Everyone knows what a website is. But what is a web presence? Succinctly, a web presence is a website plus. Plus what? Great question. Plus is... well, more! A lot more. You see, a website without a web presence is like a birthday party without directional signs or balloons on the mailbox. A web presence is engaging marketing that takes place on, not just your website, but other websites and platforms as well. Web presences engage potential customers more often, present your brand across multiple platforms, and dramatically increase exposure points. This, in turn, creates multiple qualified engagement opportunities with your target market. The caveat is that this must all be done correctly. Let's explore what a correct web presence is like. But first, a story.
How I Discovered What Web Presences Are
Back in 2007 I graduated high school. At that time, I was already experimenting with Wordpress — a popular website publishing platform. Fresh from graduation, I had the brilliant and totally unique idea of spewing my political thoughts on the internet. Riveting, right? Turning to the hosted version of Wordpress, I registered an account, picked a theme, and it was off to the races. I began posting blog entries multiple times a day. Not satisfied with the amount of time politics was already sucking from my daily life, when I wasn't posting I was reading other blogger's posts and commenting. In fact, I became quite the turd and started finding opposing views and confronting them.
I quickly learned that I needed to find popular blogs, opposing views or not, to leave comments on. That way, I'd be almost sure to get responses; sometimes from other commenters, other times from the blog authors themselves. This, ladies and gentlemen, is how I discovered the power of backlinks. For those of you that don't know, backlinks are links back to — you guessed it — your website. You see, Wordpress comments allowed you to leave your name, email, and — importantly — your website address. These links back to my website brought traffic. A lot of traffic. In fact, I was getting nearly 5,000 unique visits a day. This success lead to a stark realization that I needed to look smart on my website. In my mind, that meant that the website needed to look professional and "official." As official as some self-described political know-it-all could look, that is.
Embarking on my new mission, I began browsing through available themes that I thought looked more official and "important." After searching for days, I came to the realization that pre-built themes are terrible. Most of them were uninspired or crammed in useless features. Worse, others were way too focused on an unrelated topic. This lead me to a momentous decision: custom design and development was the way forward. Little did I know, I had just made a huge career choice.
To summarize this little story: I went on to learn about hosting, how to upload and install Wordpress, and how to read through the documentation and create a custom theme of my own. However, my newfound knowledge would potentially be all for moot if I hadn't discovered the concept of a web presence. I would go on for 11 years, to the present day, developing that understanding.
The Power of Web Presences
My definition of a web presence is a holistic approach to your online image. What this essentially means is that a website isn't enough. With over 11 years of working with brands, I've gained a lot of experience. There's a tremendous amount to be said about great design, rock-solid code, and a killer feature set, but even the best website can languish in the unknown. To prevent that, a combination of marketing and presence — being where your target market is at — is required.
Your Responsibility to Be Present
Let's talk about presence. For many businesses, this takes the form of being active on social media accounts. We'll get to that in a moment, but let's talk about being present on your own website. What does that mean? It means being "there." It means being "aware" to the needs and desires of your customers. Ultimately, it means catering to the needs of your target market. If you do this, you'll instantly become a rock star in their eyes. Never one to be facetious, let me be crystal-clear on what exactly I mean:
- 6 Tips: Being Present On Your Website
- All content should be written for the benefit of your target market
- All content should be truly useful; remove the junk
- Keep content focused to your target market
- Do not cater to outliers on the edge of your target market
- Create fresh content regularly
- Update or remove outdated or incorrect content
Of course, there's more to it than the above, but I think you get my drift.
Connecting with your target market on an emotional level is a well-regarded concept in the business world. With the ever-expanding infusion of technology into the marketplace, customers have more choices, and power, than ever before. It's not enough to build a great product or offer a great service. In order to effectively connect with your customers you must understand them. This may sound cliché, and perhaps it is — but what's not cliché is what it takes to understand them. Most businesses do not take the time or expend the effort to understand their customers. It's a pity, too, because all it really takes is listening to your customers.
With a wide array of options to enable your business to listen to your customers, such as Facebook, Twitter, and support software such as Zendesk, the tools are accessible by even the smallest of businesses. The differentiating factor when it comes to your online brand is how you use these tools.
The key to connecting with your customers is to be accessible and consistent, not absent and negligent.
When using these tools, whether it be in the form of a social media post or a response to a support ticket, you should make it your mission to be timely, responsive and non-combative. You should try in earnest to answer questions or fix problems, and for the sake of everything that is holy, don't copy and paste the same answer to every single comment (if even they are similar). Act like a human being, not a robot. Doing so will exponentially build goodwill, and genuinely help your customers.
A Cohesive Brand Image
Properly maintaining a web presence is more than just using the same logo around the web. It's also important that you behave similarly across all customer touch points. This is something that I have worked with many brands on. I've learned that once implemented, the results are palpable. As a business, when what you present to the world is consistent, thoughtful, and relative, new and effective communication channels open up.
Relevant and Thoughtful
A web presence presents relative, thoughtful information. A website simply contains information. A web presence effectively communicates with and informs users. A website simply puts out information in case someone might find it useful. You see, a web presence is built for the customer, while a website is built for the business.
A web presence is prepared to cater to a customer's wants and needs; it is purposefully designed with their likely needs in mind. For instance, an eCommerce website would contain appropriate filtering and sorting mechanisms, provide additional product information such as sizing or installation instructions, and facilitate easy customer decisions. While a great user experience requires a great web designer (hello!), it will be up to you to write great content. You know your customers the best, and your responsibilities lie with what's best for them.
Where Websites Fail
Websites, especially websites built with free or cheap templates, fail for a plethora of reasons. Chiefly among those reasons is the fact that most websites are built from the beginning with the wrong mindset. Instead of considering what's most beneficial for the customer, often a website is created to "showcase" a business. Instead of approach a business' offerings from the "how we can help you" point of view, often the "what we do" point of view is taken. Instead of providing resources for a customer to get their questions answered, businesses often simply request a customer contact them "for more information." Making mistakes like these can have severe consequences when it comes to a brand's online image. In fact, sales are directly affected by poor websites.
A Winning Web Presence
A website which goes out of its way to cater to the customer and is part of a greater web presence will return hundreds of times over on the initial investment. A website had the ability to become the central base camp for your online presence, but you have to want that to happen. If your brand hasn't been paid attention to in a decade, if your social media profiles are dusty, and if your customer interactions are terse and overly formal, then you'd be highly served by a web presence overhaul.