, to understand where a business is located, and how to get in touch. As I’ve already mentioned above, keeping close track of login information for directory listings will help the SMB remain nimble when they move offices, add locations, or change contact information. However, it’s also important to understand the hierarchy of sites that feed information across the web. Certain data aggregators like Localeze, INFO USA, and Axciom, provide information to much of the web about where an SMB is located. Adding good information to these sites, will end up populating other “downstream” sites with that same information. For more information on the local search ecosystem, take a look at this infographic by David Mihm.
More to do…
The purpose of this article is to give SMBs good advice about how to get started on the web, not as a complete marketing plan. Especially in competitive verticals, successfully marketing a business online will require far more than the basic steps that have been laid out here. Having said that, there is tremendous value to getting started with a good foundation. Organizing off-site directory passwords, creating good content, developing a user friendly website that the SMB owns, are all important steps to leveraging the web as a business development tool, which is the ultimate goal.