The world is abuzz with jargon relating to developments in the online space. For those of us in the industry, it is all very exciting. We get all caught up in speculating about the real value of Facebook and whether or not Bing will ever gain ground on Google. We even argue about which browser is better and make jokes about Internet Explorer users. Now and again we have to realise that to people not so engrossed in the industry, these things often mean very little. To some even, all of this high level noise detracts from the really important issue: what should I be doing online for my business? When I am out networking and discussing digital opportunities, I do find that business people have a tendency to throw themselves at the thing everyone has been talking about. This has mixed results and as ever, whatever you get involved with, your results will vary depending on how well planned the work was and how you marketed it. This early adopter surge can usually develop into 2 groups, the jaded disapointees and the enthusiastic evangelists. Looking first at the evangelists, they are either having runaway success, or just really enjoying working at it. Either way That is no bad thing. For those that are disappointed, there may be a bunch of reasons why it didn’t work but most often, it is because it was either engaged in without 100% buy in or it was poorly executed and perhaps not developed with the customer clearly in mind. I decided today, to help you avoid herding behind the latest trend, to compile a list of what every business should be doing online.

Website

Every company needs a website. That is a fact, if you are in business, there will be people who want to use the internet to find out more about you. A website can cost anything from £300 to £30, 000 but you need to buy one that fits your requirements and your budgets. When developing a website, remember to have the client clearly in view. Very often we work with clients who have so much they want to tell/show their clients but they lose sight of the fact that their clients don’t want to sit at the computer, reading/watching all your content. They want to get the information they need and make a decision. Stay Focussed! Decide; what is the best way for a new customer to get in touch with you and what will make you the most responsive. Once you have established that, make sure that it is easy for customers to do that. Often websites push customers through a squeeze page, for “Data Capture” but not all customer groups respond well to this so don’t do it unless you truly believe people want you to take their email addresses. There are other ways of getting their data, the best way is to remember to ask when they call!

Social Media

It is not a gimmick, social media is here to stay, it will be around in some shape or form forever and if you give it some thought, it has always been here, we just called it different things. Why your company needs to be on social media… Facebook will soon hit 1 billion users. It doesn’t matter what you are building, making, selling or designing. An element of your customer base is on Facebook. Until recently, I held the view that companies should think carefully about whether they invested energy in developing a Facebook profile/page. This changed for me with the introduction of the new timeline view. This has changed 2 things that make Facebook now so much more important for businesses. Accessibility In the past, it was a little tricky for a company to create a Facebook profile that made sense, reflected their brand values and offered visitors/fans anything of real value. Digital agencies were able to use FML to create good looking pages but they were not particularly effective. Today, the timeline view makes it oh too easy for any Facebook user to set up a business page that is really compelling and offers fans value and is a great content delivery platform. Storyline It doesn’t sound like a very insightful statement to make but social media is all about SOCIAL. Socialising is getting to know one another. Think about gatherings with friends, who are the socialites in your group, the one everyone hangs on? They are the story tellers. People are attracted to story tellers, the art of telling stories, will entertain your audience, endear them to you and build brand loyalty. Use the Facebook timeline to help people get to know you better. Don’t spend all your time selling to people on social media, they don’t like it, it isn’t a shopping mall, do that on Amazon. Engage, tell stories, share pictures and news, make friends and gain trust. A note of caution, assess the potential impact that Facebook can have on your bottom line. It may not be much so don’t invest too much time in it unless it is a major part of your marketing strategy, it is fun to many and can become addictive. Keep your feet on the ground and invest the appropriate amount of time in it, even one hour a week will make an impact. LinkedIn is becoming more and more important but I would still recommend that it is primarily of value to companies with a B2B proposition. Whatever your business, I would advocate having a Company set up on LinkedIn and for all of the key personnel to have a good presence on LinkedIn, you never know who is researching your company and having your best people on display is a great way of demonstrating your quality. Exercise caution, your best people WILL be approached by recruiters, make sure they are happy and they won’t leave. If you do have a B2B proposition, specifically if you are a smaller company, LinkedIn is a treasure trove, get involved today. The opportunities presented to you by LinkedIn are too numerous to cover here but they are well documented. Make contact with me if you want to know more. Twitter is a truly powerful resource and easy to setup and dip a toe in. It is hard for a small business to get real traction with twitter unless a proper twitter strategy is invested in and adhered to. I wouldn’t advise setting up a business twitter until you have a couple of personal accounts building up a bit of steam. Start tweeting personally and try and introduce content that is relevant to your business. Play first, once it clicks, start to refine your activity. I have found that most people learn Twitter best by experimentation. Word of caution - Twitter is by default 100% public so don’t be an ass! People, who do well from twitter, love it. It is arguably the most accessible and mobile of social media and depending on your product, it could be a great tool for you. It does also provide a means for you to spread the word about your other great content, particularly if you are already blogging. If you are blogging – stop it! That got your attention. Blogging is actually really cool, there is so much of genuine value being put out onto the internet by millions of content creators, it’s great.  If you are writing a blog, ask yourself why you are doing it? If the answer is, because you are full of exciting things to share with the world, your Ideas need to be set free and you love writing, that’s great. Keep up the good work If however you are blogging because someone told you to and because it is supposedly good for SEO, stop it. Spend some time looking at your business, think about the people who buy from you. What do you know that can really help them to make better decisions or improve their effectiveness? What have they mentioned they really like about you or your product? Start writing about these things; a blog should not by cynical marketing copy that there was not enough space for on your website. Don’t think of it as a blog, think of it as an extension of your FAQ or about us content, make it personal and give your point of view. Share your expertise and knowledge. If you do that, your readers/customers and Google will love it!

