How to Create an Online Presence

Posted 05/19/2016

How to Create an Online Presence by Noah Winkles

Painting contractors operate in the real world, with brick-and-mortar offices and services that are performed in physical locations. However, this doesn’t mean that the online world is irrelevant. In fact, all contractors should have an online presence to help with their marketing, customer service, and sales.
Almost gone are the days of the yellow pages - today, many customers are going online to find the products or services they need.  If they want to get or share recommendations, they’ll turn to social media or online review sites. If they want to learn more about your company, they’ll check your website and online portfolio. And if they want to contact you with a question or comment, they will reach out to you via social media, email, or a ‘contact us’ page.

Having an online presence boils down to the old notion that you need to ‘be where your customers are.’ 85 percent of consumers search for local businesses online – without a presence, how do you expect them to find you? Further, a web presence can sometimes give you a competitive advantage. From the reference listed above, we also know that approximately 63 percent of small businesses don’t have a website and another 25 percent aren’t showing up in search. If you can establish yourself online, you can help new customers find you and beat out competitors who haven’t set their business up online yet.
If you aren’t currently online (or are but you know your presence could use a boost) you are probably wondering where to start. In general, we can group your different possible approaches into ‘organic’ or ‘paid.’ The following guide will explore these concepts and the strategies you can follow to build a solid web presence. 

ESTABLISHING AN ORGANIC ONLINE PRESENCE
An organic online presence has all to do with SEO, which stands for search engine optimization. It basically boils down to the things you can do on your own to help your company show up in search engine results. These organic online marketing measures can take time to build, but if you put in the effort you can develop a solid presence on the web. Here are a few avenues to consider. 

Website
The most basic part of establishing your online presence is to create a business website where searchers can learn more about your company. In creating your website, make sure to include all the pieces of information you would want if you were looking up a company. At a minimum, this means including you address, phone number, business logo, and a place where you can be contacted online (email or contact form). You can improve upon your website by including pages that describe your services, your service area, and a gallery for project pictures. 

Content Marketing
Content marketing refers to the process of creating and distributing content about your business, which can be indexed by Google and called up when someone performs a related search. Content can include videos, webinars, blog posts and even images.

One popular method is using a business blog. You’ve already created a website, so this is an extension where you can post about tips, information, projects, company updates, and more. With a blog, you’ll typically do better when you create content for readers and not just to promote your business. Helpful articles, how-tos and expert advice are the sort of content that web searchers will be looking for. In addition, remember that your content can also take non-written form, so project pictures or company videos are also forms of content which you can market online.

We’ve covered the ‘content’ part – now to the ‘marketing’ part. This is where you distribute that content, for example by sharing it on social media.The most important aspect of content marketing is to be consistent. Make a plan for creating and distributing your content, and make sure you stick to the schedule.  

Social Media
Another way to get found organically online is to develop your social media presence. Given time, your social media pages will show up in searches for your business, which allows potential customers another way to connect with you. Here are some general tips to get started.·        
Decide what the best platforms are for your business. Just like content marketing, you need to engage in social media marketing consistently, and you can’t possibly keep up if you join every site out there. Facebook and Twitter are always good bets, given their popularity. Painters may also consider more visual platforms such as Pinterest, Instagram and YouTube. Another excellent choice is Houzz, a website that connects homeowners with home service providers and features social, review and search capabilities.
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Whichever platforms you choose, make sure to post consistently to keep your pages active and engaging for fans. Post at least once per week or even better, once per day. You can simplify your social postings by using a scheduling tool like Hootsuite or Buffer.
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Offer value to your fans. It can be tempting to use your page to promote and market your business all the time, but this ‘me, me, me’ approach will fail. You can and should include posts about your company, project pictures and links to your blog posts, but mix that up with a variety of content from other sources that will interest your audience. Experts say to use an ’80/20 rule’ where only 20 percent of your content is about your own business.
 

Review Sites
A final part of a good organic marketing strategy is to take control of your company’s presence on review sites. Arguably the most important step would be adding your business to Google My Business (or claiming it if it already exists). This will ensure that Google has correct information about your business (including correct information for Google Maps). Other benefits include the ability to respond to customer reviews, share news and updates, and discover how customers are finding your company.

Other review sites include Houzz (as listed above), Yelp, Angie’s List and many others. Reviews are particularly important considering that 72% of customers trust online reviews just as much as personal recommendations. Although you can’t control what people are posting, you can help the reputation of your business by thoughtfully responding to reviews (good and bad) and trying to solve the problems that led to negative reviews. 

PAID ADVERTISING TO BOOST YOUR ONLINE PRESENCE
Organic methods use a do-it-yourself approach where you submit your own content or contribute to existing websites. These methods are very effective but they can also take time. A more immediate solution is to pay for advertisements. For a price, you can put your business directly in front of searching customers.
Online advertising is called PPC, or Pay-Per-Click. Although there are advertising options for all search engines, the most popular is Google Adwords, which allows you to create PPC ads on the world’s most popular search engine.  

Understanding PPC
Before we move into the ‘how’ part of PPC advertising, let’s talk about it in general to get an overall understanding. As an internet searcher yourself, you likely perform hundreds of searches per year (or more). Here is a little more insight into how searches are displayed to you.

When a customer performs a search you get a series of listings. The ‘main’ listings down the page are from organic efforts, like those we mentioned above. However, look closely and you will also notice several entries that are marked by the word AD in orange. These occupy the first three slots of the search results and also run down the left side of the page.
The businesses and websites you see tagged with the AD mark have paid to have themselves displayed for that exact word or phrase you just typed into the search box. These are PPC ads and the company will pay Google every time someone clicks on their link. 

How PPC Is Set Up
If you want to go about setting up PPC ads yourself, you can use the Google AdWords platform. It’s relatively simple to use (although the many technical aspects mean that you can usually get better results if a trained professional helps set up and run your campaigns).·        
First you want to research what keywords you will bid on. You can use the Keyword Planner tool to help generate keyword ideas. Choose keywords that your customers may search to find a business like yours – but be wary that the most popular keywords will cost more. Think about the PPC as being a price for each lead your business gets. The rate at which these leads are converted into customers – and how much money you will make from that customer – will help you determine a reasonable PPC rate and choose keywords accordingly.
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Create your ad. The AdWords platform will walk you through this, but it involves typing out your company name, the URL, and a little bit of text to grab a searcher’s attention.
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Set a daily budget. Remember, you will have to pay Google each time someone clicks on your ad when it is displayed for them. Your daily budget will limit how many clicks you can get in a day, depending on what the Pay-Per-Click price is that is associated with your chosen keyword.
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Your ad is now set – just wait for Google to display it in related searches and for new leads to click to discover your business.
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A final and important step – don’t forget to analyze your results and test other options. You can test how well you are converting leads into customers by using analytics systems such as Google Analytics and CallRail. Over time, you can alter your campaigns and test to see how other keywords perform as well.
To establish a solid online presence, it will take time and money, just like any other form of marketing you do locally. You can try out the techniques we’ve mentioned above on your own but if you need help you can talk to marketing and advertising companies who understand the ins and outs of the process. The potential rewards are well worth your efforts though. Painting companies who build a professional online presence can hold a significant advantage over their competitors while also increasing their leads, customers and sales.

Noah Winkles is the Vice President of New Life Painting, a residential and commercial painting company that has been proudly serving California’s Central Coast since 1977.