With 93 percent of Americans using the internet, it’s safe to say that having a strong online presence is critical for any service-based business that wants to grow. But what exactly is online presence? In this blog, we'll explore the definition of online presence and take a look at its key components.
Spiders, Webs, and Online Presence
Though you didn’t come here for a biology lesson, spiders and their webs are a great way to depict the power of online presence.
Before starting the metaphor, we’ll share the quick-and-dirty definition of online presence if that’s all you wanted to see.
Forge Marketing Group’s Definition of Online Presence: The extent, quality, and effectiveness to which a business gains visibility and interacts with its audience on the internet to achieve its objectives.
Now, back to the metaphor! Picture a spider that has built a web between two trees by a creek. Her web is:
In a location with a lot of bugs since it’s near water.
Suspended above ground where the bugs are flying.
Strong enough to catch and hold bugs.
Big enough to increase the odds of catching a bug.
Able to notify her through vibrations when prey has been caught.
Though kind of grim, this is a perfect depiction of what online presence looks like for a business.
The business is the spider, its prospects are the bugs, and its online presence is the web. Like a spider’s web, an online presence is:
Built in places where a lot of the business’s target audience is.
Strong enough to catch and hold the attention of its target audience.
Big enough to increase the odds of catching and holding the attention of its audience.
Able to notify the business when its prey (whoops, leads) have been caught.
What’s even cooler about this metaphor is the similarity between the business and the spider.
If the spider is able to build a bigger, stronger, stickier, and more responsive web and position it in a perfect location; then it’s going to catch an abundance of prey – leading to a healthier, happier, and LARGER spider.
Businesses and online presence work in the same way. A bigger, stronger, sticker, and more responsive online presence that is well-positioned will lead to a healthier, happier, and LARGER business since it’ll help the business catch an abundance of leads.
Conversely, a smaller, weaker, less-sticky, and less-responsive web built in a bad location can lead to a spider with stunted growth or worse – a dead or eaten spider. Again, businesses and online presence work in the same way.
So we’ve drawn out this definition of online presence to give you a better sense of what it is and how it works, but we haven’t taken a look at what it all entails. This will be discussed in the next section!
Components of Online Presence
What often overwhelms people as they try to establish a stronger online presence is the plethora of pieces involved and the countless tactics that could be used.
For the sake of time and simplicity, we’ve abbreviated the list to the larger components of online presence.
Because strategy isn’t one of the more obvious components of online presence such as websites and SEO, it’s often underrated and overlooked – which is why people can have a hard time building online presence.
A good strategy aligns the right set of actions with the objectives your business wants to accomplish through developing online presence. It also serves as a road map which helps prevent people from getting overwhelmed with all the options for strengthening online presence.
This is why Forge Marketing Group always starts with strategy when helping clients strengthen their online presence.
If strategy is the blueprint of your online presence, then an effective website is definitely the cornerstone.
For most service-based businesses, the website serves as the information and communications hub for customers, employees, and any other party who wants to learn more about the business.
Since the website is often one of the most meaningful touch points someone has with a business, it’s critical that it is able to make a good impression while serving its purpose. The purpose of a website is almost always one or more of the following:
Adding to their importance for online presence, websites:
Serve as the foundation for all SEO efforts;
Are necessary for running most types of online ads;
Generate user data that’s sent to analytics and ad platforms;
Provide information to visitors 24/7 (outside business hours); and
Can serve as a point of sale system.
Though websites are important when it comes to online presence, they aren’t the only digital point of contact between a business and its audience.
Social Media Pages
Though harnessing the power of social media is a difficult task for most businesses – especially those providing a service – it makes up a decent portion of online presence.
*Note: In this section, we are referring to organic or “free” social media rather than paid social media which will be discussed later in this blog.
Many businesses try using social media as a means to attract new customers, to reach a new audience, or to build brand awareness in the market. Though these are all valid uses of social media, the fundamental and arguably more important use of social media is to use it as a digital footprint to establish trust.
Potential customers and employees often explore a business’s social media page as they evaluate it for credibility. This means at very least, a business should post content that earns trust from its audience and answers questions they might have.
If you’ve ever looked into local SEO, then you’ve heard about business listings. They’re online profiles containing details about a business that customers want to see such as name, address, phone number, services, and reviews.
Listings help businesses and organizations gain visibility in local searches and earn credibility with search engines and consumers. Business listings are often placed in search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo as well as in business directories such as Nextdoor, Yelp, and the Better Business Bureau.
*Note: Many search engines and directories automatically create listings for businesses, so businesses must claim the listings by verifying ownership, then update them with the correct information.
