7 Ways to Create Your Online HQ

In my previous post, I talked about the importance of having an internet presence, but went on to claim that that presence didn’t need to be a website. Now, I want to explore what some of the options for building that presence are, and discuss them a little more deeply.

To be clear, what I’m talking about here is not just a place where you appear on the web. It’s the hub of your internet presence. You may show up in a number of different places on the web, but what I’m going to be talking is the main place where you want all your traffic to be feeding back towards. It’s what Chris Brogan calls a home base.  I call it a HQ (headquarters).  I’ve also heard it called a hub.  Whatever you call it, it’s the place that all your other online presences should be pointing towards.

If you have multiple presences on the web, I highly recommend picking one of them to be your HQ, and putting your best content there, while the purpose of everything else you do should be to drive traffic to the HQ.  That being said, let’s look at a few different ways to build your HQ.

1. Build a website

Yes, I did predict that websites are going to begin to fall out of favour among SMBs, but for the moment, they’re probably still the most popular choice for SMBs looking to get online.  A good business website is not about having the coolest design on the planet, or having the best flash intro.  It’s about being accessible, clear and leading to conversion.  You can easily spend twenty thousand dollars on a site that will never make a single sale.  That’s why I think that the most important thing about a web design team is not how skilled the graphic designer, but how smart the person who optimizes for conversion is (and if no one’s doing that, then you might as well be throwing away your money).

Design and flash are cool, and can help make a good impression on a new visitor, but unless your site is optimized for conversion, don’t bother.

It’s also worth noting that while the skills necessary to build a mainstream website from scratch are slightly more intricate than when I learned HTML ten years ago, building a professional looking site has never been easier thanks to a variety of do-it-yourself platform based tools.  These are often good cost-effective solutions for an early site, and you can always upgrade later. One example, I’ve heard good things about is Squarespace.  There are many others.

2. Take advantage of a social media presence

Social media is a great way to connect with people, and can also be used to drive traffic to your HQ, but what about using social media as your HQ?  More and more businesses are setting up Facebook fan pages for just that reason.  Facebook now has 350 million users around the world, so setting up a Facebook fan page and thinking you’ll reach almost everyone isn’t as crazy as it sounds, especially if your target demographic is a Facebook crowd (if you don’t know if your audience is a Facebook crowd, you might want to do some market research before diving into a web HQ).

While Facebook is the biggest, and most common place to set up a HQ for small business, certain niche businesses might find that other social networks can work for them as well.  If you’re in the music industry, it might not be a bad idea to take a walk over to MySpace (remember MySpace?  That thing was all the rage until Facebook came around). MySpace has done a good job of rebuilding itself as a place for music-lovers to congregate, and you could very well find your customers there.

Similarly, if you offer professional services, you might be able to business on the web directly through your LinkedIn profile.  You just need to get creative about it.

Finally, there’s the darling of social media: Twitter. While I don’t think Twitter is the ideal place to set up a HQ (it’s difficult to tell your customers all there is to know about you in 140 characters), a few businesses have had great success with this tactic, such as Kogi BBQ, a moving food truck that tweets its location to its followers and meets them at the appointed time and place.

3. Use directory profile pages

Directory profile pages have come a long way in the past few years.  What used to just be some basic contact info, and little more than what was available in a print directory has now evolved into a content-rich experience.  Most directories will give you the ability to add images, video, driving directions and much more to your profile page, as well as give you the ability to track the traffic on that page.  As a bonus, these directory pages, often have good SEO ranking, so you don’t need to worry about SEOing your own site.  (Disclaimer: I work for the Yellow Pages Group, the publisher of YellowPages.ca, the biggest online business directory in Canada).

4. Use Google Local Business Centre

Google Local Business Centre is Google’s big push to get into the local business market.  Traditionally, Google’s been great for national advertisers, but has had a hard time attracting smaller, local advertisers into its fold.  The Local Business Centre might be the answer that Google’s looking for.  Essentially, Google aggregates information from a bunch of different sources and creates listings and pages for every Local Business.  If you never do anything about this, Google will still create this page for you, and will populate it with whatever content its search robots find on the the internet that’s related to you.

Admittedly, that’s slightly alarming in some respects, because you don’t have complete control over your internet presence, and for that reason alone, I don’t think I would rely on Google Local as my business HQ.  However, being aware of it is a good idea, because it can be a powerful tool, and could potentially deliver a lot of traffic.  John Jantsch at Duct Tape Marketing recently posted this article about Google Local, that’s worth a look if you want to know how to get more out of it.

5. Build a Squidoo Lens

Squidoo is a site started by Seth Godin, one of the leading thinkers on internet marketing.  That fact alone should make you want to consider it.  If, however, you’re not convinced by my endorsement alone, I’ll do my best to describe Squidoo.  On Squidoo, you create a “lens.”  A lens is a kind of page that captures all sorts of different pieces of content and presents it in a chronological, but otherwise, unorganized fashion.  I played around with a Squidoo lens for a little bit, but ended up getting distracted by something shiny.  My aborted attempt, however, shouldn’t discourage you from seeing what the site has to offer.

6. Be a Virtual Shopkeep with an Ebay Store

If you sell goods over the internet, setting up an Ebay storefront might be the only HQ that you need.  The auction super site provides a trusted mechanism by which you can sell your products without going through the trouble of building your own e-commerce site.  It also has built-in traffic generation since people searching for products on Ebay are likely to come across your storefront, or if not, at the very least your products.  If your sole purpose in being online is to sell directly to people through the internet, and not have them ever come into your brick & mortar store, there are worse options.

7. Join the Blogosphere

I was talking to a prominent blogger and marketing consultant a couple of weeks ago, and I asked him about his blog.  It is a bare bones, standard templated blog, and it’s not attached to any “real” website.  As it turns out, this person had had a website built for him, had invested the money in it, but once it was ready, he found that he didn’t like the outcome. It was not adding any value, and it was just burying the one thing people came to him for in the first place: information. So, he scrapped the website, and continued using his blog as his sole internet presence. This tactic seems to work well for professionals in an information industry.  it’s easy to communicate the information through a blog, and you don’t need to worry about listing inventory or hosting galleries of your stock.  A simple blog with an “About” page and a “Contact” page has worked well for many consultants, designers, writers, artists, and could also work well for lawyers, accountants, and other knowledge workers.

Those are just a few of the various possibilities for buildling your internet HQ.  Do you have any to add to the list?  Add to the conversation in the comments.

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