Promoting a Small Business Online

“Our family has owned and operated a bakery for two generations. We have a loyal customer base that walk in to buy stuff from us. We have a basic website but there hardly has been any orders coming via our website. How can we turn our website into a profit center?”

Sound familiar? Getting an online presence can cost relatively little but often just having an online presence isn’t enough to guarantee success. 

You can’t just print a promotional advertisement and hope to bring in hordes of customers by pasting it across your shop front. That advertisement will have to leave the shop floor and get seen where new customers are, such as on a billboard facing an expressway where thousands of motorists drive by or pushed into the seeking hands of deal-hunters when they are entering a supermarket ready to spend. There are various other ways to float an advertisement around.

The same is true with a business website. It has to be marketed in a way that gets it seen by the millions of web surfers zipping along the Information Super Highway. 

So what are some nuts and bolts of the World Wide Web that can be twisted to bring online visibility to a business website?  Here’s a brief overview:

  1. Search Engines: Customers coming to your website via search engines cost nothing. If your website gets seen toward the top of search engine results when a potential customer searches on “bakery,” you win free traffic of visitors.

    Search engines use a complex set of considerations (known as algorithms) to decide which websites will feature toward the top of search results.  Keywords, which are words and/or phrases that are used to search on search engines, that are placed properly in the headlines, page body and metatags (like description and page title) help declare appropriate context of a page to search engines.

    Although websites made with Web Start Today’s website builder come loaded with these elements for search engines, you can always customize them to suit your needs. Every website from Web Start Today also includes a robots.txt and sitemap.xml. These elements are critical for complete discovery and indexing of your web pages by search engines. Beware, however, an overuse of keywords into any part of the web page is to be avoided.

  2. Backlinks: In order to accord trust to websites, search engines have been working hard to make the World Wide Web a good replica of the real world.  Trustworthy websites are given more weight in search engine results.

    So how does a website build trust? It does this by gaining references from other websites. This is called backlinks. For example, if Website A offers a clickable link to Website B, then the search engine robots transfer a bit of authority and trust from Website A to Website B.  In return, can Website B link back to Website A, you ask?  Nope. That’s reciprocal linking and not considered good by search engine robots.  Building links on the Web cannot be an “I-scratch-your-back-if-you-scratch-my-back” game.  In the given scenario, Website B will have to work to gain attention from sites like Website A to link back to them.

  3. Promotional E-mail: Another way is to offer website visitors an opportunity to subscribe to your periodic E-newsletter. This can be published free or for a fee. It will entirely depend on the type of content you offer. If you are a financial consultant giving out stock market tips every week, you can easily expect your site visitors to pay for your periodic advice.  However, if your newsletter is generally a promotion of your own deals and product information, it needs to be free.

We will discuss more ways of online promotion, such as online advertising, RSS Feeds, Blogging, Directory Submissions and Affiliate Marketing in some of the future articles in this series.


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