These days, you’ll be hard-pressed to find an effective business plan that isn’t levering the power of the web. Even those that don’t directly involve online business need a presence to increase awareness, provide their target market with information, and project a professional image/brand. With that in mind, I’d like to go through the process of making sure you start off on the right foot.
Taking the time to set up your online presence properly will save a lot of time and headache moving forward. Often new businesses will toss up a mediocre website thrown together quickly, which can not only hurt user perception, but will need to be thrown out and replaced before too long. So let’s go through how to build a fundamentally sound web presence.
We’re working with a start-up e-commerce site, Done Dorming, to launch a new website focusing on college housing. It’s not even live yet, so it’s perfect for stepping you through how we’re helping them get ready to grow.
# 1. Your website
If you’re starting an e-commerce business, the effectiveness of your website is paramount. You’ve probably thought a lot about this already. But if you’re more focused on a product, innovation, service, or idea, that will typically come first. Then you’ve got to figure out how to present it online.
What’s most important is that your website properly addresses not only what your business does, but the emotional connection you want your business or product to have with customers as well. Keep it clean and organized, feature what you do, and have a presentation in line with how you want customers to view your company.
Done Dorming wanted to keep things as simple as possible. They wanted to minimize the difficulty and amount of time it takes to get users from their home page to the information they really wanted. In general, this is a good plan for any business. Keep all your information within a couple clicks.
# 2. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
This is a topic that is frequently skipped by new websites. Don’t skip it. You need to understand the basics of structuring and developing a website for search engines, or you need to make sure that your website developer has a lot of experience in it.
A lot of web developers don’t. They might know the basics, but ask them for an
Your startup might not be able to hire an
Know roughly what keywords you’re going to target. You can use Google’s Keyword Tool for some keyword exploration, but come up with a list of relevant keywords you’d ultimately like your website to be able to rank for.
For Done Dorming, we started with some basic search ideas: college housing, off campus housing, university housing, and college apartments. Then we expanded on our research and found student housing, and that users searching for housing typically include the college they are going to in the search (cornell off campus housing) rather than the area (Ithaca off campus housing). That’s valuable when it comes to structuring the website.
Tell your developer how you would like your website structured. The example below is more relevant if they’re creating a database and displaying things for a larger number of products or locations. Take a look at how Zillow and Apartment Finder are doing things, compared to the other site we found (that is unsurprisingly ranked lower):
Here’s are good URL structures:
Here’s a bad URL structure:
Notice how Zillow and AF have the keywords in an easy structure to interpret? Plus, their landing pages are catered directly to those cities they’re targeted (more on this later). The other website we have is using numbers to represent states (NY=27) and cities (Rochester=1373). This is not the way to structure your website.
Even if you aren’t using a big database and only have 5 pages or so, use canonical URL’s that are closely related to the content on that page.
So when we approached this situation for Done Dorming, we knew we didn’t want to use page numbers or extraneous URL’s when developing pages for each city. While the content on each page is going to be dynamic, we wanted to target the individual universities (thanks to the keyword research above). Since some our abbreviated more commonly and some aren’t, we decided to cover our bases.
Or, more generally:
DoneForming.com/%college abbreviation%-%full college name%
Basic Website Tags
There are a few important tags on your website that you want to be aware of as a new business/website owner. Nothing too complicated, but important. Here they are:
a) Title Tags
Up to 68 characters (or so), these typically appear on Google Results pages. Here’s a lot more information on title tags if you’re interested. Make sure to include your business name on there, as well as the major product/services you provide. If you’re operating in a specific geographic region, we recommend including that as well.
Here’s a couple examples for a local real estate company:
Realtor Rochester NY | Buy or Sell Homes and Apartments | MyCompany Realty
MyCompany | Rochester NY Realtor | Buy, Sell, or Rent Homes & Apartments
For Done Dorming, we kept things close to our core group of keywords. The home page will likely try to rank for the more general terms. Since one of our goals is to really develop the website as a brand, we started with the domain name.
