Every small business needs to increase its online presence and attract more customers, differentiate its brand, guide and educate employees, convey the value of the business, and provide an educational resource that audiences will want to consume and share, says Dany Gaspar, director of digital strategy at Levick, a global strategic communications firm. “First, define and align your strategy for being online. Determine your goals, audience, message, and interaction,” he advises. “The new age of marketing is about building brand, interest, and awareness through customer loyalty and adding value for the customer.”

Chris Spanos is general manager of Repair.com, a new website that lets consumers book appointments online with reliable local service providers for TV and home appliance repairs in 50 major metropolitan areas nationwide. Joining and capturing the online community is critical to the success of his business model. Here are the elements he considers essential to an effective strategy:

  • Have a website that’s smartphone- and tablet-friendly. “BIA/Kelsey (a local-media research and consulting firm) forecasts that mobile searches will surpass desktop searches by 2015,” Spanos says. “It’s imperative that local businesses have an ‘on-the-go’ feature.”
  • Use a reputation management service such as Reputation.com to follow what customers are saying about your business online, and act on that information.
  • Use Yext PowerListings or a similar service that allows you to easily and quickly update, manage, and maintain your business information across the Web. “Data suggests that 15 to 30 percent of business listings across the Web have inaccurate data, such as bad email addresses, incorrect phone numbers, etc.,” he warns.
  • Focus on Google and Yahoo! searches and advertising, but take a go-slow approach with display ads. “Display ads don’t generate much user engagement and are typically expensive, and the ROI is often miniscule,” he says.

You can use tools like Google Places and local and hyper-local resources and content to increase your online presence and opportunities for engagement with customers and prospects. To create your Google Places page, Google trawls the Web and collects information about your business from a variety of third-party sources, including Yelp and the Yellow Pages. “Providing all the top-line information regarding your company via Google Places allows your listing to appear among top Google local search results for your company’s name or industry,” Gaspar explains. Data released by Google suggests that 97 percent of consumers search for local businesses online, and 73 percent of all online activity is related to local content.

Local resources target specific geographical areas but focus mainly on cities; examples include online sites of newspapers, Google AdWords, local ads, and Yellow Page online advertising. Hyper-local resources focus on smaller areas, even street-level marketing, offering content and advertising relevant to a specific community; examples include Patch, Foursquare, Yelp, and Google Maps.

While those tools can be very effective in helping you join the online community, content is king when it comes to capturing it. “Content and promotion of said content are the two most important elements in any campaign,” Gaspar avows. Examples of good value-added content include white papers, relevantly focused news, downloadable “freebies” such as screensavers and shareware, samples, and coupons. A simple way to provide value-added content to your online presence is to incorporate a free WordPress or Tumblr blog into your website, and then update it frequently, Spanos suggests.

Learn more:

  • Alexa provides an extensive database of information on your sites in comparison to your competitors.
  • AddThis is a social bookmarking tool that lets visitors easily share your content on many different platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, Digg, and Delicious.