Online Marketing

As an industry, we spent the last 5 years telling everyone to invest in SEO - We are sorry. Not that SEO is not important, it is, just that we forgot to emphasise the most valuable aspect of search, the cornerstone on which the success of all good search engines are built; delivering great quality search results to internet users. By focussing on technical SEO for so many years, the industry lost sight of the value of content. Naughty us! Great content is what the internet is built on, that and LOL Cats.  Don’t stop spending on SEO but make sure you pull the plug on the link farming and get creative, splash out on a few info-graphics and write some great case studies. That is the future of search - Google says so. Search advertising - PPC (pay per click) is available on all search engines but we will stick to Google here as in truth, it is all that matters. PPC, is still the quickest and most effective way to bring traffic to your website. Conversion rates are quite high and visitors are likely to have some interest in what you have to offer. I suggest you try it, particularly if you are in a consumer market. What you must do, is stay on top of it. Monitor your spending and traffic closely. Expect to spend similar budgets to local newspaper advertising to reach a similar audience but with better conversion. Keep an eye on searches that don’t turn into business, monitor the way traffic flows on your website, it will help you to maximise the return from this Most importantly, make sure that your landing pages match exactly what you are advertising. Don’t use your home page as default. If necessary create sales focused microsites to accompany PPC campaigns. It is worthwhile spending a little more on your infrastructure to ensure that your expensively won traffic is well looked after. Email marketing is not an area where many SME’s are strong.  A lot of the people I speak with are amazed that their marketing emails look totally horrible sent from Outlook and they have no idea that most of them are being spammed. STOP sending marketing emails from MS outlook or any other email client. It just doesn’t work. There are great HTML emails broadcasting solutions out there that suit every budget. Get a template, and start sending emails to your customers. Don’t harass them but a well thought out email that adds value and shows customers that they are valued can go a long way to strengthen a relationship. Be consistent and regular, pick a frequency that is right for you, I suggest no more than one per week unless you have a compelling reason for daily emails. Once you decide how often to send the emails, stick to it, the people who enjoy your content will start to expect it, that is a good thing! Build a database; remember to ask every person you do business with for their email address. Keep this up to date, it is a business gold mine, your past customers are the ones most likely to spend with you again so it is very wise to keep the lines of communication open. Tie in your on and offline campaigns, have a united approach to marketing. People need to see a message a number of times before they act one it, make sure yours is consistent. All your print advertising, your leaflets and other materials need to echo the look and feel of your web marketing. Consider using smartphones to your advantage by using QR codes or similar on your printed material. Funny I should bring up mobiles just there; it is almost as if I had planned it. Smartphones are a boon for the internet; it means that millions of people have access to the internet, their emails and social media wherever they are. All of that means your marketing messages are going to be seen by someone using a smartphone and they will want to access your content via that device. It is important at this point to recognise the value of each person who responds to your message and visits your website. What is each customer worth? Once you know that, visit your Google Analytics account and see how many people have visited your website from a mobile phone. Let that data determine how valuable a mobile optimised website is to you. A further factor that influences decision making in this area is email marketing; empirical research shows that between 20 and 30 % of marketing emails are opened on a mobile. If you are engaging in email marketing, you must check that your website works well on a mobile phone. What’s Google Analytics? It is a great free tool provided by Google and it can work on any HTML website to track visitor numbers, search information and website use statistics. It is an invaluable tool for the modern business; you need to learn how to use it!

Mobile Apps

You do not need a mobile app. Generally speaking, most people who ask for an app really want an optimised website which is something worth considering. Good apps that are worth making, are expensive and need to be coupled with a strong revenue plan. If you don’t have a plan for your app to make money, you don’t need an app. I felt a bit sad writing that because apps are a big part of what we do. It is important to remember though that just because it’s cool; it doesn’t mean you need one. There are companies that should really be considering mobile apps, and we love to speak to them. If you are interested in mobile apps, think, what have I got that people will pay for? How can it benefit them on the move? Would my customers need access to my content when they are out of WiFi or 3G coverage? If you come up with answers to those questions please let us know, we love making apps. Thanks for reading; I hope this clears up a few things. The internet is a great place to do business and UK businesses are for the most part really eager, early adopters. I hope this helps you to make the right decision when thinking about using digital technologies to grow your business.

Insights by Matthew Jensen

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