How to Spend Your Digital Dollars

Do small businesses really need a website in the era of Facebook and LinkedIn?

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When Joe Wozny, CEO of Canada-based digital strategy firm Concentric and author of The Digital Dollar (FairWinds Press) began working with companies and government agencies more than 15 years ago, mobile phones were many years away from being “smart,” the iPod was yet to be released, and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg was in middle school. No doubt things have changed and will continue changing. What hasn’t, he says, is the importance of mapping out a strategy, rather than taking a “ready, aim, fire approach” to building a web presence.

Q: No doubt, digital strategy is no longer an afterthought for most businesses. Should new businesses pick a domain name before all else?

A: I would say it’s a very important consideration. I’ve seen many cases where a little due diligence on domain name has influenced the company decision. I’ve also seen cases where companies have done a name search and are ready to go to market only to find the domain is taken by someone else.

Q: There’s always the option of going with .biz or .inc, or should new businesses be adamant about securing a .com?

A: Dot com still carries a lot of cache. Dot com on the web means business. But for some businesses the decision is going to be determined by what’s available. In Canada we see organizations use .ca quite successfully. Perhaps a bigger factor is how the name does in search. If you can establish the name and an authority brand that suits the category it’s great to do. Using something such as Google trends and looking at what people are actually searching is helpful. Just keep in mind that how Google optimizes you is ultimately based on the content you create and your site’s activity.

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Q: Many startups feel the need to rush to get up their sites, and understandably. Can this be to their detriment if the site doesn’t look good or isn’t on target?

A: I think first impressions do count for a lot. Therefore I’d suggest like anything else you put together a content strategy. Business and brand alignment are very important. You need to understand what you design and how it relates to your business goals, and make sure your content is consistent and targeted. Content that underwhelms is probably one of the biggest no nos. Ideally you’ll have a content plan in place and forecast it out. You want to avoid “getting it out the door quickly syndrome.” Another don’t is ignoring your competition. Check out what they’re doing.

Finally, don’t disregard mobile. An ever growing number of potential customers are surfing the web via smart phones and tablets. It’s wise to therefore ensure your web page presents information to these potential customers in a format and navigation structure that best suits the device they are browsing on. At minimum consider ensuring your website is mobile compatible and potentially, if it’s within your budget, consider exploring other mobile opportunities that provide additional value to your customers, such as creating an app, mobile advertising, or QR codes.

Q: What are the key differences for a mobile compatible site?

A: You have to put yourself into a mindset of who’s coming online through their mobile device and what information are they looking for. Often it’s a different profile. You have to be aware that things have to be easy to navigate. Stay away from putting so much information on the screen it’s impossible to read or navigate from a small device.

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Q: Let’s go back to this notion of “content” as the silver bullet for maximizing search engine results. Is it about quantity or quality?

A: Content is all the rage, and I’ve written that it’s king. It allows you to nurture and grow your relationships, gives you visibility and adds weight to rankings. Once you have library on a subject matter you could be considered expert in the field, and that drives engagement. But a couple of words of caution: For some businesses, primarily those with utility value, you don’t necessarily need all that content. I also wonder if we’re going to get to a point where we’re all going to be saturated with content.

Q: You’re a startup with a limited budget. Where should you put your digital dollar, so to speak?

A: The first thing is developing a strategy. You need to create a digital roadmap where you define your goals and outline the steps required, as they’ll vary from business to business. It’s not a random walk. For an individual to establish a LinkedIn account for their business makes a lot of sense. A good rolodex on LinkedIn can be a great thing.

Q: With so many social media options out there can businesses skip the traditional website altogether?

A: It all depends on your business goals. I’ve seen a yoga company that caters to a crowd who are all familiar with Facebook, so launched solely on Facebook. Once they established Facebook they launched on Twitter. But now they’re talking about establishing a web page. It’s been my experience that even if a business skips launching a website as a first priority, they may find that they eventually do need one — even if the page acts as a social hub and direct clients to their other online channels.

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Q: Once a business establishes its digital presence, does it need to keep tabs on traffic?

A: If you don’t choose to look at analytics you’re acting in a vacuum. You have to use them and adjust for them. Often times what we may perceive as popular actually isn’t. Also, tracking isn’t just about web analytics on a web page but relationship building in social media. Who are your influencers and how can you work with them to grow visibility? Who are your potential customers and how do they connect with you? Moreover, do they provide any return on investment? For most businesses it’s better to have 10,000 customers that provide value than 100,000 “likes” from people who will never be customers.