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Guide

An introduction to improving the online presence of your business

As a business leader, you can’t afford to underestimate the potential power of your company’s online presence.
Building an online presence

Being more visible online will help drive traffic to your business, increase brand awareness, boost credibility and showcase your value and capabilities to a huge audience.

Google reports that consumers now largely tend to seek inspiration and ideas online as opposed to search for specific brands.

And, more than ever, they’re using the internet to look into products and services before parting with their hard-earned cash, too. According to Think With Google, 84 per cent of shoppers went online for pre-purchase research in 2020, compared to 76 per cent the year before.

This creates a great window of potential for your businesses to swoop in and get noticed by new customers.

The good news is that there is plenty you can do immediately to kick things off, without needing lots of investment.

What factors will impact your online presence?

Your business goals

While it helps to look to competitors and influential businesses (we’ll talk about that later) for inspiration, bear in mind that there is no standard, cross-industry approach. What works for your business might be very different to what has worked for your competitors.

Before diving in head first and making decisions on where to invest your time and money, give some thought as to what outcomes you want from the exercise. Increased traffic to your website? More in-store shoppers? Better interaction from customers, so you can collect feedback and data?

To come up with a strategy and decide where to plough your efforts, first figure what benefits you’re aiming for, so you can target the right areas – be that creating more content, upping your social media game or getting more reviews.

The market you’re operating in

Similarly, the market you’re operating in and the kinds of customers you’re targeting will also steer your digital efforts.

Take some time to get to know what the online trends are in your field and where on the internet your prospective customers are hanging out before investing in marketing or ad spend, or signing up to new platforms.

While you do that, keep chipping away at increasing your presence through your existing digital channels and focus on growing naturally from there, recording successes to build up a picture of what works for you.

Who takes charge

Are you planning a DIY job or hoping to bring in external expertise? Will online activity be assimilated into existing workloads or taken on by a dedicated member of staff? Your plan for manning the project will dictate – to an extent – how you carry it out, the timeline and the benefits.

Alexander Amosu

Alexander Amosu warns against relying on guesswork and trying to build too much yourself

“What we’d tried to do before was learn it all on our own and use guesswork. I thought that it was easy to build a WordPress site and add products to it. But that doesn’t serve you when you’re dealing with 20,000 customers a day and want to scale it up into a big business. You’ve got to build your system on something that’s robust.”

Alexander Amosu, founder of Lux Afrique

The cold hard facts

The pandemic of 2020 accelerated online spend considerably. Traffic to business websites increased by 50 per cent in January 2021 compared to the same period in the previous year, Hubspot found, while Statista reported that the value of retail sales made online in the UK hit a record-breaking £3.25bn in November 2020. For context, that figure was at £1.8bn the November before.

Common mistakes when improving a company’s online presence

Not knowing when to seek support

While it might be a good idea to get going under your own steam, it’s important to know when the time has come to bring in an expert. It’s common for SME leaders to sink hours of their time into teaching themselves specialist skills and fiddling with (and perhaps subsequently breaking) the back ends of their websites before having to call in the pros anyway. Save yourself the time and effort by making the right call when it comes to external help.

Inadequate preparation for growth

Many SME leaders who are unfamiliar with the digital world understandably find it difficult to predict the reach and growth that their new digital presence will create. This can lead them to being severely underprepared for the increase in interactions, enquiries and sales that it brings, as well as struggling to keep up with the online maintenance it demands.

Analytics tools are key for proactively forecasting digital-related expansion and getting ready ahead of time.

Formula Botanica

Being stuck with systems that couldn't grow with the business was a learning curve for Lorraine Dallmeier

“My biggest mistake was underestimating our potential for scale. Start out with a vision of how big your business might get. And don’t limit yourself to systems that won’t be able to grow with you – try and own your systems.”

Lorraine Dallmeier, founder of Formula Botanica

The cold hard facts

There’s been huge growth in the number of people hunting for local businesses on their mobile devices in recent years. “Where to buy” and “near me” searches have increased by over 200 per cent in the past two years, according to Hubspot. If you can get your brand at the top of relevant search results, that’s a huge win.

Quick wins for improving your company’s online presence

Choose one area to focus on first

Just like there are countless benefits to having an online presence, there are countless ways to create one. So start by mapping out a plan for improving your online persona and visibility by focusing on one area at a time, rather than trying to do a bit of everything.

On the platform you’ve chosen to start on, test out a few approaches to get a good idea of what works, so you have a foundation to build on. For instance, pick a social media channel and start experimenting with different types of posts and content to see what gets you the results you’re aiming for – be that new followers, more interactions with customers or increased website traffic.

Or maybe focus on improving your ranking in search engine results by boosting website content and improving SEO.

Once you’ve honed that area, think about where to focus your attention next.

Research your competitors

Checking out what other successful businesses in your field are up to online can help hugely in terms of idea generation when you’re starting to experiment or mapping out a plan. Look beyond your direct competitors too and learn from brands that you admire which are nailing their digital presence.

Notice what kind of content, visual assets and voice they’re using to build their online visibility and community, and get inspired about how this might all translate for your own brand.

Just remember to avoid a copy-and-paste approach – make your strategy and content your own.

Change your digital mindset

A good digital presence isn’t just a nice-to-have any more – it’s vital. Finding new ways to drive traffic to your business, build credibility and increase sales are no-doubt already priorities for your business and your online presence is a major vehicle for all of these efforts.

When it comes to diving into the world of digital media, fear of the unknown is a common deterrent for SME leaders, but the sooner you get submerged, the sooner you’ll be reaping the rewards. So start researching, planning and weaving digital into all business conversations and targets.

“We recently implemented a free Google tool called Tag Manager. It allows us to track the way visitors interact with our website. If they download a guide or watch a product demo, Tag Manager will pick it up.”

Ashley Westgate, marketing manager at ievo

The cold hard facts

With more than 2.6bn active users, Facebook is the biggest social network in the world, according to Statista. That doesn’t mean that Facebook will automatically be the best platform for you to reach your specific audience, but it could be a good place to start.