June 27 2014

Why Small businesses need a (mobile) website.

The online world can appear to some as alien and a time-consuming drain, especially when it’s difficult just keeping afloat. But time has marched on. No longer do companies need dedicated IT professionals to establish and maintain an effective online presence. Today, anyone can do it.

Many small businesses who take the online plunge tend to opt for a Facebook page or similar off-the-peg social media solution. And many small businesses engaged in e-commerce similarly make do with selling through large pre-existing sites like Amazon.com and eBay.

But these businesses are missing a trick that can set them far apart from – and ahead of – their competitors, and with a minimal investment of time and money, too.

Research has shown that misconceptions about cost, the need for specialist knowledge, ongoing technical support, time requirements, and security prevail amongst small business owners. Most don’t realize how many easy, affordable and effective solutions now exist.

Should I buy a domain?

The first consideration for a small business looking to establish a website regards whether to purchase a domain. The value in doing so is much more significant than many realize, and domains can be registered for less than $20 per year. These web addresses can be bought from domain hosts such as Go Daddy, 1&1 and Dreamhost. It pays to consider wisely here to ensure that the registered name can be easily remembered and typed into browsers. You should also take care to make it appropriate to your brand.

As domain names are so cheap, it may be worth buying a few variations that are similar to your main one. So, if clients accidentally type the wrong URL, their traffic can still be directed to your site. For example, if your company is called Smith’s Widgets, it may be worth buying both smithswidgets.com and smithwidgets.com. If you struggle to find the right name, you can see if suitable versions are available with alternative extensions, such as .biz, .net, and .co.

When a business owns its own domain it can also send branded email, which adds an extra layer of credibility to correspondence with clients. Receiving an email from steve@smithswidgets.com looks far more professional than steve.smith@blah.com.

Hire a designer or do-it-yourself?

If budget allows, an experienced web designer can be employed to create a stylish and effective website. But this is by no means essential in today’s online world. Impressive results can also now be achieved by complete beginners thanks to the latest website and content management systems. In the past, would-be web-builders would have to learn a little programming code and then find their designs still walking a knife edge between the pallid and the garish, sinning further with chaotic typography and baffling navigation – not the experience you want to inflict on clients seeking to spend money with you.

Today’s user-friendly web-building applications have put an end to all that, elegantly handling much of these headaches so you can concentrate on content. In fact, building an appealing website these days can be as easy as making a Facebook page, and with a far more tailored result to boot.

Contact details and listings sites

It should go without saying that providing easily findable contact details on your site is essential. But shockingly such vital information is more often than not lost somewhere amongst all the shinier content and even forgotten completely.

If your customers can’t quickly and easily see how to phone or email you, or find out when you’re open for business, your site will only frustrate and serve as a signpost to your competitors. To counter this, your contact details should be accessible from every page of your site. This sends the message that you are interested in customers reaching out to you. You may even consider placing contact details directly on each page. These measures also help search engines associate your site with your geographic location.

It is also important for businesses thriving on a local customer base to keep current their listings on such sites as Google+, Yelp and Foursquare. This ensures that customers receive the right information when they search for your business.

Making your site mobile device compatible

It is essential to check how your site looks not just on a computer monitor but on a variety of tablets and smartphones. Your mobile site need not necessarily include all the content from the main website, but it should include information such as contact details, address, hours of operations, and your most important products or services.

  • According to Google, 4 in 5 consumers now use local searches on search engines.
  • More than a third of those searching on tablets and computers visited the store within a day.
  • But, on mobiles this figure rises to a staggering 50 per cent, testifying to how important a good mobile site is for small businesses.[1]
  • Yet, according to recent figures, less than 10 percent of small business websites are properly mobile compatible and will not render properly on mobile devices.[2]

[1] http://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/research-studies/how-advertisers-can-extend-their-relevance-with-search.html

[2] BIA Kelsey, 2012. http://www.yola.com/blog/17-small-business-marketing-statistics-that-will-help-you-succeed-online/#sthash.HFNj8Dwb.dpuf

Your content: making it shiny and sticky

In terms of other content, beware of making your site too static which might spell boredom for visitors. If you want to keep visitors on your site you will need material to keep them there, known in the marketing trade as “sticky content”. You also want to attract repeat visits – which means giving visitors a reason to return. You might consider publishing regular announcements, such as on new products and services, or maintain an interesting blog, or perhaps make downloadable ebooks available.

A website isn’t just about letting people know you exist. You also want it to establish credibility. One avenue for this is to provide some background about who you are so as to demonstrate your credentials. For some small businesses a brief “About us” section might suffice. This should give brief information about the business such as when it was established and who is involved. For some businesses it may be worth providing compelling background information on company leaders and their accomplishments along with photographic headshots. The majority of the site should typically focus on establishing the value of the product. But if you are selling a service, you're usually also selling a relationship with yourself and developing a rapport with your potential customers. Describe your credentials