Home Articles Can Australian companies really afford NOT to have an online presence?

Can Australian companies really afford NOT to have an online presence?

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In Australia, 90% of businesses have Internet access and that access is predominantly broadband. Yet, still only 40% of Australian Businesses have any form of web presence.

There is currently 17 million Internet users in Australia and 78% of all households have internet access.

According to figures released in June by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), just under $143 billion dollars in Internet based orders were taken by Australian companies in the 09/10 Financial year.

So what does this mean for you as a business owner?

This means that the way your customers research and purchase is shifting. A more internet savvy, connected digital consumer is emerging as Australian consumers search for the best deals possible.

How you reach this emerging market has also become a challenge for many Australian businesses, as 95% of connected consumers admit to shopping around online before making their purchases.

Whether your customer is a person or a business, the trends are suggesting growth for the businesses that have taken the steps to create an online presence.

Connectivity

Consumers are connected on a variety of devices, often simultaneously.

The increase in adoption of smart and connected devices such as Smart Phones, Tablet PC’s and slates coupled with the consistent internet coverage available in Australia means that your customers are looking for you online before they contact you and certainly before they buy from you.

The impact of the planned ubiquitous national broadband network is only going to increase the opportunity for you to reach regionally diverse customers that were no longer available to you.

The changing behaviours have also  included a greater connectivity with consumers to the companies they are buying from.

Allowing a simple way for customers to contact you, find out more information about your business and even provide you with feedback is an absolute must for all businesses who want to survive in this day and age. Expanding this to allow customers to buy from you directly is also important, but not as important as establishing an online presence for your business.

We currently experiencing rising consumer confidence in Australia, with 59% of Australians looking to spend in the next 12 months, which means that as the economy continues to recover, you need to be smart about how you are going to secure your portion of this income for your business.

Building an online presence

As someone who is well accustomed to the challenges of building an online and interactive presence for a brand, Christian Longstaff, Developer Audience Marketing Manager for Microsoft Australia, gives the following advice for building your online presence:

“Start with the end in mind: what do you want to achieve? Is your goal to receive more business? What does success look like? How will you measure the online contribution? Make a list of steps to make it happen starting with how much time you want to invest as it’s addictive.

Here’s my top tips:

  1. Google/Bing yourself. What comes up? Does it represent you the way you want? Subscribe to alerts to be notified of any new content.
  2. Sign up to online analytics (like Google Analytics) to measure everything you do. Tag any spikes so you remember what you did so you can do more of it.
  3. Sign up to every local business directory and review site to ask for your customer’s feedback (most are free). Expect some spam but the search benefits outweigh the time required to hit the delete key.
  4. Think about what you have to offer your audience and what will benefit them. Create a content plan and get into the rhythm of posting regularly to a blog, videos, Tweet, Facebook, newsletters, Slideshare which should all link to each other.
  5. The internet currency is sharing + trusting + support + responding which equals search results. It shouldn’t be all about you – celebrate other people’s success and link link link as this will help with search optimisation – making it easier for people to find you.
  6. Use a personal voice, be opinionated, be authentic without selling. It’s a small world and the internet makes it even smaller – once it’s out there, it’s there for life so always be professional.
  7. Take your offline contacts online. Start by inviting your best customers and get them talking about you online. That way your new customers will see how great you are. Word of mouth is the most powerful marketing tool you’ll ever have.
  8. Be a journalist. Use great titles which search loves. Avoid long paragraphs so you don’t bury your best stuff. Create “best of groups” to summarise content.
  9. Wear different hats in different places – different social networks have different personalities. LinkedIn maybe a great place to pick up consulting or coaching work whilst Facebook is more about lifestyle. Think about how you can use this to your advantage.
  10. Expect criticism. Avoid being defensive. Be patient. Experiment and most importantly, have fun!“

The right tools

If you could get a easy to use, professional looking Web presence, that you controlled the content on for free — why would you wait?

You cannot afford not to be visible to these consumers.

Many companies erroneously believe they cannot afford the cost of creating an online presence. Many believe it is too hard, or that they won’t be able to update or control the content. Others are concerned about not having web development skills to make the site look professional or to match their brand.

Thankfully, its these kinds of universal challenges that have encouraged the development and distribution of many simple solutions that allow you full control of the building, look and feel and content of your own simple site. Many of them are actually free.

The most popular of these types of tools is called WordPress. According to their site, they’re the largest self-hosted blogging tool in the world, used on millions of sites and seen by tens of millions of people every day.

But don’t be fooled by the term Blog, it doesn’t mean a site where you post regular updates like a log book — although I do encourage you to do this as customers love to see what you have been up to recently.

The WordPress site initially started life as a Blog Engine, but now is a full self service content management system. This means you can now create varied looking and feeling websites easily and quickly.

You only need to glance at the WordPress Showcase pages to get a feel for how varied and professional each of the sites appear.  A large component of this is utilising what is referred to as a Theme – which applies a few tricky little layout changes to the site to change the look and feel.

The good news is that many of them are free and very easy to add to your site – you don’t need to understand how to write a webpage. This consistent look and feel of the site eliminates the challenge of creating a professional looking website.

The benefit of a WordPress or Blog style content management system is that you own, edit and control all of the content. No longer do you need to worry about making changes or adding things to the site as your business changes.

Another often overlooked but very important benefit is that WordPress ensures your site looks consistent across a massive range of different devices, from small phones to& large touch enabled monitors.

Setting it up

The best thing about an option like WordPress is that it is FREE and SIMPLE to download and set up!

There are also a few places that allow you to host WordPress blogs free of charge. This removes the  concern about how much getting an online presence would cost.

However, another benefit of going through the WebMatrix setup, if you want to extend that online presence to include email hosting you could use a services from as little as $7.95/month such as you can set your wordPress blog up here in just a few clicks.

Microsoft currently has a fantastic set up to help you easily follow a step by step guide to download their WebMatrix tool that in less than 20 minutes, shows you how to download WordPress, set it all up, customise the look and feel and even integrate with Facebook.

It’s all in this simple video you really should take a look at.

The basics

Whichever tool you decide to use, at a minimum, you should add pages for the 3 key basics I believe every company must have as part of their online presence:

  1. About Us – Tell your customers what’s awesome about your company and your unique benefit to them (i.e. why should they buy from you?)
  2. Contact Us – Make sure people know how to get in contact with you – either by adding your contact details or even better having a form for people to send you a query directly
  3. A distinct representation of your brand – This is really important. How the site looks is a reflection on your company. Make sure to stick to your company colours, fonts and have your logo on the site.

So no more excuses. Get your company online today and start reaching your new customers – before someone else does!

Catherine Eibner is Developer Evangelist (Startups) for Microsoft Australia’s Developer and Platform Evangelist team and also manages the Microsoft BizSpark program for Australia. She previously ran her own business, Cybner Consulting, for a number of years in the SQL and CRM consulting space. She is passionate about encouraging other women in IT and is involved with the GeekGirlBlogs.com site, the GeekGirlBlogs Podcasting series and the Sydney Girl Geek Dinners. She can be reached via e-mail to [email protected]

Photo by espensorvik

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