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The Forum's guide on how to build an effective business presence online.

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A recent survey has found that a quarter of UK businesses have no website and, of those that do, 30% make no effort to drive traffic to it. If you're interested in building an effective presence for your business on the web but don't know where to start, follow these tips.

Does your business need a website? 

A website is a useful promotional tool and it can help people find your business easily online, but a website may not be necessary for every business. If your customers don't buy online or are not likely to research what you're selling online then you may not need a website. Similarly, if you operate only in one geographic area and you get enough customers through local advertising and promotion, you might be ok without one.    

Creating a website 

In a recent survey by Companies Made Easy, 56% of businesses without a website said they didn't have one because the price was prohibitive. However, if you only need a simple website, there are plenty of free and cheap DIY web building services out there, such as Yola (available with a year's free hosting through Google's Get British Business Online campaign) and Moonfruit, which allow you to personalise a ready-made website template with your own logo, images and company colours.    

For anything more involved, i.e. shopping cart, log-ins, forums, etc. you will need to employ the services of a web designer.

Driving traffic 

Once you've got your website set up, you need to let people know that it's there. There are a number of ways you can drive traffic to your website. The most popular are:     

Search engine optimisation

This involves optimising your website's page content, titles and descriptions by adding the keywords that you want to be found for in search engines (i.e. plumber Bristol).     

Online advertising

The most popular choice for small businesses are pay-per-click text ads on search engines, which are targeted only at people searching for your keywords.     

Social media

Link back to your website from Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. Also make sure your website is linked from your signature on any forums that you're a member of or comments you leave on blogs.    

Read about the benefits of using social media to promote your business

Directories

Link to your website from your listings on popular local business directories.     

Offline

Make sure everything you produce, including business cards, flyers, brochures, products and packaging, has a link back to your website.

Alternatives to a website 

 

Local directories 

Some businesses manage to have a web presence without a website, making do with a Facebook page, Google Places page or even directory listings on local listings websites like Yelp, Yell.com or The Best Of. If you do choose to use one – or all – of these instead of a website, make sure they're kept up to date with your opening times and contact details.

Facebook 

Some small businesses now use a Facebook business page rather than a website. This may be useful if you want to create a mini community around your business and update your followers frequently, for example, companies with a high turnover of stock may find it useful to let customers know when new products are in store. However, this does require constant updating.     

Start a blog 

Free, hosted blogging software like Blogger and Wordpress allow you to set up an online presence in minutes. Blogs are good if you have a lot of updates to make – new products, company news – but they do require a lot of management.     It is worth noting that, with the exception of blogs, these alternatives cannot be optimised for search engines. Therefore, we recommend that they are used as an accompaniment to a website to get the most benefit for your business.     

Source: Companies Made Simple research, February 2012

Updated 15th June 16

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