Your Online Presence Starts With These Three Free Tools

With the abundance of free tools available to boost your business’s online presence, it can be downright overwhelming to know where to begin. How do you decide which ones are the best use of your limited time?

Well, there are three basic tools every new website owner should consider. You might choose to focus on them differently depending on the type of business you have and your long-term goals, but each matters in its own way.

Let’s say you have a physical storefront and your goal is to get more shoppers into your store, you’ll want to start with the Google My Business tool. Then, build your online audience — and forge relationships with potential supporters — by turning to one of the most versatile tools: social sharing. And finally, when you’re ready to focus on search results, Google’s Search Console will be your go-to online tool.

Here we’ve laid out an action plan using these three tools that can help you effectively build your online presence.

It’s like Yellow Pages 2.0

What’s the first thing most people do when they’re trying to find a local business? They Google it. So if you have a brick-and-mortar store, you’ll want to start by ensuring anyone doing a Google search is able to find it. For instance, if you have a hardware store, it should show up in Google searches for “hardware stores near me.” People expect to access information without doing a ton of research, so it’s important that all your key information, such as your location and store hours, appears in search.

Google My Business is a website that allows you to enter basic information about your business, such as the address, phone number, type of business, and your business’s website. Once you’ve visited the site and entered that information, potential fans can find your business when they perform Google searches or turn to Google Maps.

You can even include photos of your store and products and allow visitors to write rave reviews about your fantastic customer service — say, the time you helped someone find the exact right nails for their home project. If you’re keeping your store open longer through November and December in order to prepare for the holiday rush, Google My Business will let you make adjustments to reflect the seasonal changes in your hours.

By using Google My Business for your store’s online presence management, you have the potential to increase the number of shoppers who walk through your door and make purchases.

Embrace your social side

Posting your business info to Google is extremely useful, but you’ll also want build a broader online audience. For this, social sharing channels such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are going to be your best friends. Start by considering which site to focus on. If you create visual products — say, handcrafted wooden wedding signs — your best bet is a more visual platform such as Facebook or Instagram, where you can show photos of your completed products, like one of your signs in use at a wedding, or even photos of those signs being made.

Twitter, on the other hand, can be a great tool for engaging with your potential audience, starting conversations, and making connections. If you’re a restaurant in search of publicity via food bloggers, Twitter allows you to engage with bloggers and critics and build an organic audience from those interactions. As an Entrepreneur article explains, “Read your target audience’s online content and join discussions to learn what’s important to them.”

You can search for hashtags your audience would be likely to use, such as #foodbloggers and #recipe, and then start interacting. Retweet others’ posts with your own commentary, ask them questions, and engage so that they know who you are. That way, they’ll be more likely to think of you the next time they’re looking for a restaurant to highlight.

And remember: staying consistent is ultimately more important than which platform you decide to use. Just work on growing a strong online presence on one or two social media platforms rather than trying to win them all. And since your ultimate goal is to draw visitors to your own website, make sure the URL is clearly listed in your bio and directs people to your homepage or contact form.

Driving the search

You gave Google your business information, and then you began building your audience. Now it’s time to focus on search results, which is where Google Search Console comes in. Previously known as “Google Webmaster Tools,” Google Search Console helps website owners “monitor and maintain [their] site’s presence in Google Search results.”

Basically, it ensures Google has access to your website and can better position it in Google searches. It also lets you see what terms users type into Google search to land on your website, learn which other websites link to your site, monitor your website for malware or spam issues, and alert Google if you have new content you want to show up in searches.

Say you make small-batch organic coffees and want your products to show up in Google searches for “organic coffee” and “small-batch coffee.” Google Search Console offers a tool called Fetch as Google. You type in your business’s website, which tells Google to check out (or “crawl”) the website and include it when people search for small-batch coffees. There’s also a handy tool called Search Analytics, which shows you which other websites link to your online store — hopefully, ones related to coffee. If you’re interested in learning more about Google Search Console but aren’t sure where to begin, you can find some great tutorials online. For example, WordPress.com offers a step-by-step tutorial for adding your website to Google Search Console.

The most important thing to remember when using these tools is that your website should remain the center of all the action. Although powerful, they’re intended primarily to complement your website, drive traffic to it, and, eventually, give your business that many more reasons to thrive.

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