It’s undeniable that having a presence on the internet is essential to all businesses. That presence may vary: It may be a full-blown website, or a facebook page. It may be a commerce store or a blog. For those who like to express their business or their own personalities a little more, it may be a video channel – YouTube, TikTok, or on Instagram.
The opportunities to present what we and our businesses do is endless. And that is essentially where the problems begin – where to begin?
The purpose of this article is to help point business owners in the right direction with respect to improving their brand’s online visibility, not to solve all the problems. While this is quite a lengthy article, it represents only the tip of the iceberg and one particular direction of approach.
The problem and opportunity in being visible on-line
With so many routes to online visibility, it is often difficult to figure out which one is most appropriate for a business. One might automatically decide that a website is best. For the most part, that is not a bad idea, it depends upon where you are in the development of your business and indeed, the kind of business you run.
The value of social media
For instance: If you run a company motivated by social good (a charity even), then you will want to attract people that can share what you do quickly. While a website is a great place to start, it is likely to be lost in the multitude of other sites online.
Social media, however, has a good track record in helping companies share what they do between friends, acquaintances and like-minded people, especially if there’s potentially a viral element to the business.
Probably the best aspect of social media visibility is that if you are doing it yourself, it is really cheap. So social media venues can be a good place to start to build a presence for the small start-up. There are plenty of examples of companies that started life through viral marketing campaigns – just Google it.
The value of a website
While there are many businesses operating successfully through social media alone, if you run a professional services business or product focused business, a website is what you will need.
The main reason is that it is yours. You own the domain name and can control all aspects of your brand. If you are using social media, then the social media company has a hold on you in one form or another or imposes limitations. Where your brand is concerned, that is not a good thing. It is fine as a secondary channel.
Discussions around what companies like Facebook (and by implication Instagram, Twitter and others) legally can do with your brand is for another time; but just bringing this up should at least sound some warning bells. After all, consider all those brands that use TikTok as a channel and the ban being imposed by specific governments around the world.
A website allows you to fully manage your brand and one could consider your website as ‘brand central’. It is also a venue where you can fully express what you do, post what you like and provide all the resources necessary for your target audience to engage with.
Where the problems for website owners begin
There are typically four phases in the life of a business website, typified by how well it is achieving its goal. By the way, what is your goal?
Common to each and all goals is your audience; how do you reach it? This is where it helps to understand the four phases, as each define a particular problem that you may recognise in your business.
- Conception: I am just starting out and have no idea where to begin.
- Visibility: I have a website, it looks great, but few people are visiting.
- Conversion: I have a great looking site, people are visiting, but nobody is engaging (buying).
- Growth: I am really happy, people are visiting and buying, what could possibly go wrong?
For the purposes of this article, I will only focus on the first two – Conception and Visibility – mainly on visibility as this is where most businesses have a problem.
Every business has a starting point, even if it is an established business with an idea for a new line of business. For many businesses, this can be the point from which all their problems online begin. Too many ‘inspired’ business owners rush out and have a website designed around their product or service idea. The problem is that all too often this is done without a proper consideration for the market, its audience, and the competitive landscape online.
Simply put, people get excited, build a site around a rudimentary strategy and hope that people will come. Sure, some promote it through social or other paid advertising, but essentially this is what it boils down to.
The value in taking advice from a digital marketing specialist at the conception stage cannot be overstated. This will help you define a practical online strategy and how any site you need should be structured to match the intent of your target audience. It is the structure of the site and its underlying information architecture that is so critical to achieving the success you desire. This must be done before any designers get involved. It is also the bit that often gets completely overlooked or simplified down to simple site navigation – i.e. it’s main menu. After all, a website is just a website – right?
Moreover, the digital marketing specialist will help you look at your idea realistically.
Those people who do not think things through with some expert advice invariable end up with our next issue – visibility. The business has a nicely ‘designed’ site. In other words, it looks the business. However, it is invisible online. So, why, and what to do?
Whole books have been written about this and essentially this is where the subject of SEO (search engine optimisation) gets going. I am going to break it down into some basic elements.
Search engines like Google have got quite smart. No longer are they driven by simple keyword searches. Google, for instance, has invested heavily in AI – artificial intelligence. Its goal is to try to understand the intentions behind a user’s search query. To do this it takes what it knows about:
- The subject you are searching about
- What others have searched on in the past
- The solutions or answers they may have found or used
- What it knows about you (especially if you are logged in to a Google account)
- Your previous searches
- Your location (if available)
- The device you are using
- And likely many other things
In short, Google is looking at what you type into its search bar and asking, “What are you really looking to achieve here?”
Therefore, different searches yield different configurations of Google search results page and different information types – e.g. products, videos, news items, scholarly articles, recipes, etc, etc.
You need a strategy that satisfies two masters
If you understand that Google is trying to learn about the searcher’s intentions, then you also need to appreciate that Google needs to understand what it is your business is trying to achieve through its online presence, and then how it creates a relationship between the two.