Business listings are an important part of a business’s online presence because they are often what appear first in search results when a consumer searches for a “service near them” or specifically for a business.
It’s best practice for a business to claim all the business listings that exist under their name and to update them with current contact information, information about their services, relevant photos, and any other information that will help build credibility.
Outbound Advertising Tactics
The term outbound advertising refers to any promotional effort where a business initiates direct contact with its target audience through some channel of communication. In a way, outbound advertisements hit audiences when they are not actively seeking out the business or its content.
The role of outbound advertising is to get the business, its messaging, and its content in front of the right people in order to achieve an objective – be it to increase brand awareness, boost sales, generate leads, recruit employees, etc.
The following is a list of common outbound advertising tactics that contribute to online presence:
Paid Social Media Ads
Unlike organic social media posts, paid social media ads can be adjusted to reach specific audiences at a given time. When a business pays a social media platform to run an ad, the post doesn’t have to go viral in order for it to reach hundreds of thousands to millions of people.
These ads are similar to social media ads in that businesses can pay for certain platforms to reach specific audiences, but they appear in different locations than paid social media ads. Display ads appear on websites, blogs, articles as pop-ups and banners. They can also appear before YouTube videos.
Whether it’s an email blast, a scheduled newsletter, or an automated drip campaign, email marketing is an effective and high-return outbound advertising tactic that should be included when establishing a strong online presence.
SMS (Text) Marketing
Text message marketing gets an honorable mention since it’s not technically online. Much like email marketing, SMS marketing has the potential of generating high returns or high value when added to a business’s online presence tool kit.
Inbound Advertising Tactics
Unlike outbound advertising, inbound advertising attracts consumers to a business (often to its website) through offering valuable and engaging content that is tailored to a specific target audience or around a specific point of interest.
Inbound advertising is more effective at building trust among a business’s target audience because the content used to attract them often answers a question, solves a problem, or fills a need – positioning the business as an expert.
The experience also seems more natural and less “salesy” to the consumer since it feels like they sought out the content.
The following is a list of common inbound advertising tactics that contribute to online presence:
Blogs and Articles
Written content in the form of blogs or articles is the key building block of inbound advertising. Blogs and articles can be written to entertain, to answer questions, to solve problems, or to fill some other need. They can also house other content in the form of graphics, videos, audio files, and hyperlinks.
Creating and publishing videos on YouTube can have a massive impact on a business’s online presence. This is because the videos can gain traction within the YouTube search engine while also appearing in Google searches. It’s important to note that it takes a great deal of resources and creative effort to produce YouTube videos that are likely to gain traction.
Producing podcasts is like creating YouTube videos in the sense that it can be a massive undertaking to do it well enough to attract a desirable amount of engagement and traffic from a target audience. For most service-based businesses, it’s difficult to find an angle that can keep an audience's attention for hundreds of episodes – especially if they’re B2C. Businesses that are B2B might have an easier time establishing an angle for their podcast, but they still run the risk of creating content that isn’t appealing to their target audience.
Paid Search Ads
If you’ve ever Googled a question or a service, then you’ve probably seen the results at the very top of the page with a “sponsor” label. Those are paid search ads. Paid search allows businesses to pay search engines like Google and Bing in order to appear at the top of the search results for searches that are relevant to what they want to promote.
Though we touched on content a lot in the last section, it deserves its own section. Content is the currency of online presence. You give it to web users in exchange for their attention and buy-in.
Content comes in all shapes and sizes including blogs, articles, videos, photos, graphics, infographics, audio clips, ebooks, social media posts, and more.
The more quality content a business has on the web, the better its online presence is going to be. It should be noted that the keyword in that sentence is QUALITY.
Though more is better, a business shouldn’t sacrifice quality for quantity because the end user of the content (potential customers or employees) will judge the quality and credibility of the business based on the content it produces.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
SEO is the practice of adjusting a website and its content to improve its visibility and ranking on search engine results pages. It aims to increase organic (non-paid) traffic to the website by making it more relevant and authoritative in the eyes of search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo. A strong SEO strategy enhances the online presence of a website, making it easier for users to find and increasing the chances of attracting potential customers or readers.
Messaging and Branding
Believe it or not, what and how a business communicates as well as what consumers perceive a business to be are part of its online presence. A business has a messaging style and brand regardless of whether it intentionally works to refine it. However, polished and consistent messaging and branding efforts make for a much stronger and effective online presence.
Get Started on Building Your Online Presence
If you’ve scrolled down this far, then you must be pretty serious about establishing a strong online presence for your business. If that’s the case, then it’s time you take a look at some resources that can help you get started: