By Janelle Durham, MSW, LCCE
As we move into the new year, you may be considering starting your own independent childbirth education or birth related business. Maybe you already have such a business already established but are looking to take it to the next level. Today’s post is part of a new series: Building Your Birth Business. Check out the first post in the series, “Online Marketing for Birth Professionals – A Beginner’s Guide here.
Perhaps the organization you work for would like to grow their offerings geared toward families in the childbearing year. Janelle Durham. MSW, LCCE, a birth and parent educator, working for several programs in the Pacific Northwest has put together this beginner’s guide to improving your online presence. This resource can help you to get started in establishing your name and business on the internet, and how to make yourself “findable” when people are searching for you or the type of services you provide. – Sharon Muza, Science & Sensibility Community Manager
What is online presence?
For the purposes of this article, here’s what I mean:
- If people search for your business / organization by name, will they find you?
- If people search for businesses like yours online (your “competitors” or colleagues), will they also discover you?
- If there are people who are in the right demographic for your services who might benefit from your services someday but aren’t looking for them yet OR people are searching for information related to your work: will they stumble across your name from time to time, building “brand familiarity” so when they do need services, they think of you?
- When people read about you online (on your site or elsewhere) will they get a good impression? A bad impression? Or a confusing mix of information?
How important is online presence?
The internet has become one of the primary ways that people find information. 93% of American adults age 30 – 49 use the internet. 57% of adults access it on their phones. Of people age 30 – 49, 82% use social media. 63% of Facebook users use it every day. And they use it to find available services in their area. When searching for a physician, 66% look online (internet searches and online directories), 38% use the physical yellow pages, and 4% newspaper. When searching for a restaurant, 82% look online, 17% in the physical yellow pages, and 14% newspaper. (And I must note, the source of this data is heavily invested in physical yellow pages. They don’t share the demographics for their data, but I would guess that if limited to the 30 – 49 year old age group, the numbers for internet use may be even higher, and physical yellow pages and newspaper much lower.)
And internet users are not just searching for physicians and restaurants. Expectant parents and new parents are also searching online for information and support services. I work with a childbirth education organization that is very established in the community, with lots of community partnerships. When we ask our students how they found our classes, 75% were from professional referrers (care providers, hospitals we contract with, doulas), 3% were from family or friends, but 21% found us online through web searches or through links to our website. If you are a new business without lots of local referrers yet, you would likely see an even higher percentage of your clients coming in through the web. And if you advertise online, that will help you connect with even more potential clients online.
Tips for Improving your Online Presence
Here are some tips. Some of these steps would take you minutes to complete. And most do not require any technical knowledge.
1. Have a website
If you don’t already have a website, just search online and you’ll find plenty of basic tutorials to get you started. DON’T go and hire a developer to build you a very complex site that you can’t maintain yourself. DO choose a DIY software that’s easy to work with and inexpensive to maintain so that you can keep it up-to-date easily. (I use WordPress.com and would recommend it but there are plenty of other good options.)
2. Put essential information on your website
Make sure all the basic information someone would need to know about your business or services is on your website somewhere. For example, list your location! You’d be surprised how many sites fail to list the location of the business, or list the neighborhood without listing city and state. Don’t assume that people know what your services are – define them! Learn more about essential content here.
3. Include important keywords on your site
Put yourself in the shoes of a potential client. Imagine they are doing a web search for services like yours. Think of all the words they’d be likely to type in. (And synonyms for those words.) Then make sure those words appear on your site somewhere. Learn more.
4. Write an effective page title and description
When you look at search results, you’ll notice each listing has a title for the page it links to and a brief description of what you’ll find there. What title and description is it displaying for your webpage? You want to make sure it’s the best it can be. If you are able to edit the HTML code for your site, you can write your own meta-title and page description there. If not, you can change the content of your site to affect the title and description. Learn more.
5. Claim your business
If you “claim your business” on Google, Bing, and in any important local directories, it makes it easier for those search engines to find you and places your listing higher in the results. It’s really easy! Learn how.
6. Check your web presence
You need to know what happens when someone searches for you. What do they find? Use a browser in “private mode” where it doesn’t remember what you’ve searched for before. Then type in the terms people would type in if they were looking for you. Learn whether you appear on review sites and in internet directories, then check those sites to see what they say about you. Learn whether there are other services with names similar to yours that you could be easily confused with. Think about what you could put on your website to differentiate yourself from them. Learn more on how to search and what to search for here.
Add related content to your website
You might choose to only have the basic info about your services on your website. That’s totally fine. But many people choose to include articles or a blog on topics related to their services. This could help people find your site when searching for related information. For example, a birth doula might include articles on morning sickness, or choosing a care provider, or things to buy for baby. A potential client might search for that info, find your article on it, and then look around your site more to learn more about who you are and what you do. Also, if you do write that content, encourage other people to link to it.
Network with others
Talk to your employees, your colleagues, your clients, your students, other professionals in related fields, and so on. Encourage them to include a link to your website on their website; encourage them to share your Facebook posts; ask if you can guest-write an article for their blog, invite them to re-blog your posts. More links to your site from other sites help improve your web presence.
Establish a presence on other social media
Create a Facebook page! (That’s the dominant social media at this time for the 30 – 49 year old age group.) Consider also: google plus and LinkedIn if you’re aiming at older, educated professionals, Pinterest if you want to reach women (moms especially), Tumblr, and instagram for the 25 and unders. Twitter for very wired folks. Learn more about the different platforms here and their audiences here and here. To learn about setting up accounts in any of these systems and maximizing your visibility, just do web searches.
Also, be sure your various accounts are linked up. For example, for my WordPress.com blog More Good Days with Kids, whenever I post something it automatically puts a post about it up on my Facebook page, Google plus, Twitter and LinkedIn. Really the only one I actively maintain is the Facebook page but I know links are appearing in all those places.
Get started now
Most of the social service providers I know got into this work because we want to do direct work with our clients. Most don’t want to deal with marketing, or think about websites. But if you think your services benefit parents, then the best way to reach and benefit more parents is to take a few minutes to improve your web presence. If you don’t think you can do all the steps listed above, at least do one!
About Janelle Durham
Janelle Durham, MSW, LCCE. Janelle has taught childbirth preparation, breastfeeding, and newborn care for 14 years. She trains childbirth educators for the Great Starts program at Parent Trust for Washington Children, and teaches young families through Bellevue College’s Parent Education program. She is a co-author of Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn and writes blogs/websites on: pregnancy & birth; breastfeeding and newborn care; and parenting toddlers & preschoolers. Contact Janelle and learn more at www.janelledurham.com