Editor's Note: Want to make your business better? Learn how by reading a special article courtesy of the SCORE Lake of the Ozarks the first and third Wednesday each month in The Lake Today.
Blogs, photo sharing, and other types of social media may be getting all the buzz these days, but websites remain the foundation of a successful online marketing strategy.
Though social media has redefined the rules of customer engagement and relationship building, these channels are limited in size, content, and time. In order to truly "tell your story" - what your small business does and how it can help your customers - a well-designed, comprehensive website is a must.
"Think of your website as your home base," advised Michael Pranikoff, Global Director of Emerging Media for PR Newswire. "All of the channels that are outside of your main page should be set up to drive people to your business. Make sure that you are linking all of those various posts on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and more back to where you want to drive people."
Creating a professional-looking website has never been easier, thanks to WordPress and other do-it-yourself online design tools. But looks aren't everything. As with every other facet of online marketing, good content is critical to both attracting customers and enticing them to learn more.
That's why it's important to organize and build your website from the customer's perspective:
• Basic information: who you are, what you do, where you're located, hours of operation, etc.
• How you can help them: details on products, services, special expertise, etc.
• Why a customer should do business with you: The kind of problems you solve, examples of successful projects/satisfied clients, etc.
Complementing narrative with photos and video is helpful, but don't go overboard. Often, less is better, and what you do include should look as professional as possible. (In other words, use a digital camera or camcorder instead of a cell phone, and edit out any extraneous material.) And "freshen up" your content regularly by replacing outdated material with more timely, relevant information.
Many entrepreneurs have added educational components to their websites, providing relevant information about issues customers are dealing with or their industry. As a result, the website becomes an information resource that can help customers on an ongoing basis.
Also make sure your website's content is optimized for mobile devices, especially if you own a restaurant or other business that customers may visit on impulse, or when they're looking for something specific.
"Mobile devices are hugely complimentary to a small business owner's online presence because the consumer is likely to be nearby and ready to visit," explained Heather Dougherty, Director of Research for Experian Hitwise, and a leading authority in online commerce and marketing. "There are great opportunities to capture the customer with mobile search, geo-tagging, and location-based services like Facebook Places and Foursquare when they are in the area."
For more information contact the Lake of the Ozarks SCORE Chapter at www.lakeoftheozarks.score.org, by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 573-346-5441.