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Ten Ways to Attract New Customers to Your Online Small Business

Attracting customers to your online business involves a sophisticated e-commerce marketing plan that protects your online reputation and brand while attracting customers you want. An online business must be easily findable through online search engines, while also exploiting social media.

Become findable online

More often than not, people form first impressions by what they learn about you online, which is why you need to commit to becoming findable online and to developing search results that consistently lead to accurate, trustworthy information about you and your business.

Improve your online presence

Start by evaluating the current state of your online presence, and then decide what changes you want to achieve.

  • If web searches don’t deliver results for your business — whether people are searching for your business in particular or for businesses of your type in your market area in general — set a goal to develop an online presence so you appear prominently in future search results.

  • If your business has a strong online presence but search results lead to outdated, irrelevant, or inaccurate information, set a goal to boost credibility by creating a website and online profiles that you control.

  • If you have a good online presence with credible results, set a goal to deepen relationships with those in your target audience by increasing online participation and interaction.

No matter what goal you’re reaching for, don’t make sales your primary aim online. Selling repels people rather than attracts them to your business, especially on social media sites.

Create a single domain name and social identity

Use a single business name whenever possible. But if others have already claimed your business name as a domain name or on social networks, or if your name is too long to work as a social network name (for example, Twitter limits names to 15 characters), you need a strategy. If you can’t use the same name everywhere, take these steps:

  1. Decide on no more than two names under which you’ll present your business.

    Include the name under which your business was established and marketed and a second name you can use when your long-standing name isn’t available or appropriate, because it’s either too long or too difficult to spell.

  2. Claim one name or the other as your domain name and across all social media channels you may ever want to use.

  3. Develop a strategy that links your names together.

    Use your long-standing name as a prominent keyword in all descriptions for your online name, and use your online name as a prominent keyword in all descriptions for your long-standing name.

Perfect your online introduction

Online, you have about 20 words (160 characters on Twitter) to introduce your business and make others want to learn more. Follow this advice for getting the most from your brief introduction:

  • Pack your introduction with keywords that people searching for businesses or products like yours are apt to use.

  • Tell what your business does and for whom, along with what makes it trustworthy, distinct, and likable.

  • Deliver a sense of the kind of information people can count on you to deliver, as well as the tone — whether humorous, serious, controversial, authoritative, whatever — your messages will convey.

  • If you’re the primary player in your business, help people locate you by your personal or business name by incorporating both into your description.

  • Introduce yourself consistently across online channels so people on any site get a similar sense of your business and its brand image even though the length, tone, and wording of your introduction will vary to fit the requirements of each online channel.

Stake an online home base

To be credible online, you need a site you control and can update, that’s findable by a search for your business name. Your own website, with a domain name that includes your business name, is the gold standard for online home bases. Your own blog is a good alternative as are business pages on Facebook and Google+.

Build an online media center

Creating an online media center can help you increase your media coverage, establish your business as a leader in its market area or industry, and serve as a valuable resource for opinions, presentations, and advice.

Include easily accessible, high-quality, reproducible information, photos, and videos that present your business, your owners and business principles, recent media appearances and coverage, contact information including social media links, and an invitation welcoming requests for interviews, presentations, and guest editorials or posts.

Get active across social media

Right now, if you haven’t already done so, claim your name on every social network you may ever want to use, even if you don’t plan to use the network quite yet. Sites like Check Usernames, KnowEm, and NameChk allow you to see whether user names are available across social media networks. If the one you want isn’t taken, grab it.

Then figure out which networks your customers use and make those sites your starting points, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google+. For retailers, Pinterest is essential, as is foursquare, Yelp and TripAdvisor,

Develop a content-sharing program

Businesses that pull people to their online pages do so with useful, relevant, consistently presented information not sales spiels. Commit to a content-sharing or posting schedule that ensures that you’re consistently visible online, with perhaps a couple of blog posts a week, a couple of Twitter posts a day, and a Facebook entry every couple of days. Involve your staff to help you share the burden — and the enthusiasm.

Monitor your online reputation

You must be tuned in to what’s being said online so you can thank people for good words, or respond to concerns, criticisms, or inaccurate comments, should they arise. Social networks make monitoring easy by offering you the option of requesting alerts whenever your user name is mentioned. Opt in.

Also set up requests for free online-mention alerts through sites like Google Alerts, Bing Alerts (going through your Windows Live ID account), and Social Mention, directing responses to a single RSS aggregator like Google Reader so you can open that one resource and see alerts for all your mentions in one place.

Get and stay active online

Post content others want to see. Repost and share content you see and want to pass on to your social media audience. Post polls and questionnaires to generate involvement and to get opinions.

Above all else, interact. Follow people you find interesting and whose content you find useful. Follow people who follow you. Subscribe to blogs in your business and interest areas. Comment on page and blog posts. Comment on comments people post on your pages. Join groups. Ask and answer questions. Add your expertise to online conversations.

Become a resource. Become a thought leader. Become known and well-regarded in your business community and within your target audience. Watch your online presence, your search results, and your business success expand as a result.

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