Therefore, having a good online strategy is critical. It forms the foundation for a website that achieves two things:
- Provides value and a potential solution to those who are searching and ultimately converts them into customers
- Educates Google as to what your business does and the value it offers.
Each of these represents one of the two masters your business faces online: the first is your principle audience and potential customer base, the second is Google (the elephant in the room), as it holds the key to pretty much everything online these days.
Having said this, you can ignore having a digital marketing strategy, if your current business model is based on word of mouth only, i.e. network driven or some form of paid advertising (including social media), then your website is simply a brochure page or conversion point for the visitors ‘you’ send there.
It is not about you
Point (1) above, is where most websites start and finish, and is the reason why they get lost in the fog of all the other sites that have the same issue – probably 90%+ of all sites. Put simply, they are just unremarkable, they make the visitor’s experience all about them rather than the visitor and simply try and sell.
Sites like these typically use words on the home page like:
“We are the best in . . .”
“We were named as the best xyz”
“We have over ‘x’ years’ experience in . . . “
In essence – it is all about them. Whereas it should be all about the visitor.
Why is this a problem? After all the potential client needs to know that your business is competent and your team has the credentials to do the job, especially in the professional services sector.
The answer is never easy to take. It is because the visitor to your site does not really give a damn about you or your firm, at least not yet.
During a visitor’s first encounter with your business online, they only care about one thing: can you satisfy what they are looking for! This may be a solution to a problem, just information, a specific product, etc.
This aspect of sales is so patently obvious and yet so often ignored online to the point where one can get a sore head from bashing it on the table trying to get this point over. The best way to explain this is in the context of networking, something we are all taught and try at least to practice when we meet new people. When you meet somebody for the first time, you don’t try to sell to them straight off the bat. Your questions are invariably focused on finding out more about them and the problems they face and letting them ask questions about you. Eventually and this may be after several interactions, possible synergies and opportunities become apparent and at this point the sales process could potentially begin.
The exact same situation is true for a website. When you tell the visitor what you do, focus on the solutions you provide to problems they most likely have. In other words, make your site ‘applications’ focused. In fact, there is no reason why you cannot just ask questions and lead them to the answers.
Once you have convinced a site visitor that you could potentially solve their problem, they may hang around long enough to then decide if you are a business they’d like to work with or buy from. At this point they may start looking into who you actually are and what credentials or expertise you have.
Develop your online authority
Point (2) above is concerned with developing trust with Google.
To achieve visibility in search, i.e. in Google’s organic search results pages, you need to develop ‘authority’. This means having content on your website that clearly shows that you “know your stuff”.
In practice, this means not just having a webpage for each of your services, it means building on these to the point where the service page becomes an information hub. The information you provide does not need to give away your business secrets. It should help both people and Google understand more about the problems you solve and the solutions you offer to those problems. Basically, this helps people and Google to connect the dots.
Done properly, this exercise researches and explores topics around the products and services your business offers, looking for the types of questions people ask, and the solutions offered by other companies that Google ranks. It is then down to understanding why Google has ranked them. That requires more of a deep dive into those other sites and drawing lessons from them that can be applied to your site. I hasten to add that I am not suggesting you copy them – far from it. All you will achieve if you do that is second place behind the people already there.
The takeaway from this is that you need to create content, not just good content but fresh, topical, informative, and applicable content.
Should I just blog on my site?
Yes and no. No too many years ago, Google said that you needed good content to rank. So, every man and his dog took to blogging in its various forms. Now the world is full of mediocre blogs. Most business web sites have blogs. All this has achieved is that now “most business web sites have blogs!” Initially it helped differentiate, but not anymore.
Sure, blogs are still needed, but there needs to be a strategy around what you write. Do not just write for writing sake. In this game now, it is not about volume, it is about quality.
Blogs should interact organically with the existing content on your site and with other blog posts. What you write not only helps show your expertise, but also helps develop a web of content on your site to help Google understand where you fit in and ultimately, why your site could provide a better solution or answer than all the others.
How much should you write? Good question, no right or wrong answers here. You need to write enough so that the piece is not considered by Google as ‘frivolous’. Also, short pieces, unless they are just news items, do little to help convey expertise. Ideally it should be between 750 and 1500 words. This varies with industry. It is typical, for instance in the finance sector, for good ranking pages to content over 2000 words. Naturally, this places a lot of emphasis as to how the content is structured and displayed, as 2000 words can be too much to simply read through in one go. A bit like this piece! This is also why the structure of your site and its ability to manage large content pieces creatively, is so important early on.
Is my content working?
The last point to make about writing content is measuring performance. What is the point in writing something, and presumably paying somebody a sum of money to do that, if it does not generate any interest?
As your site develops authority with Google, its ranking for specific terms or questions will improve and eventually people will start arriving at your site. You need to track this. The best way is to ensure you have Google Analytics on your website. With this, you can track people coming in and the pages they go to, and time they spend on it. There is much more to this, more than we have time for here.
This is an exhaustive subject, so for now I will leave it there and finish off with practical steps that businesses can take to make them more visible online – the low hanging fruit, so to speak.
Website visibility – quick wins
Well, not really, none of this stuff is really quick, but you should at least have your bases covered here.
- If you can, take a step back and consider how your site is structured given what was said above, do so. In other words, give some thought to the user journey based on the different types of visitor – or personas that are likely to interact with you.
- Make sure your site is mobile friendly. The site should provide an excellent experience on a mobile device. Google now ranks sites based on the mobile experience first.
- Make sure your site has a strong <title> tag. This is usually set through a feature in your CMS, along with the <description> tag. Do not let them default, as Google uses these to help figure out topic and relevance.
- Make sure you use proper header tags in your page content, if you use a content management system (CMS) such as WordPress. WordPress and other CMSs allow headings to be given what’s known as an HTML ‘H tags’. This is one of the technical aspects of a web page that content editors need to understand. The H1 tag is typically used once on a page – i.e. the main title of the page. This should be a short sentence of 4 or 5 words. Sections can then be created in the content, these can be given H2 tags – second level. Elements within those sections can be given H3 tags, and so on. This all helps Google and your reader understand the structure of a page and most importantly, relationships. It also helps break up the monotony of a long piece, like this piece in fact!
- Make sure your images have good ‘alt’ tags – talk to your web person about this.
- Make sure your site loads quickly. There’s a lot of technical stuff around this, but put your website URL into the tool at https://gtmetrix.com and see what results you get. Ideally, your site should load within a few seconds. If it does not it will count against you to a degree. If it gets ranked D or less, talk to me.
- Make sure your site is about your audience, not about you – there is a page for you, it’s called “About us”.
- Focus on identifying specific issues your target audience faces and build empathy. The persona approach is ideal for this. Segment this by the different services you offer if needed. This can be as simple as listing out the questions people ask that would naturally lead them to explore more about the subject or to seek-out a company to help solve it.
- It may help to break out the different personas in your audience, i.e. the particular roles and the needs that your services may be attractive to and why.
- News jack – write about things in the news, but put your company’s spin on it in a manner that helps your audience understand how it applies to them.
- Be topical. It may help to put together a list of questions your clients typically ask before they hire you or that you know they should be asking, or that you see them asking in Google’s “People Also Ask” box.Use this as a basis for an editorial schedule and over the next few weeks/ months. Write about these in terms people can understand – especially if you are a lawyer or accountant.
- Try and write a piece that is at least 750 words, ideally more, but do not write fluff for the sake of getting the word count. How often should you write? Try researching and writing a piece between 750 and 1500 words and then ask the question again. However, ideally one a week, but as a minimum between one and two a month.
- When you write, try and break up the content using call outs – i.e. sound bites, that grab attention. Use questions as headings too, as Google spots these.
- Use lists to highlight key aspects of a problem and their solutions.
- Use powerful imagery. It grabs and holds attention and helps draw people through a page.
- Make sure you link to other areas of your site from within the piece you write. This means selecting a phrase within the content that relates to some other aspect of what you do or supportive information, that is relevant to the piece and linking from that. Also link out to other more authoritative sites – industry sites, the government, Wikipedia, news site’s, partners, etc. Use ‘no-follow’ links though – talk to your web person about this.
Using Social Media
- For most businesses, LinkedIn is probably the best platform. There is more to say here than time to do so. However, make sure your personal and business LinkedIn profiles are up to scratch and that you have made full use of the business profile’s showcase pages.
- Facebook and Twitter are both useful in varying degrees depending on the type of business you run. People often write-off Twitter, but the fact is, Google does read Twitter posts – don’t believe me? Google ‘Wired”. You get a whole page of results on Wired Magazine, including podcasts and latest Tweets. These are all ‘signals’ to Google to help it gauge authority and rank accordingly.
Promoting and gaining visibility in a hurry
- Consider content marketing. A lot to say here, but in quick win terms explore whether any of your business suppliers, associates, trade associations or professional bodies would be interested in a synopsis of the problem you solve and a short piece on that that links to your original article.Also, there’s paid content marketing too. Display advertising through Google can cost just a few pence per click. Native advertising through companies like Taboola, Outbrain, Revcontent, can put your content in front of literally tens of thousands of viewers. Again, all quite cheap. Visitor quality varies greatly though. However, it depends on your goals.
- Run a proper PPC campaign. Use Google Ads or LinkedIn ads to promote what you do. It can be quite expensive, so make sure you have taken advice or employ an agency to help you do it. It is also a good idea to drive traffic from these ads to a specially created landing page.
That’s all for now. If you want to talk about this more, happy to oblige.
Occam Digital Ltd.