The internet has come a long way since 1991 when it first became publicly available. By the year 2000, according to career website Zippia, 361 million people worldwide used it (6% of the world’s population).
If such growth within just nine years sounds staggering, consider what has happened since the COVID-19 pandemic, when people were forced—and ultimately taught—to rely more on the internet. In post-pandemic 2022, there are now 4.9 billion active internet users globally (62% of the world’s population). According to research company Statista, as of August 31, 2022, in the United States alone, 91.8% of the population had accessed the internet.
These numbers alone should make the importance of having and maintaining a great online presence abundantly clear. Yet the switch for some businesses from traditional marketing to online marketing can be a difficult leap. In a Take 5 with Cleanfax interview with ISSA Media Director Jeff Cross, John Clendenning, founder and CEO of Carpet Cleaner Marketing Masters, addressed the subject.
“We all know the days before the internet,” he said, “with the Yellow Pages, and fliers, and newspaper ads. That was where our audience’s attention was, and we just had to get in front of that attention.”
But, he noted, after the Great Recession, traditional marketing stopped working. What happened?
“What happened was technology,” replied Clendenning. “These little consumer internet-connected devices in our hands…became faster, easier to use, more consumer friendly”—and they diverted everyone’s attention.
Now, Clendenning said, thanks to COVID-19 lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, “The number of people who check the internet for local businesses has grown from 68% to 78%—a 10% increase in the last two years.”
So, if you’re looking for clients—and if you want them to receive your marketing messages—then you must recognize that the internet is where they now reside.
Here are three major avenues for creating a robust online presence that can help attract leads, grab their attention, and convert them into clients.
1. An optimized website
Websites are no longer an option for businesses; they’re a necessity. Unfortunately, when it comes to websites, it’s never been as simple as the Field of Dreams adage, “If you build it, he will come.” Simply creating a website does not guarantee that your business will get noticed.
According to digital marketing provider Siteefy, roughly 252,000 websites were being created daily in July 2022, with that number growing constantly. Your website can easily drown in the vast sea of cyberspace.
That said, all is not lost. It’s possible to create a website that stands out from the crowd and can be found by your intended audience. To be that effective, however, your website needs the
Attractiveness. Looks matters. According to digital marketing company WebFx, first impressions of a website are related to design 94% of the time. Research by marketing company Blue
Corona in 2019 revealed that 38% of visitors will stop engaging with an unattractive website; 48% cited website design as the No. 1 factor in determining a business’ credibility.
As Hans Oliver, owner of Edgewood Solutions, a website development company in Little Rock, Arkansas, explained, “Your website is your first impression to a potential customer. Especially
in the cleaning industry, if your site’s old, if it has mistakes, if links are broken—that’s going to tell me that you don’t pay attention to detail. It’s a reflection on how you do business.”
Functionality. Navigation ease on a website is just as important as how it appears. If visitors have a difficult time on your website, they won’t stick around. In a 2021 survey by online directory Top Design Firms, 42% of respondents said they’d leave a website that had poor functionality.
People also don’t want to wait for websites to load. According to WebFx, 83% of users expect websites to load in less than three seconds.
Ease of use on mobile devices is important as well. Blue Corona noted that 48% of its respondents felt the lack of a mobile-friendly (or “responsive”) website means the business simply doesn’t care.
“Walk down the street. Stand in a busy crowd. You’ll see everyone with their heads down. Their eyes are on their phones,” said Oliver. “Follow the eyes. Wherever the eyes are, that’s where you need to be. So, not only do you need a website—you need to have a mobile-optimized website.”
Engagement. Keeping a visitor on a website long enough to explore what you’re offering happens through engaging content—both written and visual. Thanks to much better quality in recent
times, video—once avoided like the plague because of choppiness and slow loading speed—is becoming the choice means of communicating on websites. According to social media news company Social Media Today, people stay on websites with video 60% longer than websites with only text and images.
Activity. You might be shocked to learn how many websites are abandoned. According to Siteefy, while more than one billion websites exist worldwide in 2022, only 17% are active.
What does it mean for a website to be active? Activity equals change—frequent revisions to a website. Search engines favor websites that get updated often. This fact might be a rude awakening for business owners who thought websites could be “set it and forget it.”
For branding and financial reasons, you wouldn’t want to do major re-hauls. However, an effective yet easy way of keeping your website active is via a blog. If the word “blog” and any attached connotations concern you, remember that you don’t have to call it as such. They can be referred to as “news,” “updates,” “industry information,” or something similar. But they all serve the same purpose—to regularly refresh your website with new content that serves your clients in an appropriate way and makes search engines happy too. Updated content can be written, or it can be new images or videos.
