Once you have these things down, you’ll be ahead of 99% of other online businesses
Everyone knows by now that the Internet is the final frontier of marketing, and nearly every business is online trying to stake their claim. There is so much content being produced by so many websites every day that it can be hard to attract the kind of attention that you want.
However, the vast majority of businesses trying to market themselves online are just winging it. It’s still more than possible for someone starting out now to make a name for themselves online. All you need to do is take those few extra steps that other business owners are too busy or disorganized to get a handle on. Once you’ve made yourself visible, there’s no limit to how much your company can grow.
First, take care of the boring stuff (web design, SEO, email campaigns)
Your website needs to be awesome
Your website is the foundation of your online presence. If things aren’t right with your site, it’s going to affect everything else along the way. Too many business owners throw up a free or cheap WordPress or Squarespace website and forget about it, and then wonder why their site isn’t earning them as much business as they thought it would.
Your first step should be to hire a professional to create your website for you. It’s tempting to try to save some money on web design, but in the same way that you would pay a professional to make a sign for your business or to create a television ad for you, you want to work with someone who knows what they’re doing to create your website. This is the online face of your company, after all.
Do you know how to optimize a website? If not, hire an SEO company.
Search Engine Optimization is absolutely critical for anyone who wants to be successful in online marketing. The goal of SEO is that when someone searches for keywords related to your company, your company’s website will be one of the top results. This is done through a combination of making sure your website is coded correctly, creating relevant content, building external links to your website, and a few other tasks.
Now, good SEO isn’t necessarily complicated, but it’s very time consuming. If you have time on your hands, even a total newbie can make a lot of progress (check out our guide to getting started with link building). However, if you’re like most business owners, you already have too much to do. Don’t let your website that you’ve invested so much in get lost in the weeds of the Internet – hire a reputable SEO company to get your site the exposure it deserves.
Make sure you are collecting email addresses
One of the things that makes websites so valuable for businesses is that they give you an easy way to collect email addresses of people who are interested in what you do, and email is one of the most effective ways you can promote your business.
Your website should have some way to collect visitors’ email addresses, even if it’s just a “Sign up for our newsletter” form. Ideally, you should create some kind of additional incentive for people to give you their email – for example a special offer or a discount on your services if they provide you with their email address. Once you’ve started building a list, you have an excellent resource that will enable you to run any kind of promotion you want.
Get a Great Logo
Many people overlook the importance of company logos. While not everyone has an eye for graphic design, people still know a bad logo when they see one. If you don’t want to become a laughingstock, then you need to make sure that you have a high quality, web-ready logo to use online.
The simple fact is that your logo isn’t just going to be on your website – it should be everywhere that your brand has a presence online. It should be in your social media profiles, on your invoices, and in your email signatures. What you want is for people to come to trust the logo, so when they see it in a new location all the good feelings they have about your brand will carry over. Bottom line, this thing is going to be everywhere, so you want to make sure it’s something that represents your business well and that people won’t get sick of.
There are a lot of tips for designing great logos online, but the basics are that your logo should be unique, memorable, and simple. However, this is easier said than done, so for most business owners, this is going to be another area where you may want to turn things over to a professional. But in the case of a logo, it’s worth it! Once you have it, it’s yours forever. And don’t worry, the rest of the items in this list are free.
Be active on social media and embrace trends
Having a strong presence on social media is one of the simplest ways to have a big impact on people who aren’t already your customers. First of all, you should at the very least be on all three of the major social networks – Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. Secondly, branch out to other more specialized networks if they suit your brand. For example, LinkedIn is great for B2B companies, and Instagram and Pinterest are ideal for companies with a physical, visually-oriented product.
But just being on these sites isn't enough. Too many companies set up their profiles and then just send out a tweet now and then promoting one of their products or services. If you want to use social networks to the limits of their potential, you need to engage with the other people on there. Post comments on other people’s posts, retweet/repost their content, and reply to people who say something to you.
