There is little doubt that in 2014 the digital world dominates many of our lives, from both a personal and a business perspective. Ten years ago investing marketing budget in a website was a big decision – a 'we probably should' conversation, but not necessarily a given.

Today having an online presence and indeed a dynamic one, which provides customers with updated content and the ability to interact with your business and in some cases purchase directly from you, is a given. Your website is your virtual shop front, your equivalent to a high street store for your customers, making you accessible to the world.

The importance of an engaging digital strategy – with an effective website at its heart - cannot be underestimated and, particularly for those businesses with a national or global market, where your customers are unable to see your physical products other than online, it is a vital route to market.

Just like refreshing outdated production equipment or updating your technical capabilities with yearly training courses, businesses should regularly review their website (if they have one), their digital presence and ensure that it remains fit for purpose.

Here Newcastle based brand communications agency Gardiner Richardson offer their top tips on appraising your online presence.

1. Avoid poor navigation

Think about how customers come to your website, and what they might be looking for. People visit your website for specific information and if they can't find it there, they will become frustrated and quickly go elsewhere. You don't want to give the impression that your business is as disorganised as your website.

Use Google Analytics to look at how long people are staying on your site and which pages they are visiting. If it's for a relatively short period of time (under a minute) and they're only visiting one page before leaving, then your navigation probably isn't working and they aren't getting the information they came for. That's one potential customer you may have lost.

2. Create clear 'calls to action'

If you want customers to purchase online, or get in touch with you for more information, ensure you have a clear call to action on your website. Make it obvious in terms of its location on your website – don't make visitors work to find your email address to mail you or they will leave. And don't overcomplicate it with multiple calls to action on every page. Each page of content should have answered 'What's in it for me' and your call to action should answer, 'What do I do now?'

3. Content is king

Make sure you present your information in an engaging, interesting way. Many small businesses fall into the trap of telling their customers everything they have to say about their business, rather than what might be interesting or relevant.

  • Think about the purpose of your website – who do you want to attract to visit it, and what do you want them to know?
  • Make sure there is plenty of white space around text and that pages are not overloaded with content.
  • Break up lengthy pieces of information into digestible blocks and use headings, sub-headings, bullets and quotes to make content easier to read.
  • If you are able, make sure your web content is dynamic, giving your customers a reason to return. Update information such as news, events, blogs and video as regularly as possible.
  • Link your website to other online communications channels you may have – such as social media feeds like your Facebook page and Twitter feed. One channel will drive another and vice-versa.

4. The only thing free about social media and open source is the platform

Social media and open source platforms provide a cost effective way for many businesses to create and manage their online presence. In reality, the only free aspect is the actual platform itself, because your time commitment may be significant in terms of the expectation you create by setting up a Facebook account, Twitter feed or blog.

Because content is king (see point 3), these platforms must be updated regularly. The pace of change is ferocious and if you allow content to become old, tired or irrelevant, your customers will quickly loose interest and stop visiting or, most importantly, engaging with you.

All elements of your online presence reflect you and your business, so if they are unprofessionally managed or do not meet the quality standards employed across the rest of your company they will leave a bad impression.

Make sure you're clear about the purpose of social media for your business and have a strategy for what you want to say, who you are talking to and how you are going to create regular, relevant and interesting content to engage your fans and followers. Also make sure you are able to commit enough time on a regular basis to deliver your strategy before you jump in.

Article by Angela Trainor of Gardiner Richardson.

Contact 0191 2614250.

NBSL LogoThis article is brought to you by NBSL's North East Business Support Fund which funds the costs of business improvement projects such as website development, marketing strategies, external consultancy – click here to find out more

The North East Business Support Fund  has hundreds of registered providers offering a wide range of business support. NBSL has used its best efforts to post on this web site the most accurate and reliable information given to us by our providers but does not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of any information. The thoughts and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the authors and are licensed to NBSL for publication on this website.

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