Over the weekend, I spoke with a couple of small business owners who were just getting started in digital marketing. They asked, for a brand new website and a brand new business, what should they do first? They felt overwhelmed by all the choices and channels available. What I suggested to them was a punch list of 8 foundational tasks to do as soon as practical:
- Find the most common search phrases
- Secure domains and names based on that research
- Choose a solid CMS
- Set up Google Analytics
- Set up Google Tag Manager
- Set up JSON-LD
- Set up AMP
- Create content with Answer the Public
Find the Most Common Search Phrases
Before rushing out to buy domain names or websites, understand the market a little. What do people search for that’s relevant to the business? If we’re selling flowers, is the generic term ‘flowers’ searched for more in our area, or are there specific kinds of flowers? I recommend using any of the major keyword research tools such as the AdWords Keyword Planner (free), Google Trends (free), or Moz Keyword Explorer (paid, can use for free once per day).
Once we’ve ascertained what words and phrases are most searched for, we’ll choose a domain name and associated accounts.
Secure Domains and Names
Suppose we found that “Boston city florist” was a solid term that had relevance and search volume. Our next step would be to determine if we could purchase a website domain name that incorporated the term. Instead of manually checking every possible site, I recommend using Namechk. Type in a likely name and it’ll check lots of different places to see what’s available and what isn’t. Here’s an example, using BostonCityFlorist:
Once we’ve found an available identity, we must secure it on as many channels as we’re likely to use. For most small businesses, I’d recommend securing:
Choose others as appropriate, but get accounts set up and branded for at least this selection.
Choose a Solid CMS
We’ve found and secured a name. The next step is to build a website around it using a content management system (CMS). I recommend for the average small business to use a Managed WordPress hosting service like GoDaddy (disclosure: client of my employer) and the WordPress self-hosted CMS.
WordPress – properly managed – is one of the world’s most popular small business website software packages, and for good reason. It’s incredibly flexible, relatively easy to use, and has lots of add-ons/plugins to accommodate many small business needs.
One of the most important things to do with a new WordPress site for small business is to tie it to some form of contact management system. I recommend at the bare minimum having a contact form powered by software like Gravity Forms to collect and email information. Be sure to set up a thank you page with the form to track conversions with Google Analytics.
Set up Google Analytics
After setting up the website, install and set up Google Analytics™, the most popular and robust web & digital analytics software available to small businesses. It’s also free. I’ve blogged about Google Analytics many times over the years, but for getting started, I strongly recommend business owners take the free Google Analytics for Beginners course from Google. There’s no better way to start and learn what Analytics can do for you.
For WordPress sites, many plugins exist to integrate Google Analytics into our website. We don’t need any of them (and certainly don’t pay for them); just follow the instructions in the Google Analytics setup video as part of the beginner’s course.
The most important thing to do with Google Analytics is to set a business goal; for a new website, someone filling out the contact form is the most obvious goal. Take a look at these blog posts for more reading on how to set Google Analytics goals for various kinds of business.
Optional: Google Tag Manager
If we’re likely to do more advanced testing and adding software to our website for tracking above and beyond Google Analytics (such as social media tracking), I also suggest business owners install the free Google Tag Manager™ software. It will change our Google Analytics setup, but Tag Manager makes adding new scripts to our website both safe and easy.
To learn more about how to use Tag Manager, I recommend taking the free Google Tag Manager Fundamentals course from Google in addition to the Analytics course. These courses will teach everything we need to know to get up and running quickly and correctly.
The average small business serves an audience in roughly a 25-50 mile radius, plus possibly online fulfillment. To ensure search engines find us, we should tag our sites with JSON-LD, which is a type of code that we insert into Google Tag Manager. It tells Google and other search engines what kind of business we are, when we’re open, and where we’re located.
Simo Ahava has a decent walkthrough of how to implement JSON-LD in Google Tag Manager; if enough people ask, I’ll create a video walkthrough for just this specific task.
Create Content with Answer the Public
Finally, no website will drive business without regular, fresh, unique content. However, many business owners find themselves stuck about what to write about. Enter Answer the Public. Answer the Public helps generate questions for us to answer.
For example, I typed in florist into Answer the Public and received these questions:
Questions like “why do florists cut the stem at an angle” are questions we should be able to answer easily, yet will serve the audience and what they want to know. Using Answer the Public and words related to our business, we will create regular, fresh, unique content for our website that will continue to attract both audiences and search engines.
Start Your Business Right
These 8 tasks, done well, will help launch our small business on the right foot, ensuring we attract audiences and search engines, track our interactions with them, and measure the business we drive. Do these 8 steps and you’ll be far ahead of most of your competitors, especially in lagging industries.
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Also published on Medium.