We get inquiries all the time from small local businesses about how to establish an online presence. Even in 2018 there are plenty of businesses out there that have neither an adequate website nor any other quality asset online. We want to offer up a few necessary steps (and a few recommended ones) that a local business must take to establish the basics of an online presence. Even if you think your online presence is perfect, you might find some valuable tips below.

Find a Good, Sensible Domain.

First up is the website. A website cannot exist without a domain, or Internet address, such as example.com. When you are choosing a domain name, you typically want one that is relatively short, easy to spell, and that is either related to your business activity or is simply memorable. What do we mean? If you are a florist, you would not want your domain to be shoes.com or wesellthebestflowerseverknowntoman.com. But something like MainStreetFlowers.com might work, especially if your store is located on Main Street. It should fit comfortably on a business card and your email address should also be from that domain.

You also have to pay attention to existing domains. You doubtfully want your domain to be confused with that of someone else, especially if that someone else is a competitor. Do you absolutely need a dotcom (.com) domain? We think not, and there are a lot of top-level domains (TLDs) out there. More all the time. The bottom line is that you need to be somewhat strategic about your choice of a domain name because it’s not something you’re going to want to change, possibly ever. Registering a basic domain name costs around $15 a year. Speciality TLDs cost more.

Create a Good, Basic Website.

Once you have a domain you can go about creating a website. And you really do need a website. At this juncture, with limited exception, you may have a hard time being regarded as a real business absent a website. Just about everybody across every demographic turns to the web to find out information about the businesses that they frequent or are contemplating using.

You need do nothing fancy to start!. A basic website may only be a single page. But it is critical that your website, no matter the size, contain some basic information about the enterprise. It absolutely must provide your contact information including business name, personnel (if relevent), phone number, email address, and physical (or at least mailing) address. You also need to describe the services you provide, for two reasons. The obvious reason is you want potential customers to know what you do. But also, how will search engines know what you do if there’s no indication of that on the website? And you want to show up in search results, right?

Deploy these Website Essentials.

There are a couple of other musts. The website must be mobile-friendly, meaning it looks great on phones and tablets (and not just desktops). The website also must be secure, meaning its address should start with HTTPS. HTTPS provides a secure browsing environment to the visitor and search engines and browsers like Chrome now disfavor plain HTTP sites. The website must be easy to navigate and it must be reasonably fast. Visitors to a website want to find the information they are looking for right away, often on their phone. If your website does not immediately provide the solution the visitor is looking for, you will lose the visitor.

Website development costs vary greatly. Hosting costs are all over the map. We use WordPress to build websites and provide managed, secure WordPress hosting services, where we keep site software up to date (a must), back up the site daily (a must), and monitor performance and security (also musts). Our service costs less than $25 per month. There are other service providers out there to be sure, or you could do this yourself, but it must get done.

In terms of website shoulds, you should link your site to the free Google search console, and free Google Analytics services. The only cost is the time needed to set them up.

Establish a Local Online Presence.

After you get your website set up, you need to establish a few other online assets. The first one is a free Google My Business account. The information contained in that account is what populates local business information in Google searches. It is imperative that just like your website, your Google My Business account accurately contains your basic business information. It is essential as well that your name, address, phone number and email address are consistent (and by consistent we mean precisely identical) across all online assets.

We’d suggest that another must is a Facebook business page. Because Facebook is s place where a lof of people spend a lot of time online, it’s become a mission critical online business directory. Even if you don’t intend to use it much, just having the page is useful to getting found online, as Facebook is a “walled” community. Note that there may already be a listing there for you even if you did not create it. Shoulds? Placement on Yelp, Bing and Apple Maps. Remember, a consistent NAPE (name, address, phone, email) across all of them. You can use a service like Moz Local to handily shore up your local business “citations”. Moz Local costs a bit more than $100 per year to stay current. The other accounts are free to create but it does take a bit of time and effort to create them.

Then What?

So will the calls start rolling in after you do this? Not yet. These are the starting blocks for a digital presence. At least with these items in place people will have a chance of finding you online. You’ll want to start growing that presence — expanding website content, participating socially, considering online advertising — over time to ensure that people will find you online and, when they do, will become your customer.

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