- Annand Sharma
What is web presence?
Updated: Jul 19, 2021
The concept of “web presence” has evolved from a static website to a new engagement model that consists of social media, chatbots, content marketing, marketing automation, text messages, SEO, organic, paid -- a seemingly endless list of options and tools. As if business owners didn’t have enough to do, wading through the shitbox of jargon and “how-to” guides is a significant drain on time and therefore money. Just searching the phrase “digital marketing tools” is likely to trigger a migraine. This shouldn’t be so hard! Let’s take a step back to understand how we got here and some key considerations for each step along the way.
In the early 1990s everyone received 1000s of "free hours" of America Online time. As part of that outreach businesses were told they needed a “website” and a “keyword.” In those days a website was essentially a Yellow Page listing (see here kids),
except instead of being regional, it was international. In addition to keywords, a simple domain name and hidden HTML tags on your page were the trifecta to be found in this new directory. As technology and content developed further, website owners added flashy graphics to make their website stand out. Through the early 2000s this was enough to qualify as a “digital presence.”
With the increased penetration of broadband and mobile phones in the early and mid 2000’s, internet usage exploded, applications advanced, and trust in the ecosystem increased. With the advent of social media consumers became more comfortable with sharing their real identity online and increasingly leaned on the internet for socialization and commerce. With the introduction of the iPhone and Android, billions of people had access to internet connected supercomputers in their pocket. Every business suddenly needed a “bricks and clicks” strategy to interact with their customers. Yet, as the technology advanced, the implications for small businesses were risky and unclear.
This technology explosion enabled entirely new engagement models for every business. As the amount of personalized data on the web has grown, the rapid pace of innovation has evolved to include real time recommendations and support. When a new visitor comes to a site, they are actually carrying a lot of useful, contextual information along with them. This data can create significant insights for a business, but how can an SMB without the resources and data science teams of large enterprises use this to their advantage? If a visitor has landed on your web site, it wasn’t by accident. How do you ensure your web presence is relevant for users and valuable to you as the business owner?
Evaluating your website
Today your website needs to be more than just a “store front” or a phone book listing. Your web presence is a strategic asset that serves as a marketing channel, cash register, customer service center, and even a recruiting tool.
Your web presence should help inform and advance your strategy. As you evaluate your website’s actual look and feel:
Understand your audience and how your web presence can best serve them
Make sure content is clear and concise
Place key information or calls to action “above the fold”
Visitors should not have to scroll to understand what the specific page is about
Your page should render on all platforms
People use tablets, mobile phones etc, your site should be available and usable on all of them
Start with the basics. Leverage a design template on Wix or Squarespace for a fast, cheap, and well designed website that looks great on screens of all shapes and sizes.
Turn on Google Analytics, a FREE tool, to help you understand:
Who is coming to my website?
How are they getting here?
How many people, how often are they visiting?
What are they doing?
Having a basic page provides a means for your audience to find you based on their preferred channel
You likely don’t need them all so try to identify where your customers are and start on that platform
Unlike your physical store, you can leverage more advanced tools to elevate your strategy to new heights. Your web presence can serve as an always-on extension of you and your team that your audience can interact with at their convenience.
We propose taking a step back and thinking of the new engagement modes in two, broad categories. Front of the House and Back of the House.
Front of the House means building a way to actively communicate and engage your customers.
Chat bot (i.e. Intercom)
A simple tool you can add to your website to ask visitors if they have any questions or need any help. You can connect the website visitor directly to sales staff or you can have the bot ask and answer some qualifying questions or frequently asked questions in order to route the request more appropriately.
Email marketing (i.e. Mailchimp)
Another simple tool to capture interest and help drive new customer growth. Collecting email addresses and sharing scheduled updates about company news, new products, sales etc. is an easy way to identify and profile your customers.
Personalization / recommendations (i.e. Optimizely)
Once you start to have an idea of who your customers are and what they are coming for on your website, you can begin looking into tailoring the website experience for them. Tools that help you do this require some more setup and customization, but have proven to improve customer engagement
Back of the House refers to data gathering, customer segmentation that you use for advertising, marketing, or research purposes later.
CRM (i.e. Salesforce)
A customer relationship manager tool (CRM) is a bit of misnomer because while you can use it to track your existing customers, the real power comes from tracking prospects and building out a holistic view of your potential as well as existing customers
CMS (i.e. Contentful)
A content management system (CMS) is a flexible tool you can use to manage anything you publish online from social media platforms to your own website. The right tools will give you insights to help you develop content that is popular with your audience.
Help Desk (i.e. Zendesk)
The act of customer service is certainly “front of the house,” but many new tools enable your business to take this a step further. Sorting, categorizing, and reporting on support requests can unlock key, new insights. Understanding the nature and type of customer questions and feedback can help you decide to pursue new business opportunities or inform changes to your marketing strategy.
All the tools we mentioned were designed to be self-serve. In addition, we estimate that the entire toolkit costs less than $20k/year, and you can get started with the basics for significantly less than that! Your ability to produce incremental revenue and increase customer satisfaction will make this system pay for itself many times over.
Despite all that, building a modern web presence is simple, but not easy. If you’ve decided that your digital presence is worth investing in, don’t outsource the skill. Building expertise in house for how to properly use and manage these tools will pay dividends in the long term.