A virtual presence is no longer an option. It’s a necessity.
For the purposes of this article, I am defining “virtual” as any information on your brand, products and services that can be accessed using a PC, laptop, tablet or phone. There are areas in this virtual landscape that you control - such as the branding and product information, and areas where you don’t – such as comments and reviews. The trick is to have a plan to manage all aspects of your virtual presence.
This year has demonstrated to every business that person-to-person interactions and transactions are not always possible. You need a virtual presence and the best place to start is with a website.
Making an impression
A website is usually the first place a potential customer will visit when researching your product or service. That first impression must answer their key questions.
- Is the brand trustworthy? This can be conveyed by a great looking, functional website and backed up by testimonials and examples of the work you do.
- Who recommends you? Once again testimonials and a list of well recognised clients are gold in this area.
- Who is behind the brand? People like to know about the actual people behind the brand: their skills and expertise. Your team page should have recent photos of your crew plus details of their skillset. Don’t forget to get permission from your team members to put their photo on the page. Some people may have genuine reasons for not being in the public domain.
Strong SEO (Search Engine Optimisation)
- Where does your page appear in the search results? When people are searching for key services and products that you supply, your website should ideally appear near the top of the first page of search results. This can be achieved organically by really working on optimised words, regular fresh content and the use of videos, or you can pay to be up the top in search results through platforms such as Google Ads.
- Are there targeted demographics? If you pay for your website to be at the top of the page, you need to be clever about the key words that you choose to spend money on. What demographic does your product or service want to target? What do you believe your product delivers to people who are searching? Is it Australian made? Key measures could include the gender, age bracket, profession, industry and their geographic location.
- Do you have a Google My Business listing with your operating hours, address and contact details? This listing drives business to you and your website. Not only should you have a Google My Business listing, but you should also ensure that it is always up to date. There’s nothing more frustrating than your business hours saying 9-5 and when someone arrives you’ve closed at 4pm – or worse, your address has changed and they can’t find you.
- Is your brand memorable and instantly recognisable? When your posts turn up in social feeds, even if people don’t read them, are you confident that the branding will at least catch their eye and be subliminally filed away?
- Is every client touch-point consistent in terms of fonts, colours, logo? This not only applies to websites but also to any social media accounts you use to promote your business. The consistent application of your logo and the colours that are recognisably yours, is critical for brand retention.
A safe and easy shopping experience
If your website is also a retail site, then there are other issues you need to consider.
- Is it secure? People are providing financial and personal details to you via the checkout facility on your website. Not only is it important that the payment options are secured but also that any personal data provided and accessed by you for re-marketing is stored securely in line with privacy laws. If you target these clients with electronic direct mail (EDMs), always ensure that there is an unsubscribe link in the email.
- Are delivery costs clear up front? There are quite a few people who visit websites, order what they need and when they go to checkout are faced with an unexpectedly high delivery fee at which point they bail out with a less than favourable impression of your business. Yes, delivering costs money, but if customers understand early in their shopping what they are likely to pay, then you know that they are continuing to shop knowing the cost and are more likely to complete the transaction.
- Is there detailed product information? Photos are great but so are specifications. Ingredients? Fabric? How your sizing is measured? Is it dry clean only? What’s the guarantee and return policy? Can I click and collect? Give as much detail as possible so that people can confidently shop on your site.
Websites are a low-cost starting point for marketing
Radio, television, billboards, print – these are all expensive forms of marketing – especially for a small business that’s looking to grow. Using your website to promote your brand is a low-cost marketing entry point.
- Use social media to spread the word. Posts that can be boosted and targeted, can link people to your website to find out more about your products and services. The trick is to get people to engage with you – to click through to your website. Try a Facebook competition where they need to answer questions about your site, for a voucher to spend with you or to win a particular product or service.
- Publicise your website at every client touchpoint. Your email sign-off, on letterhead, invoices, business cards, brochures etc.
- You can measure your success. Tracking and analytics both from your website and your social media can be analysed to show success points and failures. Use this information to fix any weaknesses and keep on measuring.
The world is your marketplace
The beauty of a website is that it’s selling for you 24/7 all around the world. This exposes your brand to an international market. If you are looking for worldwide success, invest in a translating facility on your website so people can read about your products and services in their preferred language.
Trolls, advocates and cranky customers
When you move into the virtual space, you do expose yourself to the opinions of everyone who is motivated to give one – and it can put your reputation on the line. While your website is in your control, your social media isn’t. You can expect frank, public feedback from people who have something against you or your brand, people who love your products and dissatisfied customers. Whoever they are and whatever they say, the trick is to engage with them publicly (unless you can get an inappropriate post or review removed) and try to resolve the issue. This demonstrates that you care about your clients and puts your perspective on any reputation-damaging outbursts. Avoid a confrontational response and always be careful not to include private information in your reply.
The best way to start optimising your website is to conduct a website audit. Website audits can track what you are doing right and areas to improve - from security, ad performance and search engine optimisation. A high performing website should be audited at least every six months to allow you to prioritise the areas that need attention.
Tony Tran has been in the IT industry for the better part of the last decade, working across both small to medium enterprises, to some of Australia’s largest retail brands. As a senior product manager, he has overseen the development of large enterprise web platforms that help maintain businesses with their operational excellence. He has been appointed the security officer at varying software development agencies to ensure the scalability, robustness and safeguarding of systems from third-party attackers. Specialising in web development, Tony has ensured businesses follow best practises across web security, analytics and marketing.