All four of these traits help with search engine optimization (SEO). Search engine companies find these traits desirable for their own customers, in order to deliver the best possible search results. As such, they’ll extend these optimized websites to their customers first, over subpar ones.
Optimizing your site can give you an advantage over competitive sites that are totally ignored by their owners—and in return, by potential client leads. This is an opportunity for you as a business owner to make your website—and by default, your business—stand out while your competition rests on their online laurels.
2. Engaging social media
When questioning where your clients are and how they can be reached, if the initial answer is “online,” then the more exact location is “on social media.”
You might assume this refers to residential consumers only—and you’d be wrong. According to Internet analytics company SERPWatch, 75% of business-to-business (B2B) marketers use social media advertising. You might also be surprised to learn that 95% of Fortune 500 companies use Facebook, 96% use Twitter, and 99% use LinkedIn.
Alison M. Wood has been offering virtual assistant and social media services to clients in the United States from her southeast United Kingdom location for 10 years. She pointed out that an easy-to-forget benefit of social media is the SEO it lends to your online presence. “It helps drive traffic to your website,” Wood noted. “It’s definitely a marker for Google and for SEO. You can do all the work on your website, but you still need traffic going to it. Social media can help with that, and Google recognizes that traffic as well.”
Many also don’t realize that video provider YouTube is considered to be a social media platform. According to data insight company Wordstream, revenue of companies that use video for marketing grows 49% faster than those who don’t—yet another reason to incorporate video into your online marketing plan.
If you are wondering where to start with social media, based purely on numbers, you might consider Facebook and YouTube. These two platforms consistently have the most active users. According to Statista, as of January 2022, Facebook had more than 2.9 billion monthly active users worldwide, with YouTube in second place, with more than 2.5 billion.
However, Wood noted that, even though Facebook is more popular than many realize with B2B marketers, LinkedIn is still the premier platform for making B2B connections.
3. Stellar online reviews
The effectiveness of word-of-mouth referrals is quickly being replaced in the 21st century by online reviews. Local SEO provider Bright Local reported that 95% of consumers in pre-pandemic 2019 searched for local businesses online, with 91% reading online reviews about businesses first before contacting them. In post-pandemic 2022, those numbers have increased to 99% and 98%, respectively. Almost 50% surveyed trust online reviews just as much as personal recommendations.
David Wanamaker, owner of Five Star Solutions Group, a reputation management company near Kansas City, Missouri, first discovered the power of testimonials during his many years in radio advertising sales. Similarly, in providing reputation management, he now describes online reviews to be “word of mouth on steroids.”
He offered as an example the time he uploaded an image of a bacon-infused Bloody Mary drink to a restaurant’s Google profile along with a glowing review. That post was viewed by 48,000 people. “I couldn’t go out and tell 48,000 people how great that Bloody Mary is. But my review could do that. And that’s just one really small example of how powerful online reviews can be.”
Like social media, online reviews are as important to B2B marketing as they are for B2C companies. According to TripAdvisor, 98% of B2B companies said that an organization’s online presence can greatly affect their decision to purchase.
“In the B2B world, we all know that references can be extremely important,” Wanamaker affirmed. “B2B buyers today, particularly post-COVID-19, are relying upon the references they can find online more than they ever have. In fact, even pre-COVID-19, there are statistics that say that 67% of business purchasing managers look to online reviews to help them form an opinion about the companies that they are considering buying from.”
Going hand in hand with online reviews is the Google Business Profile (formally known as Google My Business). A Google Business Profile is a free online account that allows customers and clients to review your business. It’s yet another opportunity to market your business online, improve your SEO, and provide information to potential clients via posts that are reminiscent of social media.
Acceptance and improvement
Ask yourself how your own business appears online. Is your website attractive, functional, engaging, and active? Are you taking full advantage of social media? Does your business have good online reviews? Have you checked what people are saying online about your business? If your answers are negative, it’s time to improve your online presence.
These online marketing methods admittedly require time, effort, and resources. However, rather than ignore them and fall victim to your competition’s own initiatives, a proactive approach would be to accept the importance of a strong online presence and subsequently address how to improve and maintain it.
Consider shifting necessary resources from older, outdated, and less effective means of marketing to newer, more modern, online ways. Pareto Principle’s 80/20 rule works well here: dismiss 80% of marketing tactics that aren’t producing results and replace them with 20% that will. Another solution would be hiring—and training—personnel to take on the tasks. Lastly, there’s the option of hiring third-party contractors who already know the ins and outs of online marketing.
As Wood said, “What people often do before working with another business is have a look around to see what your presence is online—whether that’s your website, your socials, or your reviews.” When you realize your potential clients are online, checking out your business, you’ll want to make sure they’ll always like what they see.