Photo courtesy of iStockPhoto/Dosrayitas
Having a website used to be enough. But the rise of social media platforms and multiple online review websites has redefined what it means to have an Internet presence.
Today’s consumers are online more than ever before, and their purchasing habits — even for major purchases like travel and lodging — have adjusted accordingly. From desktop computers and laptops to mobile devices and tablets, the traditional buying cycle has been replaced with customers expecting to engage directly with brands and businesses in a multitude of places — places they choose.
“It’s about being available wherever your customers are,” said Roger Laurendeau, CEO of The Web Guys, a web design and Internet marketing agency in Carmel, Ind. “Sure you have a website, but you may just have missed out on acquiring a customer because they found a negative review on a Yelp listing you didn’t know you had, or because they looked for you on Facebook or Google and couldn’t find you.”
Creating and managing a thorough Internet presence in our digital age is critical for every business and should include the following components:
- A quality website
- A strong search marketing strategy
- Social media management
- Good reviews and online reputation management
A GREAT FIRST IMPRESSION — YOUR WEBSITE
It all starts with a professionally designed and functional website. In 2009, fewer than half of small businesses had a website. Five years later, the lack of a website is a near death wish to any business.
Far cheaper than traditional print advertising, a quality website delivers a big bang for its small buck: It allows a business the convenience and flexibility of meeting its customers where they want, when they want.
In recent years, the conversation has shifted from traditional desktop computers to building websites that also work well on smaller screens such as smartphones and tablets. A recent JiWire study showed that 52% of travelers booking online used a mobile device to do so.
“To have a website is one thing,” said Laurendeau, “but the importance of having a website that is mobile friendly has increased dramatically.”
A mobile website differs slightly from a desktop website in that the text, buttons, pictures and graphics are larger and rearranged on the screen to allow for simplified navigation on a smaller screen.
Last year, CNET reported that global mobile traffic now accounts for more than 15% of all Internet traffic worldwide, with experts forecasting that mobile traffic will outpace traffic from desktop computers by late 2014.
Having a mobile-friendly website ensures a quality user experience. For customers of independent car rental companies, this means they can easily find rates, fleet options, contact information and other details.
“A website that isn’t mobile friendly is no longer acceptable,” said Laurendeau. “Consumers will get quickly frustrated and hit the back button to find a company that cares about their users’ experience.”
HARNESSING SEARCH TRAFFIC — SEARCH ENGINES
The principles of search engine optimization are based on the understanding of how search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo crawl the Web.
In fact, more than 200 factors determine a website’s relevancy in regard to user input. There are many reasons to pay attention to your website’s placements on the search engines for common keyword search phrases.
“Having a website means little if no one can find it,” said Laurendeau. “When you control one of the top three spots, customers searching for a service you offer, like van rentals, will see your site as relevant to their need, and they will make their way to your website from there.”
On-page factors, such as keyword count, metadata and site speed are still important, but off-page factors — such as brand mentions, social signals and syndicated reviews — have become crucial in defining a website’s success.
Unfortunately, the benefits of SEO are rarely immediate. “SEO is a process; it is not an event,” Laurendeau said. “It takes time for the search engines to fully index an optimized website, and they even give preference to older websites.”
Shane Tyson, owner of Courtesy Car Rental and Sales in Newport, Minn., noted his SEO efforts took time but made a substantial difference. “Once everything kicked in, we experienced a 300 to 500% revenue increase,” he said.