Consumers expect to be able to find you on the internet, even if they can’t purchase directly from you online. A simple website, designed to be consistent with your branding and marketing, is a powerful tool in your marketing because it reassures consumers, and gives you space to again promote your products, brand and brand values, and provide contact details or stockists details.
You can stage the website building process to suit your budget and cash flow. Don’t set up a page with a ‘“coming soon”’ or “’under construction”’ message – this is just a wasted opportunity to promote your brand and frustrates consumers because there’s no real information there. It’s fine to start out with just a homepage with your details, products and branding on it.
To set up a website you first need to consider:
Your domain name
The domain name is your website address. It is made up of the URL (which stands for Uniform Resource Locator) plus a code to indicate what type of organisation you are and a country code. Most businesses register as ‘.com’ which indicates a commercial business. So www.yourbusinessname.com.au means you are a business in Australia. You may want to also register other versions of your domain name to protect your business and brands and prevent other people registering them. Registration is not expensive so it is wise to do it as soon as possible, even if you don’t plan to set up your website immediately.
Registering a domain name
There are a number of services through which you can register a domain name. A simple internet search will provide you with hoststheir names companies and you can search via their sites to see if the name you want to use is available. Also ask your website designer as they will have good advice on selecting software and internet service providers.
Your hosting service
Websites are ‘hosted’ by various companies – this simply means they have your website and all its content on their system. Hosting packages vary in the services they offer and how much they cost so be careful to make sure everything you need, such as secure payment gateways and email services, are included when you make your choice. A lot of companies choose overseas hosting services on the basis of price although there generally isn’t a great deal of difference between overseas hosts and Australian-based services. Some businesses opt for Australian host services because of the ability to be able to contact them during work hours if there are problems.
Your software platform
Although there are many free and shareware software options to develop your own website, generally this is an area in which (unless you are an expert) it is better to pay for experienced advice. Your marketing consultant or graphic designers may be able to guide you on this and a good website designer will be able to create something for your budget. It isn’t necessary to spend a huge amount of money on this but it pays to plan for the long term and develop a website that you can build on, especially if you want to add online retailing, an e-newsletter or capture consumer information for promotional purposes later.
- some designers use their own coding and therefore you will need to continue to work through them to keep your site up to date or make changes- while you will be purchasing the construction of a website, you won’t be purchasing the actual code written in this instance and you will need to plan for an ongoing cost for support
- because different people use different types of computers and different browser software, always make sure your website opens and displays correctly on different systems, including any special effects such as rotating images or animations
- check your website software for compatibility with mobile devices too – you may need to set up a different version for display on mobile phones or tablets (with fewer images so it downloads quickly for example)
- be careful of the ‘fancy’ tricks if you expect most of your users to be using slower access online such as dial up or regional access as these can also slow down or disrupt downloading by users
As with your other marketing materials, your website will need to be maintained, ensuring key details such as opening hours, product range, stockists and pricing are all up to date. It’s important to be realistic about the time and money you want to put into this. You can choose to contract someone to set up and maintain your site or you can have the site constructed using one of the many packages that allows you to manage the content yourself like WordPress. If you plan frequent additions and changes, such as adding content or special promotions every week or so, it is likely you will want to be able to do this yourself and you will need to factor this in to your selection of software platform and design. Choose a package you are comfortable with and make sure training is included if someone else is constructing your site for you.
Making it work for you
Once you have a website, it’s easy to make it work harder for you:
- remember to promote your website in everything you do – add your website to your business card, all your promotional materials, your invoices, and your email signature.
- link to other relevant websites that you know will draw people to it – see if you can get a link through your local food group, regional development group or tourism marketing committee
- your web developer should register your site with search engines such as Google as part of their service and should also advise you about Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) such as keywords and metadata options to help your website rise in the search rankings of most search engines
- consider including a Google map or Google calendar feature in your website – this supports Google’s ranking of your website in search results
Lots of businesses have the vague feeling they ‘should’ have a blog and that it will create sales. As with the other forms of social media, this has not really happened. More even than a Facebook page, a blog needs a good reason to exist and should be updated at least weekly to keep fans interested. This represents a lot of time for a small business owner and it’s important to be very clear about what you want to achieve by blogging before you start because a dusty old unchanging blog can lead consumers to think your products and brand aren’t keeping up either.
Blogs are great to expand on your brand values, for example a commitment to Australian suppliers, which can be a value shared by your consumers and therefore a way to connect with them. You can also use them to converse in more detail than, say, Twitter’s 140 character limit. But any digital presence is also a representation of your brand and products so it is important to follow social media etiquette and avoid using blogs simply as a series of long-winded advertisements.
If having your own blog isn’t the right answer, remember there are literally thousands of specialist bloggers out there who may help with your marketing. You will need to do some research before you connect with them as some are very professional about what they do and some aren’t. Many companies receive requests for product for review on their blogs but before you agree, it is wise to check how many readers they have, read their blog and decide if they will be a positive connection for your brand or not – as well as being aware that they are perfectly within their rights to give you a bad review if they don’t like your product.
Food Bloggers Australia brings together the most-established and credible bloggers currently working in Australia and offers advice to those getting started.
Using social media for your business
Social media is the term used to describe the vast range of public websites on which you can create an identity and communicate with your consumers and supporters. Amongst the most popular currently are Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.
Many businesses are attracted to the notion of easy sales being created by having a social media presence but the evidence shows this is rarely the result. Where social media really excels is in real time direct interaction with your consumers. You can have a conversation, gain feedback and respond to negative perceptions easily and quickly.
Social media sites and services can be a great way though to drive consumers to your website, where you can run competitions or offer online ordering and, in the process, expose them to more information about your brand and products. You can also capture information to enable you to stay in touch with these people such as an email address for newsletters and special promotions. It is in this process of leading the consumer from a social media site to your website and then to act on an offer or sign up that the real value of social media lies for small businesses.
However, social media is an environment driven by the consumer, not the business with whom they interact. Social media users do not like overt marketing and are extremely sensitive to what they perceive to be ‘spin’. So while it’s possible to attract fans and encourage and educate them about your products, you need to have a strategy for what you want to achieve with a social media presence and the resources to make sure your site stays fresh and active. You should plan to monitor and respond to comments on a Facebook page or via Twitter as quickly as possible and certainly no less than daily, including weekends and while you are on holiday.
Plan ahead for success
It’s a good idea to plan out in advance what you want to focus on via your social media for the year or at least several months. That way you can build it into your other promotional activities and also give yourself blog topics to work with, for example. This saves you from the pressure of staring at the screen trying to think of something to write that will help your brand and be interesting every week.
You can also ‘push’ content from one social media platform to another, for example some businesses post on Facebook and have that post automatically appear on their Twitter feed as well. You can also consider running a Facebook or Twitter feed on your website page, which means your posts on your chosen social media platform will also appear on your website homepage. This gives a sense of dynamism to a website as there’s always something fresh to read, and can encourage your fans and followers to connect with you via both social media and online signups for newsletters and other benefits.
Social media style, etiquette and rules
Social media is characterised by an informal, personal style of communication. This doesn’t mean there’s no need to check what you are writing and saying carefully but it does give you a chance to add some personality to your brand. You can match your language to how you want your brand to be perceived and you can have fun in the social media space. Here are a few tips:
- remember who your target audience is and make sure you write in a style that appeals to them about things they are interested in
- most social media posts are written in the first person (I/we)
- don’t get too far into the trendy words and abbreviations used in social media unless your audience is already there – it can look false and turn consumers off
- always be clear – read and re-read what you write before you post to make sure you aren’t assuming the reader has your background knowledge
- try to use social media posts to link back to your website and always cross-promote other activities such as appearances at food shows, new editions of your newsletter etc
- avoid using your Facebook or Twitter account simply to advertise product – this drives consumers away because they don’t like feeling they are being ‘sold to’
- never criticise anyone, it will come back to bite you
- don’t delete negative feedback, instead respond constructively as this shows you are open and transparent (you can delete offensive content but you should send a message or post to say you have done so and why)
- check your spelling – or horrible things can happen!
You will need to develop a basic social media policy for your business, especially if a number of staff is involved in monitoring and using your social media sites. This should emphasise that it is the business that is responding and posting and personal comments are not acceptable. There are many templates for developing social media policies available on the internet.
The various social media sites have strict rules about what can and cannot be posted. Facebook, for example, forbids businesses to run competitions via their site. Standards of conduct apply as for more traditional advertising so, for example, you cannot encourage minors via a social media site to sample an alcoholic product. Be aware that the rules change frequently and are quite difficult to interpret.
Negative posts or criticism
There is a risk with social media that your site will be posted on by someone who doesn’t like your product or hasn’t had a good experience. It is essential to be transparent – removing a negative comment from your Facebook page (unless it is outright offensive) is a bad idea, as is responding negatively to a nasty Twitter comment. Instead, respond politely and constructively and follow through on your business procedure for complaints as well, such as making contact privately via their contact with a message if you want to offer a replacement or provide more information. Experienced brands also know that often, when a negative comment is posted, your fans will jump in to defend you. This can end up being very positive for your brand.
Many businesses are now adding QR (Quick Recognition) codes to their labels and print advertisements. These codes look like small black and white squares and can be read and recognised by mobile phone and tablet scanners, enabling them to link directly to your website or social media presence. This is emerging as a way to attract tech-savvy consumers to additional information and giving brands further opportunities to promote their brand and values. QR codes can be linked to:
- special offers or other direct motivation to encourage consumers to purchase or converse with you as a brand
- contact details
- stockist lists
- YouTube videos of advertisements, demonstrations of product use
- online shop pages
If you want to set up for QR codes, you will need to ensure the content you are linking to is enabled as a mobile landing page and is compatible with as many browsers and brands of mobile technology as possible. There are QR code generators and mobile landing page creation tools available via the internet or you can work with your website designer and marketing advisors to add this feature to your promotional strategy.