In its short thirty-year history, the internet has completely transformed the world of business and brought previously unimaginable benefits and opportunities to both start-ups and well-established firms. Using the power of the web, companies big and small can reach out and connect with clients on a local, national and international level. Indeed, the web has largely democratised marketing and branding, allowing firms to compete on a level playing field – regardless of size or budget.
Building an effective online profile for your company could see you branching into new markets and even extending your range of products and services by exploring new business affiliations – but just how do you go about establishing a strong web presence? Read on for some tried and tested tips used by professionals to build brands online.
What is online profiling and web branding?
Before considering how to build a strong web profile, it would perhaps be an idea first to define exactly what’s meant by the term. Just as people like to portray a certain image of themselves online, so do companies. They also project a favourable (or sometimes unfavourable) impression over the web. In many ways, your company’s internet profile could be considered its personality and the aspects of your firm that make it unique.
However, contrary to popular belief, successful online profiling and branding go way beyond just the visual aesthetics of a firm, such as a logo, name or design, etc. These days, it’s widely acknowledged by marketing professionals that good branding encompasses every facet of a firm, from the shop floor right up to the board room – and covers everything from how your staff answer the phone to your follow-up marketing and customer support provision.
The respected industry publication, Branding Mag, offers a complete definition of branding and how it can affect your company:
“Branding is the perpetual process of identifying, creating, and managing the cumulative assets and actions that shape the perception of a brand in stakeholders’ minds.”
In the online world, where there’s so little interpersonal contact (at least in the initial stages), branding becomes even more important. You must portray a positive, professional, helpful, and knowledgeable impression in the minds of your clients (both potential and existing) – and below are some tips for doing just that.
Online branding 101 – start by defining your goals
There’s little point just saying you want to be more prominent online without first deciding why and what benefits you hope to achieve from your online marketing. For example, perhaps you want to increase your customer base (what company doesn’t?) – or maybe you have more specific goals like breaking into foreign markets or trying to establish a new product or service.
Having a clear idea of what you want to achieve from your online marketing is the first step in making your campaign a success. Incidentally, you should think about this from both a long- and short-term perspective. Online branding won’t happen overnight, so having this list to refer to further down the line will help you evaluate the success (or, sometimes, failure) of your strategy and let you identify areas for improvement.
You need to begin with a solid base, and by far the most important starting point for any online branding overhaul is to do the following:
Do a full audit of your website and be prepared to make changes
Your company’s website is its window on the world; however – and perhaps much more significantly- it’s also the world’s window on your firm.
These days, the vast majority of consumer journeys start with an online search, and if a prospective client finds you, it’s vital they immediately get a favourable impression of your company, what it does, the products or services it provides, and the benefits it can bring to them.
It’s worth remembering, a Search Engine Results Page (SERP) is just one click away, and research shows that if a client doesn’t find what they’re looking for within around five seconds of visiting a site, they’ll click back – more than likely never to return.
Nowhere is the saying, “first impressions count”, more applicable than when considering how your company projects itself online – and your website is a good place to start. Key things to consider include:
Design: Points to consider when it comes to the design of your site:
- Does the design of your page match what you do?
- Do the images tell a story, and are they applicable to your sector and your audience?
- Do pages scale so that they fit on multiple devices, including mobile, tablet, laptop, desktop, etc. (called Responsive Design)?
Text: The message you portray is vitally important online, but so is the formatting and styling of text. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Do you make effective use of headlines?
- Are fonts and font sizes easy to read on all screen sizes?
- Do you split text logically into sections with subheads (thereby making text easier to read)?
- Are you overly verbose with long screeds of text (visually unappealing but also off-putting from a user perspective)?
- Do you use technical jargon or buzzwords that might alienate some users?
- Do you feature introductory paragraph text to let users know what they’re about to read?
- Do you lead users logically from subject to subject?
- Would your text be more effective if it was broken down into constituent parts and spread over different pages?
Web style, navigation, and loading: Multiple other factors can influence the success of a website and the image it portrays:
- Do pages load quickly?
- Are pages logically split into easy-to-understand sections?
- Is the navigation menu built on a logical branching hierarchy of information that’s easy to grasp?
- Can new users find their way around your site easily (remember, that five-second rule of finding information)?
- Do you employ Call-To-Action (CTA) prompts to encourage user interaction?
- Is your most important product or service given prominence on your site?
- Do page headers give an immediate impression of what that page is about?
- Is your site optimised for search engines?
- Are your contact details visible on all pages?
- Do you provide users with a GDPR-compliant statement and cookie information?
