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In today’s world, no business can afford to ignore the internet. Even traditional ‘offline’ service businesses that don’t transact on the web miss a trick if they fail to invest in online communication. Customers across all industries are now constantly connected – busily researching and purchasing products and services online.

But even if business owners are aware of the power of the internet, they often find it hard to stop and think about whether they are truly making the most out of the web. There’s just so much else to focus on, right?

Well if you’re a small business owner, here’s your chance to stop and think.

In this blog, we’ll explore a simple model for thinking about your online communication. The three parts provide a useful framework in which to bracket, understand and analyse web activity. They can be your lenses to inspect and grow your business.

The key to this online workout is to make sure you’re thinking and acting on all three steps as they’re interdependent – there’s little use in just doing one. Just like a fruit machine, all three stars need to align for you to hit your jackpot.

Attraction

The first part is to develop a strategy to attract relevant people (or ‘qualified traffic’ in online speak) to your website. In order to sell your product or service, you need the right people to find you. Relevance is key – there’s little point in attracting retired folks with an interest in birdwatching to your stag-do business. The good news is that attraction is not as hard as it sounds. There are three main ways to attract people online.

The first is through Search Engine Optimisation – making sure that you’re doing everything you can to increase your ranking on major search engines. Some great resources on this are Google’s own SEO guide, Search Engine Land’s SEO periodic table, and BuildBritishBusiness SEO tips which cover the main principles.

There’s also Search Engine Marketing where you advertise directly on search engines. Having worked at Google for two years, I know how powerful AdWords can be to drive relevant traffic. You show an ad to someone who is actively searching for your product or service. What’s more, you only pay when someone clicks and visits your website. You’re also in complete control as you choose which keywords and locations to target and can constantly improve your advertising by analysing the data.

Lastly, there’s Social Media – using Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Quora, Pinterest etc. to attract. Two things to note here. Firstly, it’s important to choose the network which has the right audience. If you’re selling to businesses rather than consumers, LinkedIn is usually better than Facebook and vice versa. It’s also vital to invest time in actually publishing and engaging users. A stagnant social media profile is pointless; it’s like signing up for a gym and never using it.

Conversion

The next piece is making sure you know what you want your online visitors to do and to design your website so they do what you want (or ‘convert’ in online speak). This could be buying your product, viewing a video, downloading an eBook or booking an appointment.

There are a few key principles here. Good web design is essential. People’s standards of design have increased significantly with the everyday use of sites like Google, Facebook and Spotify. Make sure your site is clean, clear and optimised for ‘conversions’ and that it works across all devices. Use a strong call-to-action so it’s clear to the visitor where they are and where they’re going. Videos are also a great way to sell your product or service as they inspire, inform and add credibility. It’s no coincidence that the most successful Kickstarter projects invest in great video. Lastly, use Google Analytics or Crazyegg (or other web analytics tools) so you can track website engagement. Get to grips with metrics like bounce rates and goal completions so you can tweak your site so it becomes a place where visitors want to be. An excellent resource on this is Avinash Kaushik’s blog.

Retention

The last part is making sure you are doing all you can to keep your customers. The most successful businesses maximise the lifetime value of their customers. Ask yourself: how are you communicating with the customer after conversion? Are you incentivising them to return with new products, offers, advice? Are they spreading your gospel to others? A good retention strategy is blogging, reward schemes and email marketing. MailChimp is a brilliant tool for retention as you can send customised emails for free and it has great data analytics.

So there’s a simple three-point framework to help you interrogate and build your online communication.

And if you’re still not thinking about attracting, converting and retaining, you should be!

Keep browsing the help centre for more useful advice on setting up and running a business.