When it comes to creating an online presence for your business, there are a few generally agreed-upon standards across all industries: a well-designed website, social media accounts and responsive customer service. But if you're following a set of broad guidelines like these without considering your specific business needs, you may be missing the mark.
"Not only is every business unique, but each one evolves and changes over time," said Eric Mason, director of communications at website builder Wix. "One size doesn't fit all [for best online practices], and in fact, one size doesn't fit any dynamic and growing business. While there are certainly core fundamentals every [company] should consider when creating, managing and growing its business online, each needs to carefully balance these against its own very unique audiences, resources and goals."
David Brown, chairman, CEO and president of website builder Web.com, agreed that building an online presence needs to be guided by the wants and needs of a business's customers, especially when it comes to its social media strategy. [How to Build a Small Business Website]
"Social media [use] should be evaluated to ensure you are using the channels that make the most sense for your brand," Brown told Business News Daily. "If it's a retail business, Pinterest might make sense, but if your business is more B2B focused, LinkedIn might be the right channel."
To figure out the right social media strategies, Brown advised looking at which channels your customers are on and how they use each of them. For consumer-facing businesses, popular consumer sites like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest should serve as platforms for driving traffic to your website. To expand their reach, local businesses should also work on building up their presence on sites like Google Places, Yelp and local online directories, Brown said.
Even your online customer service tactics should be tailored to your specific business functions. While all companies should have a way for customers to reach them quickly and directly, self-service is a key component for Web-based businesses. This was the case for shipping application programming interface (API) EasyPost, whose founding team quickly learned that spending time fielding customer queries was inefficient for business growth.
"We started to grow, but found that our website wasn't 'self-service' enough," said Sawyer Bateman, EasyPost's product designer. "It was great to have customers, but we spent six to eight hours a day on support. We made a major push to improve documentation [of customer issues] and make sure customers could do everything they needed to do on the site."
By taking the time to write detailed blog posts and static page content addressing frequently asked questions and support requests, EasyPost was able to improve its customer service and free up its team to focus on further growth.
Finally, make sure your business is using the right specific tools to encourage online growth, especially as an e-commerce business. [For a side-by-side comparison of the best e-commerce software, visit our sister site Top Ten Reviews]
"The e-commerce platforms you use can differ depending on specific needs," Mason said. "Handmade or vintage items are great for the Etsy marketplace. Photographers or small retailers, on the other hand, would benefit more from enabling Shopify, Ecwid or PayPal. We know from watching millions of people get online that one-size-fits-all solutions actually don't exist. To truly differentiate and compete, you need to balance and experiment with best practices and be sure to be on a platform that can support that process."
User experience is also incredibly important for e-commerce businesses, so be sure to look for a solution that streamlines the shopping and check-out process.
"A strong user experience leads to less frustration and more engaged customers, which leads to greater online sales," said Max Friedman, founder of Hatchery, an online marketplace and subscription service for artisan cooking ingredients. "Customers [should be] able to easily navigate your website and find exactly what they're looking for with as little friction as possible. Limiting the number of clicks to reach checkout and making sure your contact information is clearly visible are two components that are crucial to online success."
No matter what kind of business you run, developing a strong, customized online presence doesn't have to be difficult or expensive. With the ever-growing number of off-the-shelf Web design tools and management services, you can implement your website and social media strategies without spending a lot of money.
"Web design is one of the cheapest things you can do today to make yourself look big and professional," Bateman said. "You can get a great design just by using the [DIY] resources, templates and platforms that are available today."
Most importantly, don't let yourself get bogged down by too much input from others about your online strategies.
"As a business owner, you hear opinions every day from your employees, customers and partners," Friedman said. "Take those recommendations that make sense and give them a try, but don't feel obligated to apply every tip to your business or website. You know your business better than anyone, so do what you feel is right for you, your company and, most importantly, your customers."
Originally published on Business News Daily