Moving house earlier this week stressful, especially considering I still had to manage my full-time job on the side. I’d planned to get a haircut the day after because I had an important client meeting and a networking event that I needed to look presentable for. I didn’t want to drive 40 minutes to the previous place I frequented and I didn’t have time to explore the local shops for a reputable hairdresser or barber.

I decided to do a quick Google search and was pleasantly surprised by the range of features available online to help me decide. There were updated listings of all the hairdressers and barber shops in my area, virtual maps with directions, customer reviews, and website links. I didn’t have to search long before I found one, which was great. As soon as I clicked on the shop’s website, a booking option popped up on my screen.

“Surely it can’t be this easy,” I thought.

I received an email verification for my appointment minutes later and headed out to find the place. I had a rough idea where I needed to go but with all the roadworks and a large number of street side shops, I needed further guidance. The street view option on Google Maps meant I found the business with no trouble at all.

I was thoroughly impressed with the haircut I received. The crew conducted their business in a professional manner and truly lived up to the promising reviews they had on Google. As I was about to pay, the lady asked how I heard about them.

“Oh, I just Googled you,” I said.

Everything I needed was accessible at the click of a button – no phone call required, no unnecessary running around.

Having an online presence as a business owner is a vital asset, whether you are trying to attract new customers or are simply wanting to evolve your level of customer service. Here is a breakdown of what else you need to know about it:

So, what is an online presence?

An online presence embodies a number of key components:

  • Websites
  • Social profiles
  • Online memberships in directories

Put simply, it is the collective sum of all the identities you have on the internet. Many businesses limit their online activities to their website, where customers can find them using a single address known as a URL (Universal Resource Locator). However, there are many other avenues available to build your online audience.

Think of your online presence as the large inflatable objects in car yards; the ones that never stop dancing in the wind and almost always catch your eye. For a brief second, the inflatables fix your sight on the car yard as you drive by. Regardless if you physically go there is not the point. The point is that the inflatables help raise the car yard’s presence in your mind, even during off-peak periods when the business is closed. This is similar to how the online presence of a business interacts with internet users. In other words, it is the never sleeping salesman.

Why does your business need an online presence?

An online presence improves customer experience and garners a wider audience

An online presence allows the customer to come to you. Even when your business is closed, customers can purchase goods and services online. In theory, your website is doing some of the hard yards for you: it is evoking interest, providing support, and facilitating revenue growth even when you are not working. Therefore, investing in one is worthwhile. It will help you reach a wider audience, including the people who are unable to make it to your physical shop for whatever reason. It will make your products more accessible on both a local and global scale. Having this level of accessibility and online support is much more convenient for customers, which then leads to a happier experience overall.

An online presence establishes credibility and trust

An online presence does not just enhance user convenience, it helps establish credibility and trust. More than half of consumers will not trust your business if it does not have a positive online presence. A business without trust from its target audience will struggle to attract customers.

Having an online presence gives your business a voice

Websites, blogs, and social media accounts enable reviews and comments about your products. When you establish credibility and trust, people are more willing to express their satisfaction online. Glowing reviews will significantly build your online presence and prove your business’ credibility to new customers.

One effective and economical way of giving your business a voice is by building its profile on review platforms such as Yelp and Google Places. They can help you build an audience and rapport without the bells and whistles of a dedicated website. They allow users to discuss their experiences and in return allow businesses to communicate with their consumers. For prospective customers, frequently posted positive reviews establishes your business’ credibility.

You may be thinking that having an online presence is a double-edged sword as you may also expose your business to negative publicity, regardless whether it is fair or not. That is all part of owning an online presence. However, you can use your online voice to proactively address negative attention. Seemingly negative attention (criticisms, complaints, etc.) is actually a powerful tool because it can give you insights into shortcomings of your service i.e. areas you can improve in. Addressing constructive criticism with responses of a proactive nature is the best way to show customers you are listening. For extreme cases where unfavourable publicity is unfairly directed at your business, having an online presence gives your business a voice to publicly respond and defend its integrity.

In summary, communicating your brand effectively is as much about positively interacting with online users as it is about keeping an updated website.

How can you measure the return on investment (ROI) of maintaining a rich online presence?

By using smart tracking on various funnels (search engines, social media, etc), data can be collected on how internet users interact with your online profiles, and that data can then inform strategic business decisions to optimise the results of your online presence. With tools like Google Analytics, you can see attribution models portraying how users are finding your business and other key data such as your website’s peak traffic periods and user behaviours, for example, how long people spend viewing specific pages. This data allows you, the business owner, to make the right marketing investment choices and optimise your ROI from each channel.

With more smart mobile devices online (mobile browsing is taking over 50% of searches within Google), being online is the new Yellow Pages, and has been for over 10 years. Understanding how your consumers interact with your online presence is vital for sustaining and growing your business in an industry that is increasingly reliant on the online world. Continue reading to find out how you can more effectively control your online presence today.

Your next steps?

Each business is different and it is up to you or an online marketing expert to decide what is needed. To get the ball rolling, start by asking yourself:

  • Am I online? Try Googling the name of your business – do you appear?
  • Can you Google your main service/product? Does it appear?
  • Website still not showing? Try this search (without the quotation marks): “site:yourwebsite.com.au”

If the answer to either of those is no, here is what you can do next:

  • Get website tracking setup (Google Analytics is Free)
  • Get on Google Search if you have a website
  • Get on Google Places (and Maps)
  • Contact your SEO or website company and see if they are helping you with your online presence in the best possible way.
    • A good question you can ask them is the percentage of leads/sales from each channel/funnel.
  • Update your website to cater for mobile internet users