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10 tips to creating a web strategy from scratch

Thursday, 22 September 2011 | By Oliver Milman

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.”

6. Take time over the content


While it’s a good idea to commit to a blog yourself, it’s important to remember that you are an entrepreneur, not an award-winning novelist.


Garbled, jargon-filled copy is a good way to drive people away from your site, never to return. You need to present your business’ proposition in a concise, understandable way that compels people to explore further and be reassured that you are the real deal.


You can crowd source your content using sites such as Freelancer.com, or even approach journalism students in your local area to come up with some sparkling, but cost-effective, prose.


Whatever you do, make sure that it is underpinned by your overall strategy – what kind of tone, style and content do your customers expect?


7. How do you rank?


A focus on search engine optimisation should run through your web strategy, from day one.


From your URL, title tags and meta descriptions, you need to do as much as possible to ensure that your site ranks well in Google. Pick a few key search terms and make sure that you are in the mix when people search online for products or services.


Your strategy should contain an idea of how you will encourage others to link to you – links are one of the most effective ways to boost your SEO. Can you form some sort of strategic alliance with other content providers?


8. Set up Google Alerts


Your business will be talked about on the internet, whether you have a website or not. The best way to keep tabs of this is by setting up Google Alerts.


“This tool is the best one for ‘listening’,” says Franklin.


“In other words, knowing when people are talking about you on the web. It’s a free tool where you simply type in your company name, your name and any product names you may have and then Google will notify you via email whenever you are mentioned on the internet.”


“This can easily save you from possible reputation damage if any disgruntled customers make negative comments online.”


“You’ll be the first to know, so you’re in a position to respond appropriately and take any action that is required.”


9. Get interactive


A web strategy isn’t just about setting up various online tools and then sitting back waiting for them to pull in the dollars for you.


The best small business websites are fresh, relevant and vibrant. They have regularly updated content and blogs and keep a steady stream of tweets flowing.


Set aside at least 30 minutes a day for your social media. Don’t just use it to bombard people with offers – post interesting content and become something of a thought leader in your sector. The business benefits are numerous.


If you get negative feedback, don’t panic. A decent web presence should help you.


“If you do come across negative comments, I urge you to leave them and simply respond just like you would if you were speaking to the customer in person,” says Franklin.


“This is the best way to defuse situations and it shows you are transparent and genuine. Censoring negative comments is a sure-fire way to throw fuel on the fire and antagonise already upset customers.”


“For the record, the only time to remove negative comments is if they are defamatory, insulting, malicious or spammy.”


10. Keep measuring


From day one, you should have KPIs in place for your website. What are your sales targets for your online store? How many tweets should you send out a day? How often will you blog?


Keep measuring your website’s performance and analyse how it is impacting upon sales. Try new things and measure their success. Don’t be afraid of going out with a fairly simple website to start with – it can always be improved upon.