By Michael Alter
Internet-based tools have become so varied and easy to use that almost all firms can take advantage of them to build a professional presence. In this article, I will discuss how to establish your business presence using your website, e-mail, social media, blogs, videos, and search engine optimization (SEO).
Your online business presence starts with your website. Tools, such as calculators and tax due-date calendars, and news relevant to the customers you serve can be major reasons visitors consider your website a valuable resource. Also, adding hyperlinks to interesting articles, blogs, or state and federal tax sites can provide visitors access to some interesting reading.
E-mail is fast becoming the most common means of communication between businesses and customers. It is an efficient and easily accessible tool. Train staff to always ask customers and prospects for their e-mail addresses in order to build a database of contacts. This will allow for messages to be sent out at little cost to the company.
LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ are social networking sites that are constantly being updated to allow for more expansive and interconnected networks. Many of these sites may work as the place where your staff can comment and lend expert advice.
- LinkedIn offers "groups" for professionals in hundreds of categories, including niches such as estate planning, tax preparation, tax planning, etc. LinkedIn allows its members to recommend each other and follow LinkedIn company pages.
- Facebook offers "groups" for professionals in hundreds of categories, and users can "like" a business. Businesses can add their Twitter handle to their Facebook profile, which automatically feeds Twitter activities into one's Facebook account.
- Twitter is used to send out brief bits of information to followers and is typically used as a tool to follow trends and share thought leadership on a topic.
- Google+ is a new player in the social media space, and Google has begun tying it to Google search results, making it more important in the social media space.
Blogs and Videos
Blogs are an easy way to present thought leadership or commentary on items customers and prospects are interested in. A blog can be contained on your website or on an outside blog website. Starting a blog is easy; keeping a blog fresh requires ongoing commitment. Assigning one person to manage the blog – to be in charge of the blog and its content – helps ensure there is someone to nurture the blog beyond its launch.
Blogs are a place where staff or partners can offer 200-300 word contributions that keep customers and prospects informed and advised. Blogs can contain hyperlinks to breaking news or articles customers might find interesting.
Compare the most popular blogging tools here.
Videos are becoming increasingly popular as an alternative medium that creates variety for website visitors. Videos can be recorded using any device and uploaded to a free video publishing website, such as YouTube (which was recently purchased by Google). YouTube makes it easy to place a video on your website, in your own YouTube channel, or as an addition to social media initiatives.
Learn how to use YouTube for marketing your business here.
Promote your blog, YouTube channel, and social media initiatives on your website, in your e-mail signature line, in your social media, and in any collateral presented to customers and prospects.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Have you ever wondered why some websites appear at the top of the search list when you use a search engine like Google? The answer is that those websites have been deemed "most relevant" to whatever information you told the search engine to look for.
Ranking high in search engines requires taking care to ensure your website is set up in a way that the search engines can easily categorize or "index" content. Optimizing your website is the tactic of setting up your website to rank higher in search results.
Search engines examine and rank your website based on many variables, such as page title, headings on a page, the use of key words or key phrases, the relevance of hyperlinks on your website, and more. There are many free SEO tools available as well as professional SEO companies you can hire to help improve your website rankings.
Read about SEO for beginners here.
Contributing Content and Exhibiting Thought Leadership
Contributing content is a great way to showcase your expertise and thought leadership without spending money on advertising. Contributing a monthly or quarterly "payroll advice" or "tax tips" column to a website that serves your customers, such as local businesses, banks, or financial services, is a great way to stay in front of the minds of those you serve, or hope to serve.
Begin by writing a 200-300 word "advice" column and connect with businesses who serve your customers, offering your column as an ongoing contribution to their websites. If they are open to accepting your column, you are well on your way to using this method as a marketing tool.
Exhibiting thought leadership can also occur by staying on top of news, blogs, videos, and discussions on topics that are directly relevant to your expertise. Google offers "Google Alerts", a free tool that notifies you when relevant topics are surfacing on the Internet. When setting up Google e-mail alerts, use keywords relevant to your expertise and, if you choose, be specific to the geographic region or state you serve, such as "payroll tax + California" or "bookkeeping + California." After setting up a Google e-mail alert, you will receive an e-mail if any relevant content has been posted.
Learn how to set up Google e-mail alerts here.
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About the author:
Michael Alter, payroll expert with an MBA from Harvard Business School, is a nationally recognized spokesperson providing thought leadership and sensible advice to help accounting and payroll professionals build deeper more profitable relationships with clients. Alter, president of SurePayroll, writes the Trade Secrets column on INC.com and is frequently published in Bloomberg TV, Wall Street Journal, and Entrepreneur Magazine.