Here’s a harsh dose of reality: most small business websites suck, and that’s not just my personal opinion. Study after study has shown that a large number of SMB websites don’t include even basic contact information, links to social media profiles, and aren’t optimized for mobile viewing.
On some level, I sympathize. Running a business is really hard work, and it’s easy to leave your website neglected and out-of-date.
That said, you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on web development to make your website work for your business. Here are eight ways to help your site stand out from the the pack.
Contact information — you’d think it’s a waste of time to reiterate the importance of having your phone number, address, and hours of operation listed prominently on your website, but according to research conducted by BIA/Kelsey and vSplash, more than a majority of small business owners is failing to do just that! The study found that 60 percent of SMB websites don’t have a phone number listed on the homepage, and 75 percent lack an email link. Come on, folks, this isn’t rocket science; make it easy for a prospective customer to find and contact you!
Mobile-friendly version — here’s an eye-opening statistic for you: 61 percent of smartphone owners use their phone to find local information (source), but yet more than 93 percent of SMB websites don’t render properly on a mobile phone (source). Compared to PC’s and laptops, smartphones have a much smaller screen and usually rely on a slower internet connection, e.g. 3G. Try to access your website on a smartphone (e.g. iPhone) and ask yourself these questions (courtesy of Google):
- Do you see any missing images or broken content?
- Can you read the text without zooming or scrolling?
- Can links and buttons be clicked with a thumb?
If the answer to any of those questions is “no”, get yourself a mobile website.
Blog — again, the research is pretty clear on this point. Companies that blog get 55% more web traffic and 70% more leads than those that don’t, according to figures provided by HubSpot. Moreover, 57% of businesses report that they have acquired a customer through their company blog. A customer-centric and well-maintained blog makes it clear that you’re an authority in your field, and comes with an array of search engine optimization benefits. Remember, though, the purpose of your blog should be to entertain, solve your customer’s problems, and/or make your customers’ lives better (however you want to define “better”). It should not be just another outlet that you use to pitch your products!
Actual photos — here’s something I never really understood. The point of YOUR website should be to showcase YOUR business, YOUR staff, and YOUR products. Why then do webmasters and business owners insist on filling their website with generic, stock photos that they downloaded from websites like iStockphoto? If there’s one thing that I think is missing from most SMB websites, it’s personality. The website operator is too focused on selling a product and making money, rather than telling a story and eliciting their customers’ trust. Be authentic, and don’t be afraid to show off the real people behind the logo.
Google Analytics / Webmaster Tools — Google Analytics is feature-rich, free online software solution that makes it possible to monitor how many people visit your website, which pages they view, how much time they spend there, and literally hundreds of other relevant metrics. If you’re running any sort of a marketing campaign that involves your website and you don’t have Analytics or a comparable package installed, you’re doing it wrong, plain and simple.
Google Webmaster Tools is a lesser-known tool, but equally valuable. Once properly configured, you can get such information as which websites link to your page, whether your website’s returning crawling errors, search query keyword data, etc. Perhaps most importantly, if Google ever decides to send you a notification regarding your website (e.g. that you’ve been penalized because of shady SEO practices), it’ll be through your GWT account.
SEO optimized — according to an annual survey conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, more than 73 percent of all Americans use search engines. Moreover, of the people who are interested in learning more about local clubs, bars, and restaurants, 38 percent rely on search engines as their primary source of information. That’s a significant chunk of traffic that business owners simply can’t afford to ignore.
Search engine optimization is a multi-faceted, multi-stage process of helping your website appear at the top of search engine results for keywords and phrases that are relevant to your business. This post isn’t about how to optimize your website, so here are two resources to get you started: The Beginner’s Guide to SEO from SEOmoz and the Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide from Google (yes, THAT Google).
Social media links and widgets– these days, not being active on social media networks like Facebook and Twitter is the 1990’s equivalent of not being listed in the Yellow Pages; it’s just not acceptable. Facebook alone has over 900 million users, and according to a recent Forrester study, “Facebook fans are much more likely to purchase, consider and recommend the brands that they engage with on Facebook than non(Facebook) fans.” Point is, if you do it right, presence on social media can be a boon for your bottom line. Shockingly enough, BIA/Kelsey found that only 19.5 percent of SMB websites contain a link to the company’s Facebook page.
Lead capture — your website should be designed to do three things: (1) attract visitors, (2) convert visitors to leads, and (3) produce a measurable ROI (return on investment). It doesn’t matter how colorful it is or how high-quality the photos are; if the website isn’t helping drive traffic into your storefront, you’re, once again, doing it wrong. If you’re in the service industry, offer your website visitors a white paper or a comprehensive best practices list in exchange for the visitor’s email. If you’re a local restaurant, provide a coupon (again, in exchange for contact information). The goal is to pull the visitor into your sales ecosystem so that you can nurture him or her until they convert and become a customer. This HubSpot page provides a great example of how online lead generation works in practice. The “Learn How to Attract Customers with Twitter” ebook is free, but to get it, the website visitor has to fill out a short form.
Ask yourself, “how is my website converting visitors into leads?”
All right, folks, that about wraps it up. If you have questions or comments about any of the tips covered above, drop me a note in the comments.