By Sharon Hassler—If you aren’t using the Internet to build your business, this is a great time to start, since it no longer requires shelling out thousands of dollars to have a location online. First, however, you must answer these two questions: What are my goals? How much can I spend? If you want the Internet to bring new, repeat and referral business, the results you receive will depend on your budget and your dedication to incorporating your web presence into your overall marketing strategy.

There are four avenues of entry onto the Internet: a directory listing, a directory web page, a directory website and a stand-alone website. The confusion comes when companies try to sell a listing as a web page, or, worse yet, attempt to sell a single web page as a website. Think of a listing as a business card, a web page as a brochure, and a directory website or stand-alone website as a tabbed notebook, and you’ll know what you’re getting. Here are the pros and cons to consider with each:

Web Directory Listing

Consumers still turn to directories like the Yellow Pages but more frequently they do it online through a “find” search at Google, Bing or Yahoo. Online industry-specific directories are available not just for notaries public but for nearly every vocation from attorneys to zoologists. Directories differ in the search options they offer and in the product they provide which in some cases is limited to basic contact info. Fees for notary directories range from free to $179 a year or more, with many charging “upgrade” fees for additional service areas, text, photos, or premium placement. For more info and a review of the top notary directories, visit our Notary Directories resource page.

Pros: A directory listing is usually the least expensive way to place your contact information online. Directories may provide an opportunity for new business since they can generate traffic. If your directory listing includes a link to a web page or website, it could convert more leads to customers since the prospect can “click through” and learn more about you. Also, if you have a web page or website, including a link in your directory listings could improve your placement in search results for your other web address. The bare minimum for an online presence, a directory listing is a start, and the more listings, the better: “more needles in the Internet haystack.”

Cons: Directories typically limit your information and charge extra for “premium” upgrades. If you want a web address for your business cards, ads or flyers, a directory probably won’t provide one—or the address is long, unfriendly, and not suitable for marketing, such as www.listoflnotarynames.com/us/oh/78345mwcl28119v?asp.39071. Try putting that on a business card! Most directories do not allow a name search, so if a past customer wants to find you or refer someone to you, they can’t locate you by name. And most directories are programmed so pages can’t be bookmarked, which means a customer can’t return to your information without doing another search by zip or city and state.

Also, if a directory depends on advertising for additional income, its pages may be cluttered with dozens of tiny ads and flashing banners. Think of the image you want to project when you’re considering directories.

Link-exchange directories are another category entirely but I’ll include them here. They require a reciprocal link which means you need a web page or website where you can publish their link in order for them to publish a link for you. You’ve seen this type of thing on websites: a free-for-all page with links to totally unrelated websites and generic directories. Once considered an easy method for moving up in search results, link exchanges have fallen out of favor with search engine companies. In fact, Google, the largest search engine on the web, revised its algorithm to downgrade unrelated link exchanges in favor of links on only legitimate websites that have a valid purpose and provide related content, i.e., information, articles, resources or forums.

Web Page

The definition of a web page is simple: it’s ONE online page. You can call it a home page if you like, but it’s still a web page. A web page may be posted as a stand-alone page or hosted in a group of related pages. Costs for true web pages (not just listings) can run up to $300 a year, plus possible upfront graphics fees for custom design. Custom-designed web pages ensure your page is uniquely yours but typically cost more than a self-managed template web page. Template web pages allow you to complete a simple form and instantly publish your page.

Free web pages are routinely offered by Internet Service Providers (ISPs), such as Cox, Comcast, Cableone. The trick is, you have to design the page yourself with software and post it following your ISP’s instructions. If you’re comfortable doing this, can create an attractive professional page, and post it for free, by all means, do it! Another needle in the haystack.

Pros: A web page presents more information than a directory listing and is more economical than a website. If you’re not ready for the expense of a full 5 or 6-page stand-alone website, a web page could serve you well by giving you a web address (depending on the company) and providing more information about you. If you’re just beginning to market yourself online a template web page could be a good place to start. You’ll become familiar with posting text and uploading photos/graphics and be ready to move up to a a template website when your marketing strategy calls for it.

Cons: A web page, unless combined with a directory, may be hard to find. If this is a stand-alone page and not part of a notary-specific grouping, it won’t attract customers like a large directory with its additional content.

Directory Websites

A directory website is a hybrid of a directory web page and your own separate website. This is a multi-page website included in a directory. Examples are GoGetNotary.com and Notary.net.

Pros: The benefit of this hybrid website/directory is that, along with having a comprehensive multi-page profile and a “permanent” location for your repeat and referral customers, you are included in a directory which can attract more traffic and, thus, new customers. Your directory website is template-based so easy to create and you don’t pay extra for hosting, design and updating.

Cons: Not many. It may or may not cost more than a directory listing or single web page depending on the directories. As with any directory, whether listing, web page or website, it’s easier to find you but other notaries are also promoted there.

Stand-alone Websites

Websites are online presentations made up of multiple pages. They both offer more and cost more than directory listings, web pages or directory website. Costs for self-managed template&mdashnot custom&mdashwebsites can cost from about $5 to $20 a month , sometimes with upfront setup fees. A unique customized website will easily cost $1000 and up.

Pros: A full website tells others you’re serious about your business. Along with that, committing to a website may be the nudge you need to start thinking of notary public as your career, not as something you do in your spare time. Just this shift in your internal perception about your business may propel you into renewed enthusiasm for your career and a fresh burst of marketing efforts.

Cons: The number one disadvantage of a website is the cost. Another disadvantage is the stand-alone, not-being-found aspect, but you may overcome this by including links in major notary directories, general directories, Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Linkedin. Just don’t expect a website to bring new business without investing additional time and/or money for search engine optimization and marketing. Many title and escrow companies prefer directories as time savers because they can quickly find several notaries in the areas where needed without having to do multiple searches in Google or Bing.

Which One to Choose?

Among those four avenues&mdashweb directory, web page, directory website, and stand-alone website—which one should you choose? This isn’t either/or. Visibility is just as important in the virtual world as the real world. The more locations you have online, the more likely a new or repeat customer will find you. You should be listed in every directory that’s free and as many others as you can afford. Be sure to review upgrade/premium fees before you sign up so you know what you’re getting in each directory. To make your listings more worthwhile, you should have a link to another web location that provides more information about you. This means at least invest in an affordable, professional directory web page or website where you can promote what makes you unique and convince a potential customer to choose you. When a website fits into your budget, move up to a full site, but keep your listings to help drive traffic to your new website.

What’s Different about GoGetNotary.com?

  • We offer the affordable, professional hybrid: A multi-page website included in a national directory.
  • Flat fee: $59 for one year. NO premium charge for listing multiple cities or counties. NO premium charge for uploading photo or logo. NO premium charge for additional text to promote what’s unique about you. Your customers can review you on your website.
  • Automatically included in one of the top notary directories on the Internet.
  • We’re synced with Google maps so visitors can search by street.
  • Search-by-name function so repeat and referral customers can easily find you.
  • Your GGN website can be bookmarked so customers can quickly return to your information.
  • Soon to Networking opportunities among members of GoGetNotary.com

Best advice: ALWAYS ask the customer how they found you. If you’re not asking, you don’t know what’s working. Maybe it’s directories. Maybe it’s your meeting with local bank managers, contacting title companies, speaking at clubs and events, or some other networking activities. Find out what’s working and do more of that!