by Iain Wilson
We work almost exclusively with SME businesses, and we see many of them making the same mistakes that hurt the effectiveness of their websites.
It's often because you are so busy with day-to-day running of your business, you just don't have enough time to do anything more with your website.
Fair enough, but with the following guide and little planning and commitment there is no reason why forward-thinking SME owners can't implement an approach that will gain them a superior edge on the web.
Without it taking up too much time.
Without some sort of ongoing strategy, your website investment is going to be diluted or in some cases, pointless. The word 'strategy' always sounds a little grand to me, so let's call this activity your Website Roadmap.
Let's assume, although not all web developers are born equal, that your site has been given the fundamentals:-
At this point I'd say most SME businesses go wrong. They stop. They've paid their money. Job done.
A few years ago that might have been enough, but not anymore. There are further steps to be addressed. They are not technically hard steps and there are really only two of them, but many businesses fail to do them.
Which is great for you, because if you do them, you'll be ahead of much of your competition! The choice is yours.
The first thing you've got to do is get your business registered at a few powerful places. These will create additional web pages about your business on other sites and/or make your business easier to find on the web.
NOTE (Sept 2016) - Google have changed the way they handle local business listings since this article was written. See this article for more details.
Having a Google+ business page is essential. Google+ is their equivalent of the Facebook social network, but social media isn't what we're concerned with at this point - we want a Google+ business page.
If you only do one thing, do this one. It will help you in Google searches, especially local ones, and include you in the map results that are sometimes shown in the Google results.
The registration process is a little convoluted, but stick with it because it will be worth it in the long run.
In a similar way to Google+ business pages, Bing has their Places for Business.
Bing is the second most important search engine and it's set up as default on many PCs and laptops. It also integrates with other services like Yahoo and Twitter, so don't ignore it.
If your business has been around for a while, there's a strong possibility that it is already in Bing Places because they built their database initially from traditional business directories. If it is, you should claim the entry and edit its contents.
You may also find that there are entries for your business from previous addresses you used. If that is the case you should claim them too, and mark them as 'Closed'.
Just like Google+, you need to have a Microsoft account to be able to participate in Bing Places. If you already have a Hotmail account, you already have what you need, but again it might be worth creating a new one for business only.
So here are the steps :-
If you're doing Google and Bing, you might as well do Yahoo, too. Especially as Yahoo is now the default search engine for the Mozilla Firefox browser.
In the UK, the Yahoo local listings are managed by a company called Infoserve. Basic listing is free, but there are also premium paid options.
Go to the CityVisitor website to fill in a form for your business or claim an existing listing.
Get registered on Google+ and Bing business pages and you will reap (almost) immediate benefits - it takes a while (15-30 days) to appear after verification.
Depending on your business, there may be other business accounts that are worthwhile.
Facebook also provide 'business pages'. These work well if you want to engage with your customer base, and they can be a great place to provide support, special offers and general news. They also have a web presence, so are like mini websites in their own right.
In my experience, they can work well for business to consumer (B2C) businesses, but less well for business to business (B2B) businesses. The setup process is pretty convoluted again - a guide is provided at the bottom of this article.
If your business has a real visual aspect, a Pinterest business account can be a very valuable asset. Pictures can be tagged with keywords and related back to product pages on your website.
Again, a good addition for B2C businesses and a sort of mini-web site with links.
Set up is relatively straightforward finally - just go here.
Website verification is required, which involves being able to upload a file to your website or adding a tag to a page, so you'll need to be able to do this yourself or get your developer to help.
YouTube business channels can be highly valuable and useful accounts to help search engine presence and provide useful information to your customers.
Google loves video at the moment, so you get kudos for using it.
If you've got a Google account, you've got a YouTube account, but you should create a YouTube channel for your Google+ business.
Just login to Google, go to YouTube, click on your account in top right corner and you will see a Create Channel for your Google+ business account.
If you've set up the appropriate business accounts (a Google+ business account is non-negotiable, you just must do it), your next challenge is to do some real work.
You need to promote and create activity around your website.
The kind of on-going work you will do will depend on your audience, your capabilities and your available time.
At this point, you've got to be realistic and work out what you can really do on an ongoing basis. That's because activity is not a one-off thing, it's something you will need to keep doing.
This is a crucial stage and if you don't get it right you could end up harming your website rather than helping it.
Point 2 is where this usually falls down. It requires responsibility and discipline over a longish time-frame to do this.
Often, if the business owner doesn't see immediate results, they get impatient and before you know it they've stopped doing it. But if you persevere, you will get the benefits.
Do not choose a schedule that is too much for your business to handle. Choose a lighter one. The important thing is to decide on a managable schedule then make sure you achieve it.
Now, what activities can you do and what is right for you?
People love to read about things going on in the companies they deal with. And every time you publish a news story on your website or blog, it's more fresh content that search engines love.
Don't think you've got news? You have. You've got news about your company, your industry, your partners, your people. One of our client's most popular news items are about the people in the company; having babies, sporting achievements, fund raising, hobbies, you name it.
But, if you can't commit to doing regular news stories, don't do them. Nothing is worse than a blank news section.
We've been involved in email marketing for ourselves and several customers for a long time and it can be one of the most effective ways of getting your messages across.
Use it to tell your clients and prospects about important news. Ideally link the content in the email back to pages on your website - it will help drive traffic to your website.
Professional email marketing services also provide valuable statistics about your email - how many get opened and which links get clicked. So you can collect some real business intelligence from these emails and put it to work in other activities.
Emails can be one-offs whenever you've got something to share, or regular newsletter emails. A regular newsletter can work wonders because it keeps your name in front of clients on a regular basis, and might just land in their in-box when they are ready to buy.
Most of the professional email services like Mailchimp, Campaign Manager, and Constant Contact offer free, or very inexpensive services, so your only real expense is time.
Posting videos related to your business on YouTube is a great way to get recognition from the search engines especially Google (they own it).
I could show you how to load a video and within a few minutes see that video iappearing in the search results. Now, that particular phenomenon will probably drop away in time, but there is no doubting video is a popular medium to both customers and search engines.
It isn't a big job to embed a video on a web page. It represents more popular content.
And professional video production doesn't need to cost the earth. And there are plenty of situations when a video from your phone or tablet will be more than adequate.
Social media is here to stay. As a business though, you should consider your audience. What social media channels are they likely to use? Do they engage on social media? There is not much point in tweeting and posting if your customers don't see them and aren't responding by sharing and commenting.
Engagement is the key benefit of social media to your website. Google have said at this point they don't include number of likes or followers in their search algorithm. What they are interested in is how people respond to social activity.
What do you tweet and post about? Anything and everything that happens in your business. Any web activity should be shouted about too. So if you have a new news story, blog post, event, video or newsletter make sure you're telling everyone about it on social media as well.
It's just another channel to your content.
If your customers are commenting and sharing your posts, it's good for you in both human and search engine terms.
So don't devalue your website investment. Take these two steps to exceed your website expectations. You'll see the difference.
If this still seems too daunting, remember also that you don't need to do all of this in-house. You can always outsource parts or all of it.
There are loads of detailed guides to do these things on the web. Just do a quick search. Here are a few pages that might help you get started:-comments powered by Disqus