Very few businesses will launch without any sort of marketing or sales plan. Yet, the vast majority of Australian SMEs have no kind of strategy when it comes to the fastest growing business channel there is – online.
A report by Sensis this week shows that just 13% of rural small businesses have an online strategy. Despite the steady increase of companies with websites, it seems that not much thinking is going into what impact they should have.
With this in mind, we’ve put together the 10 steps you need to take to put together a web strategy from scratch.
1. Set goals
Before you embark upon your foray into the digital world, you need to work out what your goals are for having a website.
Do you want customers to buy directly from your site? Do you just want to provide highly-visible branding? Or is it primarily a tool to interact with customers, get their feedback and deal with their complaints?
These insights should be driven by core marketing values – who are your customers? How do you want to reach them? What would your customers expect from your site – opening times, prices, photography and contact details? Or more than those basics?
2. Think about your brand
Your web strategy shouldn’t be a standalone process you follow independently of the rest of your business.
It should work harmoniously with your overall marketing strategy (if you don’t have one of those, you need to stop reading this and craft one as soon as possible).
Therefore, you need to ensure that your branding is consistent in the online and offline parts of your business, as well as a similar “look and feel” to the services or products you provide.
Choose a URL that is short, memorable and analogous with your business name. Make sure you secure it early – it can often be worth paying over the odds for a good URL, as leading tech start-up Posse found.
A website for a day care centre is going to be a little different in style than a high-end restaurant. You only have a short time to grab a customer’s attention – if they are familiar with your brand from elsewhere and feel your website fits your business’ proposition, you will stand a better chance.
3. Keep your competitors in mind
The advance of online retail (11% growth last year and rising) has opened up great new opportunities for Australian start-ups. You can now start a business with little more than an ABN, website and a decent idea.
However, your competitors are no longer confined to your immediate area. The internet puts you in competition with businesses from around the world. Therefore, you can’t be complacent that customers will immediately flock to your website.
Study the competition and work out what you will offer that sets you apart from them. Around half of all Australian SMEs don’t have a website and the ones that do often do a fairly average job.
So you have a great opportunity to stand out from the crowd, in Australia at least. Think about your design, your service levels and product bundling. Reward customer loyalty and capitalise upon your start-up status by offering a warm, personal touch to your site.
4. Work out your social media presence
While many start-ups lack a web strategy, social media is also an area that small businesses regularly fall down on.
Just 15% of rural SMEs use social media to market themselves, according to Sensis, despite it being a crucial way to extend your reach and connect with consumers in an engaging way.
Work out where your customers spend their time – are they avid Twitter users, for example? – and work out how much time you can spend on social media. Secure your domains early on.
“LinkedIn, YouTube and Twitter allow you to secure your own URL without needing a minimum amount of followers, whereas Facebook requires you to have 25 fans before it will let you secure what they call a vanity URL,” explains web strategy expert Adam Franklin.
“Even if you don’t anticipate using them yet, please reserve your company name because for all we know there could be an organisation overseas with your exact name who gets in first, meaning you’ll have to settle for a less than ideal URL!”
5. Get blogging
A blog is one the easiest and cheapest way to give your business a fresh, approachable face. As a start-up, you need to get as close to your customers as possible and a blog will help them get a sense of what your business is about.
Start blogging as soon as you can – why not chart your own start-up journey? Include content that you think is of interest to your customers rather than just spout off, however.
“Getting a blog set up, is something you can do yourself (if you host with WordPress for example) but I recommend hosting your own blog and attaching it to your website,” says Franklin.
“The reason for this is that all the backlinks you will acquire over time will point to your domain and not WordPress’ – and this is much better for your Google search rankings (a major component of your web strategy).”
“It’s well worth the effort of doing this, but you may need to pay a web designer a small sum to provide some technical know-how here as it can be a little tricky.”