Tips to make the most of your online efforts

The digital world offers big opportunities for Australian small businesses, and a few simple tips can help you make the most of your online efforts. Panellists at Xerocon Melbourne 2015, discussed the opportunities in a session called “Defining your digital world”.

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The digital world offers big opportunities for Australian small businesses, and a few simple tips can help you make the most of your online efforts.

In a session at Xerocon Melbourne 2015, three panellists – Carolyn Stebbing, Director, Little Village Creative, Sam Powell, Business Director, Switched On Media, and Louisa Claire, Director, Brands Meet Blog – shared their insights for making the most of the opportunities in a session called “Defining your digital world”. The moderator was Penny Elmslie, Head of Marketing, Xero.

Online advertising is a useful way to reach more people and bring them to your business website, but before you spend any money on advertising it’s important to check whether your website is doing a good job of selling itself.

Tweaking your website to improve its Google ranking is known as Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). There’s nothing underhanded about it; Google encourages businesses to optimise their websites, so they’re easier for the search engine to scan, index and rank.

Good SEO is one of the most cost-effective ways to bring in new customers and should be one of your biggest considerations when you’re planning or redesigning your website, says Carolyn Stebbing of Australian online marketing agency Little Village Creative.

“For starters, your website must be mobile-friendly, it needs to look great and work well on handheld devices as well on a desktop computer,” Stebbing says.

“Australians now spend more than half of their online time on a tablet or smartphone, so when they’re searching for your product or service, there’s a good chance they’re using a mobile device. As of April this year Google started to penalise sites that don’t work well on a mobile device – so it’s vital that your site design is mobile-friendly in order to rank high in Google search results.”

Developing an effective website

An effective small business website should make it clear from the get-go what you do, incorporating your industry and the key offerings into the page title and perhaps even the domain name. A small business site should talk about what you do and have a strong local focus down to the suburb – especially in industries where customers tend to shop local rather Australia-wide.

Also, think about the hidden metadata that lives under the hood of your website – details intended to be read by search engines rather than people.

The “meta description” tells Google about your business; it’s often the text that appears in search results beneath the title of your website. You can also add “metatags” – keywords to help categorise your site, Stebbing says.

“So how do you come up with great keywords? Think about what your customers are searching for. What are they typing into Google? Put yourself in their shoes and that will give you a good idea of what sort of keywords you should include in your metadata.”

The best websites aren’t static pages that are published and then forgotten. Your website should be a living, breathing thing with regular content updates such as a news feed or blog. You want to make it clear that the lights are on, and somebody is home, Stebbing says. This assures potential customers that you mean business and also helps improve your Google search ranking.

The power of Search Engine Marketing

Getting your website in order will certainly make it easier for potential customers to find you in unpaid or “organic” Google search results. The next step is Search Engine Marketing – paying to advertise alongside organic Google search results. Once again there are a few simple tricks to help you get bang for your buck.

A Google search results page often contains three Pay Per Click (PPC) advertisements above the organic search results and eight more ads down the right-hand side of the page.

Google AdWords lets you bid for search terms that you want your ad to appear alongside. Just like choosing metatags for your website, it’s important to think about what potential customers will be searching for when you want them to find your business.

Search Engine Marketing is like speed dating for your business and the key is to make a great first impression, says Sam Powell of digital marketing agency Switched On Media.

“There are billions of searches conducted every year, and 90 percent of consumers use search engines to make purchasing decisions, so it’s really important that you get your marketing right,” Powell says.

“Your advertising strategy should complement your Search Engine Optimisation efforts. For example, you might decide to bid on keywords that aren’t giving you a high organic search ranking, to give your business wider exposure.”

Using Basic AdWords

Basic AdWords listings are little more than a link, but you have a lot of control over the look and feel of your advertisement. You can help your ad stand out from the crowd by including a concise description of what your business offers and perhaps opening hours – which is more useful that simply repeating your slogan. Below this you can add extension links, displaying the breadth of your service offering and taking customers directly to different areas of your website.

While Google is a powerful online force, it’s not the only way to establish a foothold in the digital world. Social media services such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, offer exciting new ways to interact online, but don’t treat them as just another advertising channel for blasting out your message, warns Louisa Claire of social media matchmaker Brands Meet Blog.

The true power of social media is not about selling yourself and your products. It’s about establishing trust and credibility – participating in your online community, sharing your knowledge, establishing yourself as a valuable resource and offering “thought leadership” in your field.

“Social media is fun, it’s engaging, it’s highly relational – three things that can also make it utterly terrifying, but we don’t need to be overwhelmed by it,” Claire says.

“Just as 20th century brands like Avon and Tupperware harnessed the socialisation of women to become trusted advisers, social media offers a way to make meaningful connections in the 21st century. Customers can hear from people they know and trust.”

Who’s your audience?

Before your business embraces social media, the first step is to decide who you want to reach. You need to know who your customers are – if you aren’t clear on that then social media can’t help you, Claire says. The second step is to think about how you will measure success.

With 14 million Australian users, Facebook is the behemoth of social media which can be daunting for beginners. Facebook is a “pay to play” space, meaning that you need to pay for advertisements or pay to “boost” your posts in order to reach people – even the people who have already opted in to follow you.

Some of the best opportunities for small businesses are in the private Facebook groups, Claire says

“There’s a Facebook group for absolutely everything, by business size, by industry, by geography – the trick is to find the groups that are really active and where you can engage with the other members,” she says.

“Alternatively you might look to LinkedIn – it’s a great place to share industry information as well as participate in groups and discussions. Because it’s a professional network it’s kind of a safe place to start if you’re just easing your way into social media for business.”

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