Nine times out of ten, your business will have an online presence whether you’re consciously doing something about it or not. We prefer that you do. Tracking, monitoring and improving your online presence can actually positively impact how customers and prospects perceive your business and grow your sales pipeline.
Here is everything you need to know about online presence for your business and how to make it work to your advantage:
What does online presence mean for businesses?
Online presence refers to all activity and content that an entity - a person or a business - has under their name on the internet. This includes accounts, assets, interactions, and any pieces of information created by or about the person or business.
Many small businesses and startups get caught up in chasing “viral” and “cool” marketing and SEO strategies, and take their online presence for granted. By creating a website and a facebook profile, they assume that they control the online presence of their business. However, ‘online presence’ is more than just a website and social media profiles; it is distributed across multiple channels and platforms on the internet.
Your owned online presence is everything you have control over. In other words all the content you create on the web under your company’s name.
You also have an earned online presence, which is what people say about you. It can be in any format, on any platform that people choose to talk about you on. This includes tweets, Quora answers, video reviews, or even online directories. More often than not, a significant part of the online presence of an early stage company is created by other people - angry users, prospects with questions, or even competitors.
Bottom line, your online presence is a form of communication that you can’t completely control and you should constantly monitor it. Although the ultimate objective of having an online presence is to be found on the internet, often, that alone is not enough. In fact, not monitoring online presence can even be risky to your business.
Why should your business care about online presence today?
How many times have you taken a purchase decision based on a Google search? How many times have you picked a restaurant based on online reviews? Or even chosen a product over another because it looked “more reliable” on the internet? That is how powerful an online presence is to a business. And, if not managed well, it can be a deal breaker.
The more presentable your business looks on the web, the more likely customers are to trust you. It doesn’t matter what type of business you own - an offline or online business, a startup or a big enterprise - your presence and conduct on the web matters to your customers.
Besides being there for your customers, there are more reasons to think about your online presence.It makes your business more accessible
One night last summer, I stumbled upon a gorgeous little bar in a corner of the city that I don't frequent. I loved it so much I noted its name with the intention of bringing my friends back. The next weekend, I googled the name of the bar to try and find the exact address. Guess what, it was nowhere to be found and we ended up going somewhere else.
Even if your business doesn’t sell anything on the internet, a positive online presence can help you sell more offline. Not being active online can cost you customers; it may leave them to your competitors.
By and large, people search for businesses and products online before making any purchase decisions. It’s just common sense to be where your prospects are looking for you.It does marketing and branding for you
An online presence is a passive marketing stream for your business. Customer reviews and engagement on social media can serve as sales enablers. Additionally, your online presence helps people become familiar with your brand. A website or social media profile helps establish a visual identity that people can recognize and trust.
It can make your business more credible
Online presence is key to establishing your company as a legitimate business. For startups and small businesses, it is often challenging to be recognized as a valid entity in their early days. Having a solid online presence is the first step towards making sure people take you seriously.
Nowadays, it’s hard for us to trust a company if we can’t find any information about it on the internet. So, as a new business, you need to make sure that you have a presence on platforms where potential customers are looking for you.
It helps you better understand your audience
Having an online presence means having a two-way communication channel with your audience to gather insightful feedback or reviews. Moreover, it allows you to better understand who your potential customers are and what they want. For example, through polls on a Facebook page, a restaurant can identify what offers or products resonate better with their customers.
How to assess and improve online presence for your business?
Assessing your online presence simply means tracking what’s being said about you on the internet and analyzing how much good or bad it’s doing to your business. And then, you find ways to exploit it.
Here are four steps you can take to track and improve how your business looks to your customers online:
Google your business
Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Search for your business on Google and analyze the results. Use an incognito session in your browser for unbiased results and look for these elements:
- Your website
- Your contact information
- Your address
- Work hours
In addition to your business information, make sure to skim through the other results. Stay alert for reviews or articles that mention your business or compare it to others.
Pro-Tip: To increase conversions from organic search, optimize your website so Google can show relevant sitelinks when people search for your business. Read more about getting Google sitelinks here.
A Google search is the first step to getting a feel of how your business looks to customers. Does it look like a legit and trustworthy entity? Do the search results provide customers with enough information to reach out to you? Do they give them a good first impression of the business?
Monitor mentions of your business
Monitoring mentions of your business will help you stay up to date on what’s being said about you online and run damage control in case of a negative mention like a bad review. Also, this will allow you to spot gaps in your communication. Do people have unanswered questions or false information about your company?
Google Alerts can be used to monitor mentions of your business on the internet. After setting up alerts for your business/product name and associated keywords, set it to send you a message “as it happens,” and you will be notified instantly when someone mentions you anywhere on the web.
Forums such as Quora and Reddit can also be crucial to the online presence and reputation of your business. Make sure to answer questions with accurate information but also take into consideration all the questions people ask and use that data to improve your website.
Analyze your website traffic (social too!)
Knowing where your traffic comes from (and how much of it) can help you assess your overall online presence. Having low traffic can be a sign that you need to boost your online efforts beyond your website. For instance, low traffic from social media sources can indicate that your social presence isn’t great.
Tracking your website traffic through Google Analytics can help identify main traffic sources as well as hidden ones that you might have missed in your Google search. It will also help you spot mentions or backlinks you may not be aware of.
Assess your social media engagement
Your social media presence also contributes to your online reputation. Activity on your social media channels, especially with engaged customers, can establish trust and credibility for your business.
Say you look up the Facebook pages of a company and one of its competitors. One of these pages is very active, gets a lot of likes and comments from people, and you can see that the business actively engages with customers. The other page has a couple of likes and no comments on most of the posts. Which business are you more likely to trust?
The answer is obvious. An active social media profile looks trustworthy and, more importantly, it feels human and real. And the better your social media presence, the more engaged your audience will be.
Online presence isn’t a part of your business that you can overlook. It is the basis of all your digital marketing efforts and working on improving it every day should be part of your to-do list.
Think about it this way: you cannot completely control your online presence, so you need to be a step ahead of your audience. Everything customers learn about your business online, you need to know first. The only way to achieve that is by understanding, monitoring, and improving your online presence.
This post originally appeared in The Economic Times.