How a web presence can help build your business

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Related tags: Pub, Website, Search engine optimization

Like all good technologies, the web keeps getting faster, cheaper and easier to use - so there is no excuse for pubs not to have a good website. It...

Like all good technologies, the web keeps getting faster, cheaper and easier to use - so there is no excuse for pubs not to have a good website. It will help customers find out what's on and what's on the menu. First time visitors will see how to find the pub, and what it's like inside - while prospective buyers will also be able to get an impression of your business.

Keep the website up-to-date

It is all too easy to build a website, and forget about it. And as the seasons pass, drinks promotions expire, menus change and events come and go. If the website is tired and time-expired, there's every chance that anybody looking at the site will think the pub is in the same state. Another problem with this is that your website becomes ever-harder to find. Most people use search engines to discover new places to visit. Search engines favour freshly updated sites.

Google, Yahoo! and MSN make up over 90 per cent of UK searches. They all prefer sites that are up-to-date, have plenty of words (correctly spelt!) and are well-linked.

Keep your site up-to-date by running it on low-cost software that doesn't need any more technical expertise than producing a menu. Wordpress is free and, from £500, are both good options. Using them to build good-looking websites requires very little technical expertise. If a local web company builds a site for the pub, make sure there's a CMS (content management system) that lets you do your own updates without their help.

Have plenty of text on your pages. People type words when they're searching the web, so your site should use the same vocabulary as the people you want to come and spend money with you. If the pub menu says 'traditional pub grub', don't write about 'autumn dishes from our fine dining menu' - and vice versa. And write down everything visitors might want to know.

Get great links into your site

We are talking search engines again - yes, they are really that important to getting traffic onto your pub's website. Search engines love sites that have plenty of links to them - but not just links from any old site.

Links help to build your site's reputation: links from good websites will add to your reputation: but buying links in bulk won't help much, and may reduce your reputation. So get listed in online directories: Google, and Yahoo!, have directories (search for google/yahoo directory). There is also, Yell or Thomson's online edition. And look for local business listing sites - many of them are free, and will let you add a few words to describe your pub.

And don't ignore social networking sites either: MySpace, Facebook and Bebo can all provide a useful boost to the pub's reputation, if the publican writes about their pub. And if music is a big part of the pub, don't ignore services like Last FM's personal radio. You can add a profile page and describe the type of music someone might hear in your pub.

YouTube and other video sharing sites (search for free video sharing) can add useful link reputation too: create a profile page with a link to the pub's website, and shoot some videos. Don't worry about having Oscar-winning acting and production standards. A good mobile phone video is good enough for the web - just make sure the film is well-lit. Now film the pub's features - gardens, kitchens, food, snug…

Let customers have their say

It's hard work keeping a website up-to-date if you try to do it yourself. There are more than enough updates to menus and events to upload (even if each one should only take two minutes). Search engines like sites that are fresh with new content - so give your customers space to have their say. Just allowing comments on pages can let customers thank you for an event or a new menu and tell you where things can be improved.

Services like photo-sharing site Flickr let your customers load their photos to your site - in three straightforward steps. Create a Flickr account in the pub's name. Then add the Flickr widget on the pages where you'd like the photos to appear. Thirdly, ask your customers to load their photos to Flickr and tag them with the pub's name and location. Of course, customers can do exactly the same with videos, which you can then show on the pub's website.

With a little more work, customers can have their own forum space to chat, plan events, and keep in touch when they are not together in one place. A standard bulletin board is quick and easy to set up - but might need a teenager with a little knowledge to get it working just the way you want it to.

None of these steps need cost anything more than a few hours of your time. Each will help your customers find out what's on in the pub, and can help new customers feel right at home on their first visit.

Will Rowan works with businesses of all sizes to make money online and is the author of The E-Commerce Pocketbook

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