As a business owner, you know your company, services, and/or products better than anyone, and explaining the benefits of what you have to offer is quite possibly part of your day to day routine. But when it comes to large-scale promotion, is it the best use of your time and talents to be your own marketing department?
In the early days of owning or running a small business, when you’re still working to establish your reputation or clientele and turn a real profit, the easy answer is yes. For many new businesses, a marketing budget is simply not realistic. But as the company grows, and more resources follow, how do you determine which are the best services to outsource, and which you should keep in-house?
Marketing opportunities come in many forms, so we’ll narrow our focus to the area where many CEOs and CFOs devote the largest portion of their budget – digital marketing. This, too, can mean anything from email campaigns and social media posting to ads on Google and YouTube. Before exploring these options, however, businesses generally establish their online presence through a website – a digital home or “portal” for posting information and interacting with customers which your business controls.
No question, website creation has become more accessible and user-friendly in recent years, making it possible for organizations to create and maintain their own website with little or no assistance from a professional. There are limitations, though, to many of these website builders. They often include only basic features and layout options. If you need functions like membership management, or the ability to accept payments or chat with customers, you’ll likely need to pay for these added features, and incorporating them may or may not come with support or instructions from the software developer.
“Do-it-yourself” website creation tools may limit your ability to control factors like the names of pages, which can influence how often your website appears in search results. This process of strategically organizing and labeling (or coding) information on your website in order to appear more frequently in search results is known as search engine optimization, or SEO. When done correctly, SEO helps your website receive more visitors, and also makes your site easier for visitors to use by making its content and organization clear.
For example, pages with a string of numbers or letters, like “www.yourcompany.456qrst”, will be more difficult for search engines (and real users) to recognize, compared to a page like “www.yourcompany.new-products.” Customizing these elements will also result in a more professional appearance overall.
Once the site is built and published online, how much time will you need to update and maintain it? This varies depending on the site and its features, but if you intend to be your own webmaster, you will need to schedule some amount of time for regular upkeep. This is another area where outsourcing can be valuable – instead of taking time away from developing your business or working with customers to update your website or email blast your latest newsletter, a digital marketing agency can handle these tasks for you.
The laws that govern online commerce and data are still evolving and keeping a business website in compliance can be tricky. As privacy concerns continue to grow, many state governments are implementing or considering new online privacy laws regarding how data can be stored and shared online. Similarly, advocates for people with disabilities are working toward stricter guidelines for accessibility across the internet, which has led to an increase in ADA related lawsuits concerning websites. Because these laws currently vary by location, the nature of digital commerce can make the enforcement of them unclear. Allowing an experienced website developer to handle these updates saves you the headache of researching these laws and determining what you’ll need to do to comply.
Let’s say you’ve overcome the previous hurdles, and your new website is up and running, and new content is being uploaded monthly. You’ve created an account with Google analytics and added their code to your website to track your visitors. A few people are finding the site on their own, but how do you get more visitors (or “traffic”)?
Links on other websites that point users back to your website, called backlinks, are one of the easiest and quickest ways to build your online presence. But finding trustworthy, relevant websites that are willing to create a link to your site – known as link building – can be time-consuming and difficult to do on your own. You’ll need to research the sites you create or request links to and from, since links on websites that are unsecure or infect users’ computers with spam can actually harm your site’s performance, kind of like hanging out with the wrong crowd as a kid could give you a bad reputation. There are an almost endless number of online directories, for example, that allow you to create backlinks, and in some cases, this is a good tactic, but there are also spammy directories you need to avoid. Consider carefully whether you want to spend the time figuring all this out, or if it makes more sense to pay someone who has already done the research to create links for you.
Finally, a note on social media. Consumers today expect to find their favorite brands or companies on social media and may even place less trust in a company without a profile on at least one top social site. However, a social media presence alone is not a marketing strategy. Some small business owners rely on their Facebook page to function as their website, but it’s important to remember that the profile is hosted on a third-party site that is not controlled or regulated by your business, and you will always be beholden to their standards and policies for your content and communication. Depending on the nature of your business, these platforms may also lack the security measures required to keep your customer information private and secure.
A professionally built custom website is more than a marketing asset, it’s the foundation of a strong online reputation. Businesses that are able to allocate a budget for these services are investing in their ability to reach more customers and ultimately, create growth.
Beyond creating your website, a digital marketing agency can also help you build a strong online presence across the web. Understanding the demographics, requirements, and price points associated with purchasing ads on social media and search engines, for example, requires research and often fine-tuning of your strategy. You may not have the time, or frankly are interested in, studying up on the pros and cons of each opportunity. Digital marketing professionals gather and analyze this data on a regular basis and can offer perspective on long-term trends and the performance of your campaigns that could take an in-house staffer several hours or days to compile.
In summary, DIY website builders can be a good option for personal websites or blogs, or a brand-new business with no marketing budget. But upgrading to a professionally designed and managed website can be a significant step toward elevating your business – both on Google and in the eyes of your customers.
Hannah Trivette is the Managing Director of NUVEW Web Solutions, a digital marketing agency based in the Chicago area. NUVEW helps small and medium-sized businesses build their digital presence through website design and development, SEO, content creation, and social media marketing.
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