Simplified Online Visibility for Your Service-Based Business
by Stephanie Chandler
There is a lot of advice floating around about how you should market your business online. You can make yourself crazy trying to keep up with all the websites, forums, social media networks, blogs, technologies and strategies that abound.
Trying to do it all is like throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks. This strategy is not only exhausting, it is largely ineffective. Instead, develop an online visibility plan that is clear and focused. Not only will you quickly see results, but you will save yourself countless hours of time and frustration. Following are some steps to get you started.
1. Have a Purpose
You can call it your mission statement, your unique value proposition or even your business plan, but whatever it is for you, it must be defined. Great companies don't get great without knowing what they stand for. And when it comes to communicating online, if your purpose isn't clear, you risk being just another face in a very big crowd. Before you even begin to think about your presence online, you need to know what it is your company stands for and what it is you have to offer.
2. Define Your Target Audience
Too often businesses try to appeal to the masses and then fail to stand out. Being seen and heard in the right places starts with knowing who you want to reach. It's the difference between Whole Foods and your corner grocery store.
Whole Foods appeals to discriminating shopper who is willing to spend more on wholesome products and a unique selection. Instead of trying to appeal to everyone, the company maintains its focus and marketing efforts on meeting the wants and needs of its target audience. Shoppers outside of the target may still wander in on occasion, but the store could lose its appeal if it tried to be just another grocery store.
Choosing a distinctive niche allows you to sharpen your marketing focus. It also gives you a starting point--a target in which to aim. It does not prevent you from reaching outside of that market, but it helps your audience know that what you offer is uniquely suited to their needs.
3. Optimize Your Website for the Search Engines
This advice is evergreen and sets the foundation for everything you do online. Optimizing your website makes it easier for your target audience to find you. If you haven't already done so, learn about the importance of keywords, content and external links. These elements are essential for a site that draws traffic from the right sources.
Keep in mind that website traffic is relative. A site that draws 500 hits per month from the right kind of visitors can be ten times more successful than a site that draws 5,000 hits per month from visitors who don't make a purchase. A focused website strategy that incorporates basic search engine optimization makes all the difference.
4. Engage with Your People
Online forums and groups can be a powerful outlet for finding and engaging with your audience. You could spend countless hours each day spamming forums across the web and repelling your audience, or you could pick one or two forums that reach your target audience and make an impact. To stand out, begin by contributing to the conversation. Answer questions, demonstrate your knowledge and become a valued resource. Soon your audience will begin to seek you out.
5. Create a Clear Social Media Strategy
With the growing number of social media sites available, it is easy to get overwhelmed. Instead of trying to maintain profiles in a dozen or more sites--and doing a less than stellar job, choose two or three social media networks and focus your energy on managing those well.
This starts with knowing which sites appeal to your target audience. Are you marketing to the generation Y? Then MySpace would probably be a good choice. Want to reach executives at Fortune 500 companies? Hop on over to LinkedIn. Targeting moms ages 35 and up? Facebook is probably a good choice. You can also find industry-specific networks through sites like Ning.com. Whatever networks you choose, remember to focus on your target audience, engage in online conversation and demonstrate value. This is a simple recipe to social media marketing success.
6. Find Your Authentic Voice
There is a lot of noise online, and much of it feels like yelling:
"Buy my product or your life will be a disaster!"
"Let me tell you how awesome I am!"
"Pick me, pick me! I have the answers to all of your problems."
I view these noise-makers as an opportunity. Instead of adding to the noise, when you communicate with authenticity and provide value, you will stand out above the noise. People will naturally be drawn to what you are doing.
Tony Hsieh from Zappos is a great example. He has well over a million followers on Twitter, and not because he's pushing the latest shoes. Tony is funny, engaging and even inspiring. His company started and maintained its focus on providing exceptional customer service along with a tremendous selection of product. As a result, Zappos has thrived and developed undeniable customer loyalty.
This kind of success isn't achieved by sending out daily e-mail blasts, trying to be seen everywhere, or generally annoying people. It's achieved by having a clear focus, a defined target audience, an optimized website, and an authentic voice behind it all. Put these elements in place and you will be on your way to creating online visibility that produces real results.
Stephanie Chandler is an author of several business and marketing books including "LEAP! 101 Ways to Grow Your Business," “The Author’s Guide to Building an Online Platform” and “From Entrepreneur to Infopreneur.” She is also founder and CEO of http://AuthorityPublishing.com, a custom publishing and marketing company. For hundreds of resources for entrepreneurs, visit http://BusinessInfoGuide.com. For author, speaker and consulting details visit http://StephanieChandler.com