Done Dorming | Off Campus College Housing – Rent Student Apartments
b) H1 Tags
Some development default to use H2’s or just regular text for page headers (the name of your page, or the biggest text on the page). Make sure you’re using H1’s, and that the page header uses keywords relevant to the text on the page. H1’s carry more weight and send more relevance signals to Google, so make sure you’re using them.
c) ALT Tags
Google hasn’t evolved quite far enough to be able to “read” images. Since knowing what’s on a page is a big part of how search engines determine relevance, you need to tell them what your images represent via ALT tags (plus if the image fails to load, this will be displayed instead). Don’t overthink them – just make sure to use ALT tags and describe the image in a few words.
This is pretty standard these days, but make sure your navigation is text, not an image (typically a picture of text). Internal linking is important not only for indexing your site, but that link sends relevancy factors to other pages based on what that text is. If it’s an image, there isn’t any text there (if you do link images, make sure to give them “titles” and “ALT’s”.
Keyword stuffing is a no-no. Don’t worry about writing content with tons of keywords in it. Make the text very natural, and write it for your visitors. Just keep in mind that Google does read the content and assign relevancy based on it, so it’s not a bad idea to vary the text you’re using throughout your website copy as long as it doesn’t take away from the user experience.
For Done Dorming, we used off campus and student interchangeably, and housing and apartments interchangeably. It reads perfectly fine throughout the content, while still hitting a variety of combinations of keywords that we’d like to end up ranking for.
Will you be blogging or producing content on a regular basis? If so, come up with a plan. Have a goal to post new resources one every X days/weeks, and try to keep it consistent. A blog that isn’t updated frequently reflects poorly.
# 3. Social Media
Social media is the big “must” these days for businesses. Everyone starting a website, or who already have a website developed, asks if they need to be on Facebook or Twitter. The answer here isn’t always yes.
Managing social media takes time and resources. It isn’t a passive hobby for your business that you do once in a while. If you decide to develop social presences, the community expects you to stay up-to-date with them. No “setting it and forgetting it.”
Done Dorming’s marketing is going to be very heavy in the social sphere, due mostly to the target market. It just makes sense for them. So they have a plan on what kind of updates they’re going to make, the tone, and how they’re going to respond to comments and talk with the community to help grow their business.
If your marketing plan isn’t built predominantly around social, you’re in that gray area of “should I or shouldn’t I.” If you decide to, make sure you can commit a certain amount of time to checking and updating your presences. Will you be providing content? Posting content on your website to share? Share industry news and posts? How will you deal with complaints?
What it comes down to this: if you don’t have the time to initiate and participate in social conversations, you probably shouldn’t focus on developing social presences.
# 4. PR
If it’s one thing people love, it’s a little entrepreneurial spirit. When you’re starting a new business or launching a new website to support a service, there are some great opportunities to get some free or inexpensive PR.
With some budget, you can do a larger release on PR Newswire or PRWeb, but a lot of times it’s easier just to submit it to local news sources and free places online. We typically recommend using a service since it’s much faster and less headache, but that’s all based on your resources.
We have a press release scheduled for Done Dorming via Vocus (a PRWeb company) and will manually distribute it to college institutions.
# 5. Web Analytics
Tracking your website is very important when it comes to learning how your visitors are interacting, where they’re coming from, and how to measure the success of your campaigns. Even if you don’t use the data a lot up front, it only takes a couple minutes to install Google Analytics, and it’ll be great when you need it.
Plus, if you ever work with digital marketing professionals, they’ll be very grateful for you being proactive on this front so they can come up with much better insights.
It can be difficult to weigh the costs of doing everything you wish you could do and the things you need to do when taking your business online. This guide is meant to give you those “need to do” things that will help you do a little bit more than the minimum to get your business off on the right foot. There’s a lot more you can do if you’re launching a larger online campaign, but these tips will get you started.
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