Online Marketing: The tools have changed, the objective hasn’t

It has become vital for businesses to have an online presence. With 75% of UK internet users saying that researching products and services is their second most popular online activity – it’s as important as traditional advertising, business cards or headed notepaper. A well designed and maintained website or online community can be a powerful tool for bringing in new customers and maximising existing business relationships.
But online marketing is not a one step process. As a business owner, you must keep up to date with new digital marketing tools and techniques in order to stay relevant.
So in the digital marketing arena, what should your business be doing now, and looking to do in the future?
Back to basics
Maximising your online presence is simple once you’ve mastered the basics.
Think about your business’ USP. If you have products to sell, try integrating e- commerce into your site. If you provide a service, let customers know what you do, and show them why you are a trusted, reputable and quality business. You may also want to consider including product reviews or client testimonials.
The personal touch is a real point of difference between small businesses and larger corporates, so your website should not just be a window onto your products and services, but onto your people. Think about including images, a biography or blog section and a video showcasing your customer service skills.
Whilst this may take some co-ordination, the extra effort you have put into your website will make your business come to life online.
The old method of local advertising 
Online communities
Social media is now an important way of connecting with customers and reaching out to whole online communities – through Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to name but a few.
Building an online community, regardless of platform, can be a great route to generating interest in a business – engaging current customers, helping to win new customers and shouting about the products and services you offer.
In order to successfully build an online community, make sure you identify a need or purpose that your customers can get behind. Engage consistently with customers – offering discussions, deals or advice – and instil a sense of belonging amongst active participants who demonstrate that they understand what your community is about.
Make sure you get talking online. By participating in forums specific to your sector, or in discussions on sites such as LinkedIn, you can begin to position the business as an industry leader.
Engaging with online communities consistently and well will enable you to build a loyal client base, attract new customers and enhance online visibility.
Keep it fresh
Building a successful online profile is a long-term investment and by keeping up to date with developments in digital marketing you can adapt your online priorities accordingly.
There are a number of ways to stay abreast of new marketing trends. Business Matters has dedicated content on this issue, and digital marketing service providers, like Yell, often run events to help SME owners get to grips with everything from building a great website to managing online reviews.
Read up on the latest tricks of the trade in your sector publications. The tools have certainly changed, but the goals of marketing and business development remain the same.