In part one of this blog, I looked at how to create a website for your business using the many free and low-cost resources available online, following an appearance on BBC London as part of the 'Give an hour' campaign. Part two will look at how to promote your online presence and where to go for more help and advice about doing business on the web ...
It’s no good having a great-looking website if no one knows it’s there, so once you’re up and running, it’s important to promote your site and drive visitors (or ‘traffic’) to it.
One of the first things to do is to make sure your website is being indexed by the search engines. In the UK, Google accounts for 90% of search queries, so this should be your first priority.
Search engines will find you themselves eventually, but you can speed up the process by submitting your content to them. You can do this by following these links for Google, Bing and Yahoo. For both Google and Bing you'll have to sign up for an online account first (which is free).
You should also add details of your business to Google Maps (follow the link to Google above then click on 'Local'), so that people can find you when they perform ‘location-based’ searches. If you have a physical presence like a shop or office, adding this to Google Maps along with your website address and contact details can help you slide up the search results and also help people find you by distance.
It’s also crucial to make sure your website appears in the list of results on Google when someone is searching for your type of business in your area. There are many ways you can do this – indeed, an entire industry has been spawned offering companies this service, which is called search engine optimisation (SEO).
However, the best place to start initially is to put yourself in your customers’ shoes – what would they be searching for when looking for your type of business, and what specific terms and ‘keywords’ would they use? People often search using the name of an area, town or village followed by the type of business they are looking for (eg Brighton, hairdressers) or even type their postcode in if the service is more common. Are those terms and details within your website?
As well as covering the basics of what your business does, it's then a good idea to populate your website with useful, regular and relevant content. So if you're running a gardening business, for example, you could start by having a page which tells people about your business and what services you offer, and another which tells people how to contact you.
You could also ask a few of your regular customers to write testimonials for you and include these on your website. Remember that many people who find you online will not have any prior knowledge about your company. The more you can do to set yourself apart as an exceptional service provider, the more likely you are to win their business.
Going forward, you could then think including articles with tips and advice on how to look after specific plants or what to plant at different times of year, perhaps writing and publishing one short piece a week.
This will benefit you in a number of ways – it shows you know your stuff, keeps customers on your website for longer (especially useful if your online business grows and you start selling online or decide to put advertising on your website) and provides more content to be picked up by the search engines. However, trying to cram as many keywords into your site as possible is a no-no and can work against you. Google rewards relevance – so keep your content readable and useful first and foremost, but insert keywords where you can.
Another way to drive traffic to your website by using social networking tools such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. If you have recently added new content to your site, let your friends and followers know about it on your social media profiles; if they like your content, they might even re-post it to their own followers. This can be a free and easy marketing tool.
It’s also critical to analyse your website’s performance to see what terms people are using to find you, what new content you should add and to ensure your existing content is delivering what people are looking for.
As the editor of Startups I spend lots of time on Google Analytics – it’s a free tool which shows us how many people visit our website, what articles are the most popular and what advice people are looking for when they’re setting up a business; this is invaluable insight which helps us to provide articles that are genuinely useful for our readers.
I’m aware that all of the tools and resources I have suggested so far are online – so, as DJ Dotun Adebayo asked, where do you go for advice if you’ve never used the internet before? If you know someone in this position, why not give your ‘extra’ hour to help them get online? Alternatively, Startups.co.uk publishes a number of books, such as Starting Your Own Online Business, which are aimed at first-time entrepreneurs. Or you could always try your local library.
Once you’re online, Startups.co.uk’s forum and forums specific to your type of business are all really good starting points for getting answers to questions you may have – or helping others. Google also provides lots of free information and tools to help you create and promote your website – and crucially, to analyse its performance.
There is indeed a lot to learn – I could have made this piece 10 times longer and Startups has further advice and guides on each of these key areas which should help. In particular, I have highlighted a few of our articles that you may find useful below.
So, in summary, don’t be daunted by the internet. There’s lots of help available once you know the basics about how to log on and use search engines – and once you do, you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner!