In this era of globalization and ECommerce, there is no way to survive such competitive market if you are still ignoring the virtual world. But, the problem is, in most cases, small and local business owners do not know how to take the right approach to get a strong foothold in the online world.
Due to lack of knowledge and proper planning, most local business owners who’re especially startups just setup their business website publish it and thinking, “Why I am not getting any business from it? I guess, my investment on this is a complete waste”.
I learn this fact while working with many different clients who’re struggling with their business website. They only have a business website, but don’t even know what its current status is!
So, I plan to write an actionable guide for them, especially for the owners of small business and start-ups.
It’s a complete guide that gives you an overview of all the actionable activities you need to plan at the different stage of building up your business online.
If you’re convinced enough to learn the steps, then please stick with me. It would be long and little boring, but if you leave from the middle, then you’ll surely miss something which may give you a long term benefit.
Form a Team of Professionals
The first ever actionable thing you need to plan for is to form a team of professionals. They will help you to plan and execute all level of small online business launch and promotion.
So what type of professionals you may need to form your core team? – Below are the four types of professionals you need to consider to develop your team.
Web Designer and Developer
The first professional you should hire for your business is a highly efficient web designer. Here you may get a little confused about the web designer and the web developer.
Who is a web designer and what’s their responsibility? – Well, in simple word, Web designers are the Architects of the Web.
On the other hand, Web Developers are the constructors of the web.
There are many professionals who are skilled in both Web Design and Web Development. So, you should search and hire such professional who has both the skills.
The next professional you need is an efficient Graphic Designer who can create or customize to your different graphical web properties.
You can collect your required images from many different paid or free sources and use them on your website. But, you may need to consider rebranding them before using them on your website.
Besides, you may need to create some additional graphics or Infographic which can explain your main message visually on your blog and website.
You also need to include an SEO professional in your team. They can guide you all through optimizing the website to make it search engine and user-friendly.
You also need their help to do keyword research, competitor analysis, market analysis and lastly to launch a successful online marketing campaign when the website is finally live.
You also need to include a copywriter in your team who can assist you to write product descriptions, website content and informative blog posts.
For hiring an individual professional, you must prepare yourself for an effective interview. Prepare a list of questions which you need to ask them individually during the interview.
To prepare yourself for that, you may need to do some research and read few great interview questions so that it can help you to measure the efficiency of your chosen candidate.
To help you in research, below are some recommended articles;
- 15 Interview questions when hiring a Website Designer and Developer.
- 10 Interview question to ask when hiring a Graphic Designer.
- 10 Interview Questions to ask when hiring an SEO Professional.
- 10 Interview Questions to ask before hiring a professional copywriter.
Selecting the right platforms
Your website represents your business online. It is, in fact, the main store, facility or address of your business. So, what if your business location is something that fails to impress your customers?
No matter whether you provide services or selling products from your online business location or store, the first thing is to impress your customers when they visit your place. If you’re a service provider, then your office should be neat and clean, well-organized, nicely furnished and must look professional.
Same thing goes to your online shop when you sell products. Your shop must be well-decorated, organized and well-structured.
Now all the things depend on many different factors. In the case of online business operations, below factors usually need to consider while selecting the right platform for your online business.
- Hosting: The first thing that comes to mind is the hosting which actually represents your business location. Just think what if your business share places with other businesses? Or what if your business gets huge popularity but can’t accommodate the huge incoming flow of your customers? Obviously, your customers won’t be happy with your business facility and may leave immediately to search for alternative options.
- Compatibility: Most important factor for the e-commerce websites. You must need to consider the number of products you need to accommodate on your online store and choose your platform accordingly.
- Integrating Content Management System: While selecting your platform, you must need to consider this point. If you are familiar with any particular CMS, then consider that platform which can be integrated with your preferred content management system.
- Scalability: It is obvious that you may consider choosing the platform which is also used by your competitor. But, think twice before going for it! You must forecast your possible success by setting up goals. If you can grow rapidly, then consider such platform which can support your rapid growth.
- Mobile Friendliness: With the growing volume of mobile users in recent years, you simply cannot ignore this factor. According to Search Engine Statistics 2017 by Smartinsights.Com, Mobile search already surpassed desktop search in 2015. And, now the difference between the types of search volume growing day by day. So, while selecting your preferred platform, you must make sure you’re the designs scales to the different devices like mobile and tablet.
- Search Engine Optimization: You have the business, but you are not marketing it properly and so very few people may know your business. Does it really help your business grow? Of course, not! Select few options at first, collect as much information as possible about them and find out if the platforms are really SEO-friendly or not! Yes, all the platforms provide the options for SEO but check out from other user’s reviews if they’re really effective or not, what’s their Pros and Cons and all other necessary details so that you can justify them by yourself.
- Security: If you are receiving payments for your sold products or service offered on your site and need your customers to provide their sensitive information, then this is the point you need to consider with utmost sincerity.
- Booking or Shipping and Tracking: Does your platform allow you to integrate a system to track your booking or selling orders from the customers? This is another vital point that you need to consider while choosing your platform.
- APIs and Plugin: To track your booking or orders from the customers, you may need to install necessary plugins or APIs of the plugin so that the plugin can function automatically. It is important to enhance your customer’s user experience. You need to consider if your platform allows such facility or not. If yes, do you need to take help from the developer or it can allow you to do it by yourself?
- Pricing: Of course, this is one of the vital points that can influence your decision while selecting the right one. You may go for the cheaper option, but before that, you must think if its service quality can satisfy your need? On the other hand, if you consider the cheap option at first hand, then check if it will allow you to use time-saving functionality options on your platform. Sometimes initial cheap pricing may cost you heavy in the long run.
Plan & Develop an SEO Strategy
Nowadays, search engine optimization can’t be limited to only optimizing your web pages and for content marketing. Being an SEO professional, I believe, it starts right from developing the website and markets them over the online world.
What’s the purpose of developing an SEO strategy right from the start?
The ultimate objective of search engine optimization is to get the top page ranking of your business website in search engine results page i.e. SERP. So what are the factors that influence this top page ranking in the organic search?
According to the top online marketing professional, Brian Dean, there are total 200 factors that influence the organic ranking of any website. Now, these factors not only include the off-site marketing but also includes the user’s experience, easy navigation, optimized contents and much more.
So, right from start developing your business website or online store or content development for your website, you always need to keep the SEO stuff in mind.
So, let’s take a look, how planning and developing an SEO strategy can play roles from start to end;
If you logically think your physical business with the online business, then you can find quite a similarity of your website content with your physical business’s raw material. Your website content is like the products of your physical business that displayed on your showroom.
So, for your online business, your content must need to be good enough that can attract your customers. Your display should be attractive enough that can insist your customers to look for the details and also help them to make a purchase decision.
Search engine optimizations not only guides you to develop quality content for your website but also help to optimize it for both search engines and human readers. It helps to place the right keywords at the right places so that search engine can detect the page for the target keywords and show the page in the SERP.
A perfect technique for communicating with your audience through your page content nicely describe by Cyrus Shepard on Moz blog post. Check the position, frequency and distance section of his post which he also describes in this below image;
It is perfectly described as the manufacturing process of your product or construction of your business establishment. Your website is the main place where the majority of SEO elements are actually held together. So, developing your website without keeping SEO stuff in mind ultimately brings poor or no results to your online business.
Here, you may think about what sort of SEO elements need to keep in mind while designing or developing your website?
Well, SEO issues like below that have the much impact while developing your website. It shows its outcome later on when your website finally goes live;
Navigation and Keyword Placement:
Easy navigation of your site is the first thing that needs special attention. If a customer comes to your store and lost within few seconds, then it surely won’t give a good shopping experience to him or her.
So, proper planning for menu bars, both top, and footer, are vital in this case. On the top of it, SEO guides you to place the perfect placement of keywords on these menu bars so that visitors can find the navigation logical and surf easily.
A perfect example of keyword placement on the navigation is explained in below image;
Web designers will surely do their best to make your site attractive with beautiful design and architectures. But, what happens, if your web page loads too slowly on your client’s desktop or mobile browser?
Here is a study that shows that you may lose more than 25% of your site visitors if your site takes more than 4 seconds to load.
A free tool offered by Google where you can check your site loading speed for any mobile device. Here Google even shows that, if your site loading speed is more than 3 seconds, then what percentage of visitors you may be going to lose from the mobile search users!
So while you design your website, speed optimization is something where you need to give special attention and there SEO plays the vital role to alert you.
On-Page SEO Factors:
There are other many on page technical SEO issues that need to consider while developing your website. The best practice is if you keep these SEO factors in mind while developing your website. Let me explain few of them below which is most important;
Title Tag Optimization:
SEO title is the first important place of your web page or blog post that needs optimization. After an update in May 2016, Google uses to show maximum 70 characters of your page or post title in its search result.
So, you must make sure to accommodate your main target keywords in the SEO title. Target keyword refers to the target key phrases on which you want to rank your page in organic search result.
Meta Description Optimization:
This is the second most important place of your website that needs SEO optimization. Google use to show maximum 155 to 160 characters of your website description in its search result and Meta description is the place from where search bots pick up this data.
So, you must need to optimize this section wisely so that search bots can identify your page/posts for your main target keywords.
URL slug of your web page or posts is another important place for optimization. As it also shown in the SERP, you must consider accommodating your target keywords in URL for effective optimization.
Image ALT Tag:
Search bots are not capable of reading graphical properties on your website. So, it’s important to put ALT attributes within the HTML of an image. It allows the search engine to classify the image and show in the search result.
It is a good SEO practice to put your target keywords in the image ALT tag, but be careful of over optimization that can impact negatively.
A sitemap is an XML file that contains all the important links of your website. A well-structured Sitemap helps the search engines to navigate your site effectively. It also helps your site contents indexed correctly in the SERP and users also can find your website without facing any hassle.
Robots.txt file Creation
This is also an important file that you need to create and place in your website root directory. This file contains some custom command for search bots. You can guide search bots which URLs they need to crawl and index and which URLs they should avoid.
File Size Reduction:
Implementation of the Canonical tag is particularly important for e-commerce website optimization to fight duplicate content issues.
Your e-commerce store may have multiple similar types of product pages. These products may have differences in only size or colors. In such cases, the product descriptions may be almost similar as the only differences are in the color or size.
Search bots may raise a flag to those pages for the duplicate content issue. Canonical tags help the search bots to understand that the product pages are unique and different.
Besides all these SEO factors, there few more SEO issues like interlinking, anchor text optimization, 301 Redirection, 404 Error fixing etc. Again, if you keep technical SEO factors in mind while designing your website, then you may not need to think about these issues after your site goes for the live version.
Develop a Brand Image
Like your own personal identity, you also need to have a name and a sign for your online store which represents your business. It’s not only a logo that represents your business.
If you take examples of different popular brand names like Nike or Apple, when you hear their name, their logo will automatically float in your imagination. Similarly, you can easily remember their brand name with a quick look at their logo.
So, you must have to build up your own brand name and image that represent your business everywhere. It not only helps your potential customer to recognize your business quickly but also refers your business to their close circles.
Now the question is how you can build your business’s brand image? What should be the best possible name, logo, and slogan of your business?
You must have to follow some logical pattern to find, plan and develop your virtual properties that can perfectly represent your business. Here, few important factors like below, you should consider while deciding your business name, portrait your logo and finalize a slogan.
Think about your target audience:
The first step of the brand image building process is to identify your target market and audiences. Of course, the target audience not only the potential customers to whom you want to sell your services or products. It, in fact, includes the group of people who work for your business, business partners, your friends, family everyone who are closely related to you and your business.
The reason behind this is, these circles ultimately help your business message spreading to their own circles and it will spread further.
Your close circles can even act as the best source of collecting information about your potential customers. It can help you to do further research and analysis to learn about your potential customer’s need, requirements, and concerns.
Determine your Business Goal
Without knowing your aim, it is almost impossible to achieve your dream. The Same concept applies here too. If you don’t know your goal, how you can plan your journey and reach your destination?
So it is important to think about both your short-term and long-term business goals beforehand. Otherwise, at the end, you may lose your all valuable resources.
Develop your Brand Persona:
The next step after determining your key target audiences and critical business goals, you have to think about your brand persona and chalk out a plan to develop it. As it portraits your business image, you should think a simple, relevant and attractive brand persona that can influence your target audience’s psychology.
If you take Nike and Apple brand persona as an example, you can understand how powerful they are and how they put an impact on their target audience’s mind with such simple logo and message.
Develop your Slogan:
The final factor of developing your brand image is the “Slogan”. Once you develop your brand persona, you need to think of a slogan which is your key message to and align them with your target audiences. It is something that your customer will remember all the time after interacting with your brand.
But of course, it should be unique, simple, something very much different from others, add some value to your customers with a splash of your business brand personality.
Website Design & Development
Now here it comes the most vital part of your digital marketing strategy. Your website is your online business establishment. Your customers will make up their mind within few seconds after landing on your website whether they’ll buy a product from your store or not. And so the first impression is always played the vital one.
Your website is the first one who represents your brand and business to your potential customers. If your website fails to deliver the best impression at the first chance or deliver the right message within a few seconds after a customer land on your site, then you can expect him/her to leave your site immediately.
So you must need to follow certain steps to build up your online store;
This is the most important step of the process and it is in fact, much critical step then practically developing your website. At this stage, you need to create a vision board where you develop graphics, logo and other visible properties and place them all together.
All materials in a single place can help you to think about a color combination for your website more clearly, plan for navigation and site structure. You can take small to small decisions that can impact largely on your website appearance.
Once your planning is ready, you have to design your website structure, format, and all other visual stuff. At this stage, you may also need to go through many other small stages to develop your websites designs like creating wireframe, mock-ups and review & craft.
This is the final stage of your website development when you can start seeing your website getting the final shape. Your professional web developer may need to develop the website on a test server or on a production website.
Once it takes the final shape, you need to review and cross-check to make sure if everything goes well as per plan. You may also need to involve your SEO professional at this stage to check if the site is properly optimized especially for page loading speed and navigation issue. If all goes well, you can finally launch the site to your main domain and submit the site for indexing with the major search engines.
Off Site Marketing
Once your website is launched, then you need to start off site marketing activities so that people will know your business existence. Until you tell people or reach your target audience with your message, the whole effort you have taken so far will go into a vein.
Now the question is what kind of off-site marketing activities you should plan for your small business service website or e-commerce store?
There are a lot of activities that you need to consider for off-site marketing. At this stage, your SEO guy is the person who’ll play the lead role. The ultimate objective for off-site marketing is to inform your target audience about your business, products, and services.
Few below techniques are highly recommended to increase your web visibility, organic search performance and ranking the website in the SERP.
Being a small local business and startup, this is most important part to consider for increase your organic search visibility in local search. You must setup and verify your business in major local search facility like Google, Bing, Yahoo, Yelp etc.
For citation building, one most important thing that needs special attention is the unique business name, address and phone number which is also known as NAP. You must make sure to enlist your business in all major local directories with same business name, phone number, and address.
This is the effort with which you can inform your target audience about your brand name, educate them about your products and services. You can even help your followers why they should use your services or products, what is the uniqueness you can offer and why your company is different from the competitors.
You can consider creating a video, PowerPoint Presentation or EBook type of contents and share with your target audiences on many different popular platforms.
Backlinks are still one of the three major core algorithm factors of search engines to rank a site in their SERP. When you just launch your website, it’s natural that your website won’t have a considerable backlink profile.
So, how can you get a good base of backlink profile?
Your effort should be something logical which can not only create self-made backlinks for your website but also help your target audience learn about your products and services.