A great way to be a part of the larger conversations on these sites is to pay attention to what’s trending and think about how you and your company could contribute. For example, take a look at what the book publisher Random House tweeted in response to the rollout of Facebook’s new “reactions” that are replacing the Like button:
This took a few minutes to throw together and it was hugely appealing to their audience (book lovers) and referenced one of their biggest properties (Game of Thrones). It was shared hundreds of times, which means thousands and thousands of people potentially saw their joke and their profile. Not bad for a couple of minutes work!
Have a brand voice
This ties in to your social media presence, but you can take it everywhere your company goes online. If you are like most people, then you’re sick of how sterile corporate language tends to be. For a very long time, most businesses communicated with a mix of clichés, jargon, and meaningless phrases like, “Customer service is our top priority.” Sure, customer service is your top priority, but it’s also the top priority of 100,000 other companies just like yours. Why should anyone care?
While most businesses are still phrasing all their communications in that old style of corporate-speak, the buzzword in marketing these days is “authenticity.” What people mean by this is simply that consumers want to feel like they’re interacting with actual human beings, even when they’re talking to a large company.
The most successful online brands have all developed unique brand voices that complement the services they offer and appeal to their target markets. The Random House tweet above is a great example of the fun, geeky voice they like to use. Other companies have adopted other voices. Fast food companies like Canadian burger chain Harvey’s tend to tweet like their millennial customers do, in a conversational tone with lots of hashtags and emojis:
On the other end of the spectrum are brands like Porsche. As a luxury car company, they have a different market than a burger joint or a publishing house, so their social media posts are designed to appeal to a different crowd.
It’s your job to find out what your brand’s voice should be. Once you have it, you should stick to it and use it everywhere that you can.
Be a resource
If you are eventually going to ask the online world for something (their money), they will be way more likely to give it to you if you’ve given them something of value first. The best way to do this is to be a great resource by making great content and sharing great content that other people have made.
We’ve written lots of articles before about how to create great content for your audience, but you have to decide what kind of content your audience is looking for. Blog posts are a classic option, and there is a lot that you can do with just the written word, but don’t be afraid to branch out into other media. YouTube is huge, and there are a lot of companies putting out great content on that platform. Other popular options are podcasts and infographics – but don't be afraid to experiment with any way you can put useful information in a package and give it to your audience.
But you don’t have to (and you shouldn’t) restrict yourself to sharing the content you’ve created. Spend some time getting to know other content creators in your niche. If you find something you think is useful or interesting, your audience will probably enjoy it too. Share it, and let the creator know that you’ve shared it. They’ll appreciate the exposure, and they may reciprocate by sharing some of yours!
But regardless of whether or not someone shares your content, the important thing is that you are establishing your brand as an important and useful resource. Once people see you as a trustworthy source of information, they will be more likely to buy whatever you have to offer.
Create community, build relationships
But it’s not enough to just broadcast your message to your audience. The most successful brands online have moved past the audience model and have become active members of communities they have created.
This is another one of those things that is easier said than done. There is lots of advice out there about how to nurture the growth of an online community, but it boils down to engaging with your audience and encouraging them to engage with each other. Community is something that grows over time, but it starts with simply building personal relationships with your customers and those who are consuming your content (even if they’re not buying anything).
Truly successful brands move beyond building relationships with their audience and actually build social relationships with other companies and content creators. This is a very long term project, so just remember that how you interact with people, both online and off, can have long term consequences for your business. Do what you can to make sure that all of your interactions are positive.
Don’t be afraid to try new things. It seems like a new social network is being launched every other week. Keep your ear to the ground – you never know what new development will be a great fit for your company.
The companies that are doing the best at marketing themselves online are the ones that are among the first to embrace new things. A year ago, Snapchat was widely considered a messaging app for millennials. Now, some clever people have started to use Snapchat for marketing while other companies are scrambling to catch up.
Not every new experiment will be a success, but the worst that will happen is that you’ll find something isn’t a good fit for your brand. The important thing is that you always remain willing to grow.
And don’t forget to share what you’ve learned
The process of developing your company’s online presence is itself a valuable and interesting experience that you can share with your audience. You can also share it with us! How has building your company’s online presence gone for you? Do you have any tips you want to share? Did you have trouble at a particular stage? Let us know in the comments or drop us a line on Twitter.