Should you buy or build your online presence? Should you count on organic or inorganic growth in your presence? That's the age old question in business, and an important question specifically when considering the web presence for small businesses. Believe it or not, online presence affects credibility, reputation, professional relevance and referral power! To be successful today, SMB's need to grow their online presence beyond a basic website.

So, to what extent should you buy vs. build? To answer this question, I talked to Tim Miller, CEO of Local Search Essentials, a leading online marketing firm. Here is what he shared:

Getting Started

Starting out, a small business essentially needs to consider:

(1) "Buying" immediate visibility via paid advertising opportunities and

(2) "Building" a strong web presence, which includes listings in directories, reviews & testimonials, and social media sites.

Everything needs to be professionally branded, mobile friendly, and have a strong focus on generating phone calls & emails.

Every industry is different, and certain geographic areas are more competitive than others. It's important to understand how competitive your industry and geographic area to know how much it's going to take to compete!

A small business should work with an expert who is experienced and can easily evaluate opportunities, competition, and determine a mix of strategies that make sense according to the goals, objectives and budget of the SMB.

Maintaining Social Media Success

Your business needs to generate engaging content that existing followers will find interesting & that will help educate and convert prospects to customers. There has to be commitment, and you need to use a mix of tools to measure and analyze results, and identify opportunities for improvement on an ongoing basis.

What appeals to a SMB's clientele online to keep them engaged with the brand?

This is a tough question, and is going to vary depending on the industry and type of business.

Consumers interact and engage with a number of different types of elements including paid ads, web sites, local listings, blog posts, informative articles, photos, videos, reviews & testimonials, content published to social media channels, they "check in" and "check out" at locations on mobile devices, actively search for special offers to take advantage of, and respond to different types of banner ads.

When we begin working with a new customer, the first thing we do is evaluate the SMB's target customer, so we can understand their "buying journey" and develop a custom strategy that will generate visibility, convert prospects to customers, and then delight and engage them on an ongoing basis.

If time and resources are limited, what is the #1 thing SMB's should do to market their business online?

88% of consumers read online reviews before they purchase local services, and 92% believe what they read! As such, an SMB's online reputation can literally make or break it. Having a plan, executing it, and monitoring results and responding when necessary are all essential key factors that determine success.

Search engines reward companies that actively build and market their online reputation with increased visibility. In addition, the reviews educate and convert prospects into paying customers by increasing confidence. Without a reputation marketing plan, results from any marketing activities (both online and offline) are going to be limited.

SO, Buy or Build?

The truth is, you need to do BOTH in order to be successful. If you have the time, building an organic presence online can be extremely valuable. But by spending money on advertising, and even on experts like Tim, you can speed up the growth of your online presence.