- Do visitors to your site have an immediate understanding of what your company is and the goods/services it can provide? Don’t just assume knowledge on the part of your users. Instead, think about whether someone completely unfamiliar with your firm will understand what you do when they visit your site.
The above are just a few starter points to consider when building/revamping a website. For the best results in any web production project, you would be well advised to engage the services of a professional website development firm that will do a complete audit of your company and advise the best way to project your firm online.
Remember the importance of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
Having a website is just part of a much wider picture. In truth, if your site isn’t seen, it won’t be performing a useful function for your firm. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is the highly detailed and involved process used to push sites higher up search engine rankings to drive more traffic. With Google now accounting for around 92% of all search-generated traffic, this is the platform you should focus on most.
Good SEO includes a vast array of techniques – everything from optimising the underlying coding of pages to tailoring text and content, building links, and improving page-loading times (among many, many other tasks). Due to the complex nature of SEO and the highly competitive online landscape these days, if you’re to have any hope of success, you should think about engaging the services of a professional web marketing and SEO specialist like clickintelligence.co.uk.
Get social and engage with your clients
Many company bosses take a rather derisory view of social media, seeing it as more the preserve of teenagers talking about what they had for breakfast – however social platforms have become an integral part of the commercial marketing mix these days.
If used effectively, a strong social presence could see you broadcasting your message to thousands – or even tens of thousands (possibly more) – of users. Better yet, if you build an audience on your social pages, your promotional posts will automatically feature in your followers’ feeds, saving them from having to come to your site for your latest news or PR statements.
There is a plethora of social platforms to choose from these days – but that doesn’t mean you should spread yourself too thin and attempt to be on all of them. If you don’t regularly maintain and update your pages, you’ll run the very real risk of losing followers – or not building an audience in the first place. Rather, you should look at the main players and consider which of them are likely to work best for you.
Key points to consider are the audience of your company and, again, the goals you hope to achieve from the social sites. As a rough overview, I believe the advantages of the main players are:
Facebook: Facebook has by far the largest user base (currently noted to be around 2.85 billion), but that popularity doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best choice for your firm. For example, with so much ‘noise’ on the platform, it can be hard for your message to be heard so, if you’re just starting out, FB might not be the best platform to build a following. It’s also worth considering how Facebook is used – mostly to keep in touch with old friends – so it can be an ideal choice if you’re looking to build a solid connection with your clients and keep them updated.
Twitter: Because Twitter organises information by its hashtag system, it can be an excellent platform for discovering market trends and popular points of discussion in your sector, which you can then follow to join in the conversation and raise your company’s profile. Its short character limit means it’s best suited to brief announcements.
YouTube: YouTube doesn’t require a subscription to view content meaning the sprawling video streaming platform also doubles as the world’s second most popular search engine – second only to its sister company, Google. Some of the most popular searches are for ‘how-to’ videos meaning your company could quickly establish a following by posting explanatory videos on aspects of the services you provide.
Instagram: While most younger users still have a Facebook profile, they are migrating in their droves to Instagram, so this could be a good choice if you’re looking to connect with a younger audience. Also, because the platform is still growing, there’s less competition meaning your message has a greater chance of being heard. Instagram relies entirely on photo and video content, so it is particularly well-suited to visually interesting sectors such as clothing, retail, or beauty.
Pinterest: Females dominate the user demographic on Pinterest, so the platform is especially good for firms offering women-related goods/services. It has been successful for driving clothing sales – for example, popular woman’s clothing site Chicme advertises heavily on the service.
LinkedIn: LinkedIn is most popular among older audiences (highest engagement among 30-49-year-olds) and is used by professionals looking to extend their professional network or find new jobs. You could find the service useful for networking, generating B2B leads, or finding new employees.
TikTok: Very much the new kid on the block, TikTok features short-form video content and is most popular among the youngest demographic (typically 18-24-year-olds). Again, this service is best suited to firms that can easily produce visually appealing content.
The above are just a few ways you can build your firm’s branding online – in truth; there are many other tactics you can employ. Popular strategies include setting up a blog, guest writing for other sites, engaging in email marketing, online advertising, or connecting directly with your consumers through their purchasing journey by employing comprehensive Customer Relationship Management (CRM).
The most important thing is to maintain consistency across your message and give your company a voice in everything from the style and content of your text to stylised branding colours, fonts, and straplines. The key aspect is to make your content immediately recognisable as being from your firm.
Engaging in successful online branding will see your firm improve its exposure, extend its reach and grow its customer base – and what company wouldn’t want that in today’s highly competitive markets?