There’s this really adorable (and totally untrue) idea that if you create a Web site, people will come. That some sort of magic Google Alert will be sent out to your target audience and you’ll get visitors. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way in the same way that starting a blog doesn’t immediately earn you readers (which totally sucks, BTW). Instead, you need to go find your audience. You need to tell them that you exist and give them a reason to care. You need to get your hands dirty.
So where do you start? If I was a small business owner trying to build buzz for my site, here’s where my focus would be. You let me know if I missed anything.
Put Up a Placeholder
The sooner you let the world know that your site is coming, the earlier you can start generating buzz and developing links. Yeah, you may be working your butt off behind the scenes talking to designers, writing content, creating your list of services, etc, but unless you share that with your target audience, no one will know. Even while you’re building your site, make sure there’s something on your domain that lets people know you’re coming. Before Outspoken Media fully launched, we threw up a placeholder page to placate the early inquires we were getting after the WSJ unexpectedly outing our not-yet-announced company. It let people know that something juicy was in the works, when our launch date was and got us on their radar.
Build Buzz for Your Business
As soon as you have your placeholder site up, start talking about it. Everywhere. And I do mean everywhere.
- Add the link to your email signature.
- Get a promo blurb put in industry newsletters.
- Get the local Chamber of Commerce to put a mention on their site.
- Talk about it on social media outlets.
- Get your business cards with the logo and URL of your new company and hand them out to the people you meet.
- Write a press release and get in the hands of your local newspaper (also promote it online via services like PR Web).
- Stop by other local businesses and tell them what you’re doing.
The more you talk about your site, the more excitement you’re going to build over the launch. Excitement and buzz mean visitors.
Build Your Personal Buzz
People do business with people that they trust. By branding yourself, you give your business credibility that it wouldn’t have had right out of the gate. Regardless of what you do, there are probably related workshops going on in your area – offer to speak, for free. Teach a class in your specialty. If there aren’t any already scheduled, set it up yourself. Talk to the Chamber of Commerce in your town and see how you can get involved. Volunteer if your services somewhere, if you can. Start a local meetup. The more you give, the more you get back. It’s one of those cheesy lines that are famous because it’s actually true. Look for opportunities to network and be useful to your community. It will help brand you as a rockstar.
Get in the Directories
Once your site is launched, you want to make sure you get it listed in all the important directories to help it get indexed and found by searchers. That means creating listings in:
- Google Local
- Yahoo Local
- BOTW Local
- Industry-specific directories
- Third Party providers like Superpages, CitySearch, InfoUSA, YellowPages, InsiderPages, Localeze, Yelp, etc
These are becoming more and more important as the engines build out and promote their local indexes. With local businesses now getting full Google Place Pages, you want to be especially vigilant about claiming your turf and making sure the information in your listing is as accurate as possible. If you need a refresher on how to submit to these directories, you can refer back to our post on launching your SMB Web site. We break it down a bit more over there.
Create a Local Street Team
Once you’ve got that down, get off the damn computer. You’re a local business. Get out and go talk to other local business owners. Let them know that you’re opening up and look for ways you can help one another.
- Create joint deals that pass business back and forth.
- Throw a block party to get customers walking around and in stores.
- Hold an event just for the business owners themselves and get some goodwill going.
Online is great, but you’re a local business. That means you will live and die by the support you get in your town. Make sure you’re looking for ways to build awareness in your community.
Create a Twitter Team
Do not underestimate the power Twitter on your small business. Through the use of hash tags and the Advanced Twitter search, business owners have an incredible opportunity to track conversations and reach out to people who may benefit from their services. If you’re working on getting your florist business up and running, head to Twitter Search and look for the people in your area talking about birthday’s, anniversaries, weddings, parties, catered events, renting halls, etc. Reach out, say hi and congratulate them on their big day, maybe offering some suggestions on things to include. Don’t try to sell yourself; just help them. If you provide value, they’ll click on your username and see what you do all by themselves.
Get out of Twitter Search and head to Twitter Grader and search for your area to find other nearby professionals that you can create partnerships with. Get creative when looking for parallel industries. The further you break out of your bubble, the better off your business is going to be.
Blogs are great differentiators for a small business. They let you get your point of difference across, connect with people and form relationships much easier than you can without one. They can also help you do really well with the search engines, attracting links, picking up long tail rankings, and just showing Google that there is life on your Web site and that people are interacting. If you don’t want to put a blog on your site, start guestblogging on other’s blogs. Help build your credibility and, of course, don’t forget to include a link to your site in your author bio.
Also look for other social networking opportunities that make sense for you. There are a gazillion social networks and I don’t suggest you join every one of them, however, if there’s an active community on Flickr for what you do, get involved. If you can be useful in Yahoo Answers, speak up. If YouTube can help get your message out, video it up. Find the social networks targeted toward your industry and become an active member there. These tools are all chances to start conversations. Use them where they make sense.
If you’re looking to promote your small business Web site, above of some of the ways I’d go about doing it. I know we targeted all that’s above and more when getting ready to open the doors at Outspoken Media. If you’re looking for some more ideas, you may also find our post on local marketing tips (which uses catering as an example) helpful. Otherwise, I’d love to hear your own thoughts.