Articles for Small Business Owners

5 questions to ask yourself about building your brand's online presence

An online presence has become vital to reaching and connecting with customers. If you are not utilizing web tools to ensure the correct information about your business is reaching your intended audience, you may be leaving money on the table and missing valuable opportunities to turn potential customers into real ones.

Participants in the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program are taught how to harness their online presence to achieve larger strategic goals. The key to this is a solid foundation on which to execute online marketing activities.

Below are five important questions you should ask yourself about your business’s online presence to ensure it is working as hard for your business as you are.

1. Do you rank in search engine results?

According to Search Engine Land, 85% of consumers use the Internet to search for a business, so it’s essential to be easily found online. Use a few search engines to look up your business and note where you rank. The higher your position in the results, the more likely it is for potential customers to click on your business. Try adding your city to the search query and see if the results change.

If your business isn't showing as high up in search results as you'd like, do some research on search engine optimization (SEO) to determine what techniques might best work for you.

2. Can potential customers find you?

Google Places is a powerful tool; it increases your business’ visibility on Google Maps, Google+ and on mobile. Register your business with the platform by claiming its listing, adding information and photos, and verifying ownership. Make sure you update the listing with your phone number and business hours so customers can easily contact you or visit your location.

Also consider registering your business with other geo-based sites, such as Foursquare, Yelp and Bing so you can be easily found on additional platforms.

3. Are you listening to your customers?

A Search Engine Land Study found that 72% of consumers trust online reviews, and Yelp is the dominant player in this space. On Yelp, any customer can review any business, whether the owner has claimed it or not, leaving your business vulnerable to false information or criticism. Claiming your business on Yelp requires authenticating ownership and creating an account. Once you have claimed your business, you can track and respond to reviews, monitor views of your page, update the information and use Yelp’s ad platform to either promote your business or offer deals to new customers.

Customer reviews are not limited to Yelp, so make sure you are paying attention to what is being said about your business on other platforms such as Seamless, Amazon, TripAdvisor and Angie’s List. Also set up a Google Alert for your own name, your business name and any major competitors so you have your finger constantly on the pulse.

4. Are you accessible everywhere?

A study by BIA Kelsey found that 93% of small to medium sized business websites don’t render on mobile devices. You may have an excellent, detailed website, but if a customer on the move can’t easily find out where you are or what you do, it greatly reduces the likelihood of their visiting your business. Depending on your website’s content management system, you may be able to use a plug-in that recognizes the device being used to visit your site and shows mobile friendly content. alternatively, it may be worth exploring building a responsive design site that provides an optimal viewing experience across a wide range of devices.

For a mobile site, you need to have all of the most important information about your business front and center; this should be your address, a click-to-call phone number, and your business hours. Check what your site looks like on various devices by using an online mobile website tester and make sure the important information about your business can be found in as few clicks as possible.

5. Is your marketing message consistent across networks?

In addition to websites, review pages, and other online profiles, most small business owners are active on at least one social media platform. Having a presence in all of these places makes it important to be aligned in your online communications. Use consistent information and imagery across all profiles— including background images, profile pictures and contact information.

Remember, you don’t need to be active on every single platform; instead, focus your time and energy on the platforms on which your customers are active. You may even want to set up accounts on platforms you are not currently using, even if they remain dormant. This ensures you have them if you decide to expand to new platforms and prevents someone else from using your business name.

These are just a few answers to questions that small business owners should ask themselves in order to build their online presence, but there are many more. For example, you may wonder how to build a successful e-commerce site. Check out a blog post by Jose Vasquez, a Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses graduate, to see his suggestions on building a successful e-commerce site.