At the initial stage, you can follow a two or three layer format strategy for link building which can create a strong base of backlink profile for your website. The diagram of this kind of strategy may look like something below;
You can consider creating multiple micro blogs on different popular platforms like Blogger, WordPress or Tumblr, optimize the blogs with your brand name and publish contents on them on a regular basis. You must make sure to engage with your followers on these platforms.
It is another great technique of link building that not only helps to build your brand image but also help you to spread your messages to a vast audience, update them with your latest news and all.
While designing your website, you must consider a separate press room where you should publish your news first. Then use some trusted and reliable paid service to syndicate your PR on many different popular and local news portal, TV and radio sites.
This is more kind of advanced level of off-site marketing which helps you to build relationships with your industry influencers. Besides, it also helps you to get some authority backlinks too.
Now, you might be thinking how to reach the industry influencers who can recommend your business to their fellow followers?
Well, this involves a lot of research & analysis. You can assign these tasks to your SEO professional. Skycrapper technique is something that is worth following. This technique is explained by popular online marketing professional, Brian Dean on his own blog i.e. Backlinko.com.
Social Media Marketing
Social media optimization and marketing is the vital factor to consider for building your brand image, relationship building, reach your potential customers and present your business message in front of mass audiences.
So, now the question comes, what social media platform you should consider for your business promotion? Or which platform may have your most targeted audience?
Before analyzing further, let’s have a look at the recent statistics below from PEW research which states the popularity of different social media platform among users.
Facebook is clearly ahead among all other social media platforms. And it followed by Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Twitter.
Now based on your business type and category of your products and services, you need to pick the right platforms to reach your target audiences.
Below are few social media platform’s facts and figures that can help you to learn about the specific platform at a glance and so you can also determine if they are worth using to achieve your business goals or not.
According to the PEW research and all other research by reliable sources, Google plus is not among the top five social media platforms. But still, it is advised to have a strong presence on this platform because of one vital reason i.e. it is a Google product.
Everyone loves their own creation and so the Google too. Google obviously prefer its own products. So, signals from its own social platform are surely something they’ll count on!
Creating a business profile on Google plus not only help your business easily found on local Google search, but also help you to collect reviews from your customers which will be displayed in the organic search result. Besides, this platform allows you to create a separate community where you can build your own loyal followers and educate them about your products and services.
It’s another wing of marketing strategy which you may need to consider alongside organic SEO and social media marketing. Organic rank position in the SERP and building brand image through social media marketing is time-consuming effort and you have to wait for quite some time to measure your ROI.
As your business is comparatively new or small in size, so it may not possible for you to get some leads at initial stage only through organic SEO and SMM. But getting some leads is also important to keep your business at break-even point to meet your operational costs. To fill this gap, PPC campaign is something that can give you a solution.
Now, when you planning for online advertising to fill this vacuum, different types of questions will surface in front of you and you need to find the answers first. Below are some questions which you need ask yourself first;
- What is the main objective your ad campaign? – Is it getting targeted traffic, getting leads, brand image building or generate sales;
- Which search engine platform you should consider? – Google, Bing, Yahoo, or something else?
- Should you consider spending money on social media marketing? – If yes, then which platform has your most targeted audience?
- How much daily, monthly or lifetime budget you can allocate for ad spending?
- What types of ads are perfect to serve your purpose? – Is it the display ad or text ad?
- Should you plan for retargeting?
If you have all the answers ready with you, then you’re good to go. If you face difficulty to find the right answers, then you should take some professional’s help. Consult with your SEO professional or consider adding another team member who is a master on PPC campaign. Share all the details with him/her so that you can take some decision.
Set up your business online is not a complicated stuff to understand. All you need to plan step by step, calculate few things ahead and do teamwork to make things happen.
With the constant updates from Google to make search results more user-friendly, believe me, get ranking in local SERP and grab a good pie of business share from your local market through online presence is the easiest goal I have ever achieved for my different clients. So, there is no need to think complex, all you need to build a team beforehand, plan properly and execute your plan with the help of your team. And, the ultimate business success will be yours.