We certainly live in amazing times. Although we don’t have flying cars or commercially available hover boards (though we are getting there!), humans have become more connected than ever. The internet has, since the turn of the century, become an ever more essential part of daily life. As a consequence, businesses that expect to succeed invest heavily in the establishment of an online presence. If you’re starting up a new business, the question you are probably wondering is exactly how you go about doing this.
With the total number of websites having exceeded 1 billion as of 2014, trying to stand out amongst the crowd is a daunting task. Just having a website is no longer enough to say you have an online presence, and it has not been enough for quite some time. SEO, social media, content marketing, all are important to making your site stand out amongst the rest. However, you likely can’t afford to throw it all into a mix and see what comes out the other end. Establishing your online presence is a careful, long-term process, and you’ll be competing with many others in that process. However, this guide will get you a leg up on the competition, from web design, to web marketing, to maintenance. Remember: there is no end to establishing your online presence. Once you get your name out there, it is an eternal endeavor to keep from being replaced.
1. Know What You’re Offering
Before you can even get into web design or development, you have to know what it is you intend to offer. Websites do not gain millions of visitors merely by existing. Each website has something to offer to the world, and before you build you have to know what you want your website to offer. Just as bad is offering a generic version of something that people can get elsewhere. If you have no differentiator, why should anybody care?
Take some time to think about this. If you don’t know why you are building a website in the first place, you are doomed to fail. Start with the problem you want to solve, and then put together a solution. Your website should provide that solution by offering information, goods, or services. If you are not sure what you want to offer, then just spend a few days thinking about it. There are many ways to figure out what to offer, but finding out what you want to offer could fill an entire post.
2. Set up Hosting
The next step, one that is common sense but mentioned here so it is not forgotten, is to set up your hosting. You might not have a website yet, but many others do, and they are all seeking web hosting and buying up domain names that you may want to use. As a consequence, find yourself a domain and buy it up as soon as possible. The last thing you want is to create a website with tens of thousands of words of text, graphics, videos, and images all referencing a domain that is owned by somebody else. As such, make sure your hosting is set up BEFORE you dig into the design aspects. This also means the moment your website is ready your development team will have somewhere to push the site.
3. Website Design
Once you know what you are offering, you are ready to start designing a website. As you go into the design, ask yourself what you want your website to accomplish. While there are many web design tricks and techniques to create a more professional presentation, the content will be shaped by your end goals. Is the purpose of your website to get people to fill out a contact form? Are you trying to get people to call? Perhaps you have a physical location and want people to go to that place? Maybe you have an ecommerce platform set up and are using your website to sell directly.
Whatever your goal, your design should facilitate that end. In all cases there are design choices that will help and others that will hinder. The design should also keep the user experience in mind – you want navigation of your website to be intuitive, quick, and easy. At no point should a user click on what looks like a link and be taken nowhere. By the same token, you do not want your links to look too much like conventional text. A navigation bar that takes people directly to the pages they want to visit is also a critical feature, and locking that navigation bar to the top of the browser is also a recommended feature. You want your design to help people move from one place to another as effortlessly as possible.
Specific web design choices such as what images you use (though images should always be included), font styling and location, and use of parallax scrolling should all be influenced by the image you want to project for your brand. A common design employed by many designers involves the use of parallax scrolling with a video playing in the background, and the foreground offering explanation of goods and services offered.
With the design out of the way, it is time to develop. Whoever you choose as your developer, you’d want them to make use of some form of CMS (Content Management System). We recommend using a CMS because, as time passes, you’ll want to make modifications to your website. Without a CMS, this would involve digging through thousands of lines of unfamiliar code to find the block of text you want to change, and then hoping for the best when you do change it. Using a CMS such as WordPress makes it far easier to make changes in the future.
While there are many forms of CMS out there, in our own development work we usually install WordPress as this is one of the easiest systems for novices to learn, allowing our clients to make adjustments to their site after launch without needing to call us. Whatever choices you make for development, just make sure that the developer can accomplish what you set out to do in the design, negotiate continued support in the event something breaks in the future, and learn whatever CMS the developer chooses to install.
Once the development is completed and the site goes live, it is time to promote!
5. On-Page Search Engine Optimization
After developing your website, it is time to go back through and optimize it. If you’re using a development team which has an SEO on staff, your website will probably come to you fully optimized. If it is not, then you’ll want to research the subject yourself or, better yet, hire professionals who can do the work for you. SEO professionals will make sure all of your target keywords are in the right place, that the keywords you use will accomplish what you want them to accomplish, and that your site is easily crawled by search engines such as Google.
This is an important step to establishing your online presence because if your site is not optimized, it makes it that much harder to promote successfully.
6. Online Marketing
With your website built and optimized, it is time to market it. Your online marketing strategy will ultimately depend on your overall strategy. If you have been following the advice in this guide, you know what you have to offer and you know what makes your website different from similar websites on the internet. Regardless of what methods you use, there are a few techniques that should be considered a standard part of your arsenal.
- Social Media: First on the list, and the most important. Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ are the big three you want to establish a presence on. Google+ is more important for search engine optimization, while Facebook and Twitter are fantastic resources for growing your audience. Look into other social media platforms as well. If you find you have primarily images to share, Instagram is a good resource, but only go with this platform if your website is visually based. An independent news site which is text heavy would not benefit as much from Instagram as an architecture firm.
- Content Marketing and Distribution: If you are a regular reader of this blog, you likely saw this one coming. Content marketing is an excellent way to grow your online presence because it
involves just providing information people want to share. This is a good way to build your company’s image out on the internet, and getting into content marketing early one will ensure that you have full control of your brand’s image from the outset. Content marketing is a big umbrella, and incorporates tactics such as e-mail marketing, guest blogging, and even posting videos on YouTube.
- Reputation Management: Whatever your niche, there is probably a review site for it. We would never suggest creating fake reviews in order to promote your site, but you also want to deal with negative reviews. If you find a complaint on a popular review site (Yelp for example), first analyze the complaint objectively and determine if the complaint is valid. If it is valid, fix the problem presented, then see about getting the review taken down. The order is important because if you start trying to get bad reviews removed without fixing the problem, you’ll not only find the complaints outpacing the time you can dedicate to such efforts, you may also start seeing customers complaining vocally about the “censorship”, which just takes you out of the proverbial frying pan and into the fire. Of course, not all complaints are valid, sometimes it’s just a competitor trying to make you look bad, just be sure and approach things with an open mind as it is hard to distinguish between a smear campaign and legitimate concerns sometimes.
Establishing an online presence is a time consuming endeavor, but once it is established you cannot stop. Even the best designed websites will have bugs revealed eventually, or at the very least require an update. SEO is a constantly changing space and what is a best practice today may be suboptimal tomorrow, and the recent mobile algorithm update reminds us that an optional feature at the time of design may become an essential element tomorrow. Your online presence is based on activity, and if you drop off the radar, you’ll gradually be forgotten. The internet has a short memory and is regularly seeking something new, and if you are not providing that something new on a regular basis you will not succeed.
Ultimately, establishing an online presence is a long and difficult process. It could take years before your name is on the lips of most of your target audience. If you are in doubt however, there is an old Chinese proverb that applies to internet marketing in general: “A journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step.” Thus, rather than lament at the challenge, take that single step forward, and then take another, and another, and before long you will look back and be amazed at how far you have come.