Daniel Negari, Contributor, Entrepreneur.com, SEPTEMBER 16, 2015
If you’re a small business you likely don’t have the budget to draw prospects to your site with expensive digital ads. Which means you need to be strategic about managing the fundamental pillars of your digital presence.
Luckily, it’s not too complicated.Here are five strategies to keep in mind if you want to get your business noticed online without breaking the bank.
1. Use social media to do more than just sell your product or service.
These days, most companies are engaging with customers on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social channels. But that doesn’t mean they’re doing it right.
Just like a person who constantly talks about himself, a company that never stops selling on social media is a bore. Don’t use every post and tweet to tout your product or service. Instead, mix in some links to interesting stories that are relevant to your industry and community, as well as personal posts, such as a fun anecdote about your office culture.
Don’t overdo it, however. Though frolicking kitten photos rule the Internet, they probably don’t have a place on your business’s social accounts unless you run a pet store.
2. Avoid purchasing backlinks.
Link backs to your site from other sites are said to be the biggest rank-influencing factor in SEO. If search is a huge driver of traffic to your site, it may be tempting to purchase backlinks from outfits that practice that particular dark art. Before you do so, be aware you’re taking a risk.
Google effectively views each link to your site as a vote of confidence that propels your ranking upward, and it equates buying backlinks with vote rigging. Those who are caught can be punished with a lower search ranking. In most instances, it’s not a risk worth taking.
Instead, focus on building relationships with reputable websites. You could either look for opportunities to syndicate content on websites or see if you could contribute to their site. Another option would be to do a Google search of websites that have mentioned your company in a post and requesting a link back to your website.
3. Experiment with Instagram.
While most businesses have an active presence on Facebook and Twitter, far too many neglect Instagram. That’s a mistake. With more than 300 million users who, on average, spend 21 minutes per day on the app, Instagram is a powerhouse.
If you run a B2B company, you might think Instagram’s image-based platform just applies to bakeries, florists and other businesses with photogenic products, but Instagram can be a great way to make an emotional connection with current and prospective customers no matter what kind of business you’re in. It can also serve as a recruitment tool, allowing your business to showcase its company culture.
Social media management system Hootsuite’s Instagram account is a great example of this. With 13,300 followers and counting, the account shows scenes from Hootsuite’s dog-friendly office. Email-marketing service provider MailChimp’s account is similarly well run. With more than 19,000 followers, it features images, including a person in a robot costume and the company logo reproduced in latte foam.
4. Focus on securing a domain that matches your business’s industry.
There’s a widespread belief that Google penalizes new domain extensions like .nyc, .house, .flowers, .market, and the hundreds of other new top-level domains (gTLDs) in search rankings. In fact, many people assume Google doesn’t surface domains registered with these extensions at all.
That’s not the case. “Overall, our systems treat new gTLDs like other gTLDs, [such as] .com and .org,” Google’s John Mueller explained. “Keywords in a TLD do not give any advantage or disadvantage in search.”
So there’s no need to make a big cash outlay to obtain your exact-match domain name on .com, instead of a new domain extension, because Google won’t reward you for it.
5. Build your own website.
Given the variety of affordable website builders at your disposal, it makes sense to take matters into your own hands. Squarespace will help you run a showstopping website for $18 a month with a business account, while a pro account on Weebly costs $12 a month. Similar to Weebly in pricing structure, WIX – which you may recognize from its Super Bowl ad – has a bare-bones free version, as well as a set of paid plans. The one recommended for small businesses is about $8 a month.
GoDaddy, Web.com, and other domain retailers combine domain registrations with their own web page design and hosting. They also offer affordable services that provide virtual storefronts and email communications. Lastly, it’s also worth checking out WordPress, which offers themes that are flexible enough to look truly customized.
As your marketing budget grows, you’ll have more decisions to make, like whether to build a mobile-optimized website and which paid marketing channels to advertise on. But if you can create a solid foundation, using the above strategies to create content and a website that resonates with your customers in the early stages, you’ll already have a significant advantage over your competitors.