Web/social media presence for Small Business on no budget?

Here’s a little secret…..having an easy to access and regularly updated website and social media presence is not the domain of the richer SME’s and larger corporates, never has been, you don’t need to employ content managers or developers, you can, to a reasonable degree, simply do it yourself.

I’ve long been an advocate of DIY web, purely because to buy in the skill can be expensive. By that I don’t just mean aforementioned staff, I also mean a site provided by a third party. History, as well as my own experience, is full of examples where a “proper” commercial website has cost a shiny shilling.

Where given the chance I do take the DIY approach a stage further as I have some prior commercial development experience so can add bespoke databases and scripts to sites, but what I add in geekyness I struggle to make up in design etiquette and time usually causes problems, hence the current (soon to be previous!) amount of CMS in the ISSG site.

But it seems the old commercial obstacles; pressure to keep headcounts low and staff wage bills much the same, as well as a desire to be seen to have a “professional” presence, overrule the need to actually spend some time in development of content. Seen it a million times….

This is not about lamenting the past though – let’s ignore the fact that a commercially bought-in website often ages very quickly (a lot of commercial developers only offer remedial changes only, so if you’ve not got the CMS ability built-in….) and can be very expensive.

We are no longer in the good “old” days of the 90s where a developer pitching a bespoke site for £75,000 loses out to another one that pitched it for tenfold! Nope, the austerity is gone and so are the big money sites – I’ve got nothing to prove it but I bet that company who eventually did pay three quarters of a million now have their own internal developers!

So, in part due to some recent conversations about a local charity but extending that to small business, I plan to produce a lightweight guide to how to setup a basic, but functional web presence, but also extend it into the burgeoning world of social media.

Let’s start off with a caveat here – you may have heard the expression “Content is king” this is the single most important thing! It might go against every trend there is, keep it simple, keep it short, etc, etc, but no…..on the web, waffle.

You may have also heard something about SEO or Search Engine Optimisation, if you’re very unlucky you may either; have worked with an SEO or possibly even have one working for you now (if you do you have my permission to fire them today!) – The thing is that yes, what they do does work – but in essence what they do is flip a web search and perform it on YOU!

Huh, what? Yep, seriously. I mean like all things there are going to be some really great SEO firms out there – you know, they charge you peanuts and are constantly helping you improve, but the chances are that after the initial round of meetings you get a report once a month a few paragraphs on how your ranking has improved or why it’s not.

Binning our SEO was one of the first jobs here, they were largely ineffectual, missed a few glaring issues with the existing website(s) and the market is such a specific one that our web presence, no matter how unprofessional would do the job on its own.

With the changes due to the way search engines work code will work harder to interpret your search criteria and AI (Artificial Intelligence) algorithms will try to better understand what it is that you’re searching for. This sort of seismic shift happens on a regular basis in computing, with the small stutters forward in processing power, regular operating system updates, core software version updates, etc.

In fact in some cases it’s accelerating. We support PCs (well, until recently anyway) with operating systems from DOS (I know) through to Windows 7, one of my recent drives has been to obliterate anything older than XP, and a lot of the XP machines are now gone/updated to Windows 7 (no Vista here thank you!)

So the computer industry is used to change, regular and often frighteningly “complex” (Office 2003 to Office 2007 anyone??) and yes, sometimes the effect on the users is not anticipated, but we are getting off the point here somewhat. The point is that it’s very possible to get bogged down in singular thinking or the thought that “its fine as it is.”

With regards web presence let’s look at it. Everyone could and probably should have a website, email address, etc. But the local plumber down the road, you know the guy with the slightly rusty blue van, he won’t need to be too in-depth about his services beyond his normal patch – a Law firm in Sydney won’t care that he can come out to fix leaky pipes 24/7, but you would far rather call him on his mobile to report a leak than drop him an email. BUT the small firm on the local industrial estate that manufactures replacement imperial valves and (can if required) ship them worldwide and that Law firm over the other side of the world we spoke of….their building is 250 years old and still has many original features.

You get the idea. And yes, sad as I am to admit, this is straying close to the marketing function, but the Information Technology / Systems field has evolved and grown and in a lot of cases is the glue for a lot of businesses these days – if they realise it or not.
The first stage in deciding just how much relevance or reliance you place on your web presence is to work out just how appealing your product or service would be to who and where those who are! And that is most definitely a marketing function.

Consider previously referenced charity. A local (to Cornwall) site of scientific interest – fabulous equipment in some cases examples of machinery that simply does not survive elsewhere IN THE WORLD! These guys have people from all over the globe travelling over to see them and their exhibits. So the worldwide relevancy is very high, and therefore a web presence is essential.

Now, what they actually produce is very limited, it’s very much a visitor attraction, so no complicated e-commerce required. There’s a possibility that buying tickets online might be relevant, but this isn’t Disneyland (other theme parks are available!) It’s more of a turn up, pay, stroll around. Geeky science types by appointment.

And so a perfect “customer” for the sort of presence I’m talking about here. And this is a neat place to tie things up for now. I’m going to break the guide up into sections, but the plan is to, eventually, compile it into a PDF for free download, but for now here’s an idea of what I plan to cover, in order.

Content (what, how much, where), Website (setting up, managing), Social Media (What, when, how often), Communication (types, seriousness, reliability) and anything else I can’t think of now.

References;
http://mashable.com/2012/03/22/google-semantic-search-seo
http://www.webpronews.com/ceo-says-seo-a-waste-of-time-2007-02
http://www.binkd.com/social-media/seo-companies-waste-of-time/
http://reciprocalconsultingblog.com/search-engine-optimization/6-seo-tactics-waste-your-time/
http://www.webmarcom.net/blog/bid/37862/Why-SEO-Is-A-Waste-Of-Time-And-Money-Tips-To-Improve-Conversions
http://mashable.com/2012/01/13/google-search-plus-your-world-seo/

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THE PERSONAL BLOG OF CORNWALL-BASED COMPANY DIRECTOR // CHRIS RICKARD