There once was a time that the World Wide Web was a world all its own. Today, its reach has become as much a part of the everyday as the smartphones in our pockets – and just as accessible. In fact, it’s now so integrated that, for many businesses, it’s not enough just to stay active at a physical storefront location says Vantiv’s Learning and Development director Patrick Bowl. If a business doesn’t also exist online, for many potential shoppers, it doesn’t really exist at all.
In our September 2017 webinar, “Tune Up Your Online Business,” Patrick stresses the importance of using your online presence to engage customers, create a better shopping experience, and drive more business, but also simply to be found. Because as much as 97 percent of consumers are now turning to a search engine before buying a product, Patrick explains that having your business appear online is absolutely necessary to having a business today.
Making the most of your online presence
While “online presence” can include any combination of social media platforms and review site listings, Patrick recommends a website as the primary online resource for almost every form of business. Even though a Facebook page can be perceived as a two-birds-with-one-stone approach, he gives several reasons against this.
Having your own website is essential because:
1. You own your primary online asset. If you’re relying entirely on a Facebook page, if they change, you change. If they determine your business has violated their terms of service, you’re no longer online.
2. You can maximize search engine optimization. With your own website, you get more control over how and where you show up in the search results for your product or service.
3. Not everyone uses Facebook. Two billion active users is a lot of people, but it’s not everyone. Don’t limit the ways your business can connect with a potential customer.
A website should serve as the central hub of your online presence. It’s your chance to show the character and personality of your business, Patrick explains.
“Showcase your products, show people what you do,” he says. “They want to connect with you in some way, and that's where your brand is translated – whether it's logo, color scheme, what you say, how you act – it's all translated on there, and you want to make that impression online.”
Staying on top of your online business presence
Patrick also notes that website creation and management isn’t what it used to be. Nearly any business owner can maintain a website on today’s user-friendly platforms, he says. And with Google Analytics, nearly any user can gain significant insights into ways to market to online consumers. Discover where your customers are, how they’re arriving at your site, and how they’re using it. With this knowledge, businesses can learn and grow to better serve its customers’ expectations through its website – and even further into social media channels.
“Engaging customers is really what that's about,” Patrick says of social media. “It’s driving traffic to your website so that you can have that call to action, whether it's to buy something or get the email newsletter.”
However, Patrick does point out that what’s popular for social media isn’t always what’s popular for business. Any number of “likes” is irrelevant if there isn’t conversion, he says. If a follower never converts into a paying customer, you add nothing to your bottom line. And that’s what Patrick wants to make clear about the impact of your online presence: conversion is the ultimate goal.
Leveraging your web presence to increase sales
So how does a business leverage its online presence to increase sales? According to Patrick, it all comes down to knowing your customers. From Facebook and Twitter to YouTube and LinkedIn, your customers are using these platforms for a variety of functions for a variety of reasons. Ask yourself what makes the most sense for how your business can maximize engagement with potential customers.
Patrick breaks down some popular social media platforms for their effective uses:
Facebook: The best place to reach 18 to 49-year-olds, which includes the Millennials and Gen Xers. With two billion active users, it’s the largest channel and contains many opportunities for small businesses.
Twitter: A micro-blogging platform using a limited character count with potential for including links and photos. The majority of users (60 percent) do not contribute as much as on other channels, but rather use it to absorb information.
YouTube: Video-based and owned by Google. This platform reaches more than any other cable network in the U.S. and is the No. 2 search engine in the world.
Pinterest: A photo-based search tool. Perhaps more niche and popular with those who have a household income of more than $100,000 (30 percent).
Instagram: Also photo-based. Owned by Facebook and attracts a younger, predominately female audience. Additionally, 53 percent of users follow brands for product information.
Knowing what to post
With the prevalence of smartphones and mobile-friendly websites, adding content to your channels shouldn’t be complicated. However, knowing what to post and how best to engage with your audience can be. Using your social media to publicize deals, events, and new products can be effective, says Patrick, but advertise sparingly, he cautions.
“Some businesses are really guilty of this, just constantly hammering people to buy something – straight-up calls – and that's where you really turn people off,” he says. “What they want is interesting stuff. They want educational stuff, things that are interesting, things that might be entertaining.”
Using the “80/20 Rule” (80 percent intriguing content, 20 percent sales-focused posts), Patrick recommends posting the kind of information that keeps users engaged with your business without being overly personal. Whether you’re using fun pictures, updates, contests, or quizzes, use them to encourage the conversation. Ask questions, get feedback, help customers help you make decisions for your business. But above all, keep it positive, he emphasizes.
Securing your online reputation
Maintaining a positive image is vital for any business. It’s important to be found at the top of a Google search, but make sure your business is appearing there for all the right reasons. The first step to securing your online reputation is claiming your local business listing on Google – the single most important piece of information in his presentation, Patrick says.
Registering not only gets your business recognized by the top search engine on the planet for free, it gives you control over what might appear in that listing without your permission, he explains. Owning your listing allows you to manage how your business appears in a search with your location, photos, hours of operation, and more, but also includes the online reviews that are affiliated with that search.
Because 80 percent of consumers view a business that responds to an online review favorably, it’s fundamental that a business does acknowledge all reviews – especially the bad – and address them in a timely manner. Again, Patrick notes, it’s important to stay positive.
Recognizing your worst reviews gives you the opportunity to learn more about your business and make the changes that are needed. Even if your ratings and reviews are good, there’s always something to learn, Patrick says. And by responding to the negative reviews timely and professionally, you’re showing everyone online that you do truly care about their experience. A non-response can be nearly as destructive as responding discourteously, he warns.
“Non-response means something to those people who are looking at your business,” Patrick says. “What they're saying in the back of their mind is, ‘they don't really care all that much, they're not monitoring it, they don't want to address it.’ So keep that in mind. Make sure you're managing it, instead of letting it manage you.”
Building your business online
Building your online presence can have significant rewards for your business. Innovative and cost effective, online offers many strategies for engaging customers, creating a better shopping experience, and driving more customers to your business – ultimately leading to more sales. So no matter where you plan on taking your business, online is the one avenue you absolutely don’t want to avoid.
To hear more from Patrick Bowl and listen to the webinar in its entirety, visit MerchantAdvantage.