Small Business Owners – 3 Steps To Building An Online Presence

I’ve been giving a lot of thought over the last few months to trying to establish a system to help small businesses build up a presence online.  Now, as the economy tightens up, its more important than ever for small businesses to leverage every means available to attract new customers.  Over the last 8 months, I’ve been helping a law firm build out their web site to pull in customers through both PPC ads and natural search ads.  In addition, I’ve had a few of my own projects kicking around that I’ve been experimenting with on and off.  The outcome of these projects leaves me with the strong belief that any small business can benefit greatly from having a presence online, especially those with a local service or unique product to offer.

Now I’m looking for a new project.  My thought is, since I already have a full time job, I’ll offer to work solely on commission.  I’m confident, through my experiments so far, that I can make a measurable difference to a small business that is looking to start out online.  The approach I’ve found works best is to focus on building out a simple site with the main concept of what you are looking for, turn on pay per click ads to measure user interest, then work to develop a long term strategy for attracting visitors be it paid search, natural search or community posting.  Here is a basic outline of my three part approach for building an initial online presence for small businesses.

Start out simple

Building out a website can be incredibly time consuming, with the intial phases seeming the most daunting.  Coming up with unique content, a solid layout and proper messaging can take a very long time, especially if the developer is working part time and the business owner has strong feelings about the messaging and image they want to portray on the site.  My recommendation is to build something simple to get it up and running quickly.  If both the developer and business owner understand the primary focus is on simplicity and time-to-market, they will be much more open to flexibility with an understanding that the details will be worked out and finalized in future iterations of the site.

Pay Per Click Is Your Friend

Start pay per click campaigns through Yahoo or Google as soon as the initial site is up and running.  Once you build the simple site, you will soon find that you have little to no traffic coming to the site.  Google alone may take several weeks to index your site and, even then, its unlikely you’ll rank well for any common terms if you are in a competitive market.  There are likely to be many other larger, more well established competitors already in the market.  Use pay per click campaigns to test out the competition and learn about the market as quickly as possible.  An investment of a few hundred dollars will allow you to learn some great details about your market in as little as a few days.  The key questions that will be answered by a small investment in pay per click ads are:

  1. What is the cost per click to advertise in the space?
  2. What percentage of visitors to the site are potential customers (inquire about the product, fill out a lead form, etc)?
  3. What types of search terms are people using to find your site?
  4. What sort of demand is there for your key products and search terms?

Once you have some basic data from the paid campaigns, you’ll be able to develop a picture of what the competitive landscape is and what your strategy should be moving forward. 

For the law firm I’ve been working with, by experimenting with pay per click ads we found it would take about $25 to get a lead through pay per click ads for the type of law they specialized in.  By honing the PPC campaigns over time, we were able to get that down to about $22/lead, but the point is that we were in the right ballpark after a few weeks, knowing roughly what it would cost to attain clients through the PPC approach.

Developing A Long Term Strategy

Once you have a basic website up and have gone through the pay per click research phase, you are at a decision point.  Based on the data you have so far, you should have a rough idea of whether or not further investment in your online presence is worth it.  If you find that it takes $10 in pay per click ads to sell a $5 widget, you’ll understand that you either need to significantly change your cost structure or find a new way to market your product.  My hope is, after the basic build out of the site and the initial experiments with pay per click, you’ll see there is a benefit to your new online presence.  If you see potential, then there are a number of next steps to take in building your presence.

My specialty is in building out natural search rankings for clients.  Depending on your product, I try to find a logical way to build out hundreds or thousands of pages about your product or service.  If you sell 10 different widgets, I’ll build a system to create a seperate page for each widget, a seperate page for each color of widget, and a seperate page for each size of each color of each widget.  The point of these pages isn’t to delight customers in being able to narrow down to exactly what they are looking for, they can do that on their own, the point is to signal to search engines that you are a premier widget shop.  You have lots of widget models, lots of widget colors and lots of widget sizes.  As a small business owner, you may never rank for a basic search like ‘cheap widgets’ (and you may not want to), but if painted, wooden widgets are your specialty, you should show up in the search engine results for terms like ‘yellow cedar widgets’ and my page bulk approach will get you there. 

I hope you enjoyed reading my recommended approach to building an online presence for your small business.  If you have any questions or need a hand with your efforts, leave a comment and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.  If you would like to try taking your small business online but would rather focus on running your business instead of dealing with the technology aspect, drop me a line and lets see if we can work something out.  I’m looking forward to exciting new projects and am confident you can benefit from this simple, straight forward approach to building your small business presence online.

Google Adsense is down…again

Google Adsense’s reporting interface has been down for the better part of the day today.  This isn’t the first time either.  I usually check Adsense every few hours to see if I’ve received any clicks and its often down for several hours at a time with no custom message indicating when it may be back or what the problem is.

A lot of people make their living through adsense, this type of downtime leaves me puzzled.  Most websites pride themselves on their uptime.  A common goal is ‘three nines’ of uptime, representing 99.9% uptime.

Adsense must be missing this by a mile.  Not very impressive for a world-class company that makes a huge percentage of their revenue from publishers such as myself that rely on Adsense’s reporting interface to spot monetization trends, traffic fluctuations and find out what ad treatments work and which don’t.