The world of business has always been a wide open place – with customers, employees collaborators and other businesses getting in on the act. If there is one thing that has expanded the world of business infinitely, it’s the internet. The internet is a large world that can do everything for people in their own lives, and it has opened up the world of business for us in our professional lives.

The internet, because of its scope and size can be a scary place and do you know what we humans do with scary places? We ignore them – we stay away from what we not only fear, but also what we don’t understand. For many, the internet is something feared because it isn’t understood.

If you’re a business owner, you should be using the internet. If you are a small business owner, you need to be using the internet. There is no excuse left for avoiding it – good use of the internet could be the difference between making or breaking your business.

If you own a business that either isn’t using the internet at all, or isn’t using the internet to the full capabilities provided by the world wide web – you need to find out why. Is it because you don’t understand it? Is it because you don’t have the time? Is it because you didn’t know? Confront your reasoning!

The internet is essential not only to the growth of your business, but the survival of your business. Plus, the internet is easy to use for business purposes thanks to the tools that have been built for business owners just like you.

If your business has no website – you need to pretty much forget about the internet until your business does have a website. All the tools at your disposal that have been created by the internet cannot be used if you do not have a platform with which your business can use them! That platform is your website.

A website is how your business operates on the internet. If you do already have a website, you’re already doing well – but it needs to be operational – web designs and code structures from the days of Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 don’t really hold up today.

They don’t look nice, they don’t work well and mainly they won’t run on mobile phones. If you want to use the internet for your business, people need to be able to access your site across their devices and it needs to work on all of them.

If your website needs some love  – don’t worry. It’s relatively easy to design a website if you’re inclined to do it yourself and there are lots of tools and resources to help you. If you haven’t got the time, it could take a professional a few days to revamp the look of your online presence into something more acceptable and functional. It is their job, after all.

When you’ve got a website that you are happy with, that is where the fun begins. The main weapon that will apply the foundation of your business will be information. How do you get this though? Well, through your website. When someone visits your website, they will leave behind data. This is known as traffic. It is the presence of people on your website, and if you are getting visitors, you are getting data.

If you are getting data, you are getting information. All of this combines to ensure that your business can use information to make decisions – having a website is one of the easiest ways to gather data.

The information left behind will show you what devices are being used to visit your website, it will show you the area of the world that the site was visited from, it will show what was viewed on your site and where the visitor came from and where they are going as they trawl around the web.

Now, this data isn’t incredibly comprehensive and detailed, but it can still do a lot for you and your business. It shows you a glimpse of not just the target audience of your website, but a vision of the type of people visiting your site.

It will likely be potential customers visiting your site, so you might be able to adjust your marketing tactics to adjust to a new audience, if the data has showed that a different audience to the one expected is interested in your products.

The more data gained, the better. How do you gain data though? You need to bring more and more people to your website. How do you do that? Through marketing.  Most of the time, your products just won’t be enough to bring people to the website. You’ll need to have to go a step further.

In fact, you’ll have to be creative. Blog about your business, products, staff and industry to add content to your website. This will make your site look active. The more active the site, the more that search engines will take notice – sites like Google and Bing are how websites and businesses as well as products and services are found in the modern age.

The more active the site, the higher you’ll be on search results. Search engines are how customers and others will find your business – businesses, products and anything else that want to be found need to find ways to position themselves as the best answers to the questions that potential customers are typing into search bars.

The higher you are, the more likely that your site will be clicked onto. Along with content, this is where search engine optimization comes in for your business. SEO will help you get noticed. SEO works best in the creative copy of your website, so information, about the business, item descriptions and of course, your website content – these can all be used to boost your SEO. You’ll see more success if your site has original, creative writing.

Now, the data we have is limited – it only tells us certain things. To boost your data and to use intelligence rather than pure information, you need to create leads. What is a lead? Well it is something that expresses interest in your business in one way or another. Websites should be using leads to boost the quality of data. Generating leads can give you such a clear picture and allow you to access the information you need and want.

How do websites generate leads? Well, they can do a few things. A newsletter or offer is one of the most common ways that a website can gain leads. A prize draw is another – you’ve likely seen it yourself.

You simply offer your email address, name, age, location – sometimes other information as well up for a chance at winning a prize. This info allows the business to tie complex data to the data left by a visit to build a clear picture of customers and target audience. Leads offer businesses the chance to communicate with customers in a more personal manner as well.

At a basic level, there is another tool that businesses use. Social media. In historic terms, social media has been on the scene for a relatively short time, but in internet terms – it’s almost an archaic tool. Sites like Twitter, Youtube, Facebook, Soundcloud allow you to interact with audiences in more ways than ever before – from videos to messages and podcasts.

They allow your business to personify itself in a public space and also let it have a voice – which is massively important! Social media has also become something of a customer service platform – allowing businesses to respond to customers. Facebook are the company who have latched onto the business use of social media the most and offer directory style ‘pages’ for businesses to holster and display information.

Specialised sites like Youtube offer ways for businesses to create video content to show off their products, advertise the business or offer insight into the business – and Soundcloud allows for audio hosting. These two sites can add to your content creation capabilities – words, video and sound.

By operating a good website, building creative content, being unique, using a voice and getting your name out there – you’ll be using the internet well. All of the tools are symbiotic in nature and rely on each other, so make sure your business is a real jack of all trades when it comes to online marketing and internet usage. Let your creative juices flow and use the internet well to make sure your business attracts customers.

Arguably, the worst way to use the internet in business is to not use it at all. Businesses who ignore the internet are not only being suicidal, they are ignoring free marketing. The other day, Wendy’s found themselves on the end of three million retweets, just because some guy asked for free nuggets! The internet is the new land of opportunity for your business, you just need to start using it and using it well.

Founding Editor @Alltopstartups, Contributor @Entrepreneur, Columnist @Inc. Magazine and Curator at Postanly (his free weekly digest of the best life and career improvement posts on the web. Subscribe for free.

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