Digital living: a new reality

For the past 20 years, having an online presence has been a vital element of promoting your business and connecting with customers. Yet the Covid-19 pandemic has propelled the need for having an online presence further up every business owner’s priority list, as the world transforms and adapts to a hybrid way of living, working and shopping.

Having an online presence is more essential than ever when it comes to building your brand, increasing your credibility and managing your reputation. If you’re not active online, sharing customer reviews and engaging with your audience on social media, you’re severely restricting how your new business prospects can learn about what you can offer. Regardless of which sector you operate in, adapting your marketing strategy to combine both online and offline can help you to seize the opportunities presented by the ever-changing digital world.

What is an online presence?

A businesses online presence can be defined by how easy it is to find the business when searching for relevant keywords online, or how many virtual ‘touchpoints’ a customer can interact with when wanting to find out more about your brand, products and services. If you have a good online presence, then you’ll be very visible on the internet and social media, making you far more ‘discoverable’ to potential new clients.

At its most basic format, having a website and ensuring you’re active on relevant social media platforms are both key. Similarly, creating a Google Business Listing can quickly display your contact information and encourage people to head to your website when searching online.

Beyond this, you can also use online tools to create digital spaces. This can boost virtual connections with your customers, and even help to facilitate online service delivery. Platforms such as Zoom, WhatsApp, YouTube or TikTok can all be used, as long as they’re relevant to your target audience and the nature of your business.

During Covid-19, this became especially important for many businesses, who couldn’t rely on the ‘physical space’ to find and retain new customers. Owners of companies quickly adapted to build new revenue streams, as fitness studios ran their classes online and restaurants switched to home delivery via social media. Even estate agents harnessed video platforms to take house hunters on virtual home tours, resulting in a 600% rise in 360 degree virtual home tour technology use between 2019 and 2021. By 2025, Experian Economics predicts that online sales will have reached levels not previously expected until 2035 – a full decade of digital acceleration which will have a lasting impact on our economy.

Those that didn’t adapt, suffered. Global retail giant Primark lost £1.1 billion in sales over the UK’s winter lockdown period. Historically the brand has made a stance against selling its goods online and has no e-commerce contingency in place, though is very active with its audience on social media. With physical shops now open, the store expects to make its profits back quickly – but for a smaller business with less infrastructure to fall back on, this scale of loss would be crippling.

As lockdown restrictions have ended in the UK, now’s the time for businesses to build on the technology investments they’ve made out of necessity to sustain and grow their longer-term futures.

For many retailers, that will mean offering customers a choice of ways to browse, buy and return products, and connect and communicate with the brand – merging e-commerce, mobile commerce and social channels, potentially alongside a physical store experience. Here’s six ways to help increase your online presence.

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6 ways to build your business online presence

1. Optimise your website for search engines and mobile

“81% of people search online for a product or service.”

While most businesses understand the importance of having a website, it’s vital to make sure it’s optimised to make it as visible as possible on search engines.

When you’re writing your website copy or listing products, use relevant keywords that customers might be using to find a business like yours. Also, create a Google Business Listings page and fill in every information field as accurately as possible – phone number, address, website, location on maps, images and reviews. This can showcase your legitimacy and boost your chances of customers seeing, and clicking through to your website.

Make sure your website is optimised for mobile. More and more people are using their smartphones to complete everyday activities, including mobile searches and mobile payments. It’s essential for user experience, but as people increasingly search for products and services on smartphones, rather than desktops, it’s also key to make sure potential customers can find you. Visit Google’s Mobile Friendly Test page to see how your current website performs.


2. Develop your content marketing strategy

“Most B2B buyers consume branded content through a business’s website and consume 13 pieces of branded content a month.”

Content is a great way for any business to boost its online profile, interact with customers and build trust. ‘Content’ can mean creating lots of engaging assets including blogs, videos, whitepapers or social media posts. By hosting them on a series of digital channels, each one also highly boosts your chances of being discovered online.

The type of content and where you post it will be unique to your business and audience. It must share your brand’s story and purpose, or clearly communicate the benefits and value of your business. This could also be a way to monetise your expertise and enhance your core product or service offering, as many businesses have done during lockdown.

If you’re a B2B business, remember that 65% of B2B buyers see your website as one of the most important content channels. Use the insights provided by your website and social media analytics to keep track of how your content is performing so you can make sure it’s tailored to your audiences.


3. Use video as part of your online presence strategy

“86% of businesses use video as a marketing tool in 2021.”

Video marketing has been quickly growing in prominence over the past five years, with more and more marketers across all industries using the tool. During Covid-19 this became important for lots of businesses as a way to engage with their customers despite physical restrictions.

A Semrush survey in 2020 showed that 41% said video was their most efficient content marketing tool, while 61% praised repurposing old content. If you’re just starting out with video, consider turning a dormant blog post into a video, or showcase the benefits or features of some of your products in a new and engaging way.


4. Build a community – focus on brand purpose

“78% of consumers want brands to use social (media) to help people connect with each other.”

Now is the time to make sure your brand values shine through. Sharing a clear, consistent and compelling brand story across your content and the online channels you use is vital, with social media being a key platform.

The trick is to focus on the channels best suited to your customer. For B2B customers, that could mean prioritising LinkedIn or Twitter for example, while for others, it could mean exploring newer platforms like TikTok. As lockdown has shown, it’s possible to create strong relationships with your customers online, so find new ways to invite them into your virtual world.


5. Increase your credibility – keep your online reviews up to date

93% of consumers used the internet to find a local business in 2020, while 87% said that they read online reviews before making a purchase.”

Word of mouth has always been one of the best ways to attract customers. Online reviews can utilise this technique for the digital age. For businesses, it can also be a quick and cost-effective way to boost your online presence.

Featuring reviews on your website, as well as encouraging your customers to review you on Google and social media like Facebook, is a great way to develop trust in your brand.


6. Measure return on investment (ROI) by setting clear objectives

When you’ve been using a range of online marketing channels, take the time to measure the effectiveness and ROI to develop a strategy that works for your brand.

Online can be cost-effective in several ways. While some platforms require a cost investment, such as social ads or working with external experts to create videos, there are a number of free and low-cost tools available. E-commerce and email marketing platforms can sell your products and services, while developing your website and social media can boost SEO. Creating virtual spaces and connections will build brand trust, and video conferencing tools like Zoom could all add value to your online activities.

Many of these digital tools will be able to provide data and analytics to help you understand your customers, their behaviour and preferences, and how they experience your business at every stage of the customer journey. Alongside this, you can define which online approaches work best for your business, enabling you to target budgets and resources in a much more focused way.

One of the biggest benefits of doing anything online is the vast amount of data you’ll be able to source. This can help you to understand your customers better, streamlining your service delivery and creating targeted and efficient marketing campaigns. You can also add to your customer data using services like BusinessView to create B2B marketing lists that will allow you to reach the inboxes of those most likely to buy from you.

An optimistic return

The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the digital and cultural transformation that was already soaring through the business world, leading to new opportunities in 2021 and beyond.

Despite the many economic challenges brought on throughout the pandemic, there are now vast opportunities for resilient, innovative, entrepreneurial businesses to survive and thrive.

By reaching more customers, analysing your data and opening up new revenue streams, building and managing your online presence will be key to harnessing this unique opportunity for growth. The good news is that now, more than ever, there are a multitude of low-cost, accessible ways to do that, with the potential for a great return on investment.