Make Your Brand E-vailable

Can customers find your business on the Web? How reputable is your online brand? Here’s how to get noticed in the sea of 200 million websites.

A study published by Advertising Age shows that 97 percent of consumers use the Internet to research products and services in their local area, and 77 percent of businesspeople search online before meeting someone face to face.

Without question, impressions are made and reputations are etched online, and that’s where customers expect to find you and your business.

Build an online presence in 15 steps

While few business leaders doubt the need for online presence, most wrestle with which steps to take and how much time to invest.

Recently, I presented a Business on Main webinar, “Become a Brand Magnet: How to Pull Your Business Out of the Online Abyss,” outlining what key steps to follow. If you can, take an hour to watch the presentation and then use this article as a checklist.

9 steps to take — just once

1. Set online branding goals. Search the Web for your brand name. If your business is practically invisible, set a goal to generate awareness. If results are outdated or inconsistent, set a goal to build current links that enhance credibility. If results are strong and accurate, set a goal to increase online interaction with your target audience, realizing that interaction leads to preference for your business and its offerings.

2. Devise a plan for how you’ll present your brand name to make it findable across all online channels. If possible, use your domain name as your name on all sites, unless it’s too long or otherwise unavailable. If that’s the case, develop a second presentation of your name and then link the two by using one name in site titles and the other in site descriptions, so they reinforce each other.

3. Define your brand statement in 10 to 20 words, which is the space available on most sites, telling what your business does, its target market and the promise you make to consumers. Also establish the message and tone you’ll consistently project.

4. Establish your online home base, whether it’s your own website, your own blog or a Facebook business page.

5. Position your business as a leader and authority by creating a Web page where reporters and others can access business and leadership bios, professional photos and topics on which your business can provide expertise.

6. Claim your name on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, as well as on geosocial, media-sharing, and review and rating sites. Sites like let you test your name’s availability across a full array of channels.

7. Devise a content-development strategy, including formats and processes for producing material that advances your brand look and message while also communicating information that’s useful, interesting and sharable — which is essential to attracting others to your brand online.

8. Monitor your brand’s online presence by setting up alerts through search engines, and, with all results forwarded to an RSS aggregator like Bing or Google Reader so you can see them all in one place.

9. Build your online following by issuing “join us” invitations throughout your business, in marketing communications, on your website and via e-mail.

3 steps to take, once a month

1. Create one to three pieces of useful, helpful content that you can post and others can repost online.

2. Broaden your online presence by starting and joining groups, asking and answering questions, posting comments and reaching out to generate publicity for your brand.

3. Update your profiles to keep online information about your business current and interesting.

2 steps to take, once a week

1. Search for news about your industry, seeking opportunities to add comments and share findings within your network.

2. Post and repost content developed by your business, both to interact with your network and to provide useful information others can share.

30 minutes to invest, once a day

1. Scan your RSS feed and then retweet, repost, reply and thank others for mentions.

2. Scan sites and pages you follow, looking for content to share within your network.

3. Interact by “liking” pages, people, groups and posts; posting updates; and above all else, reaching out with thanks, congratulations and helpful comments.

That’s it, except do remember these few final precautions: Don’t ignore hard questions on review sites or social networks. Don’t delete complaints or concerns — and don’t participate online simply to sell products or name-drop your URL. Instead, keep your communications friendly, helpful and useful — and awareness, credibility and sales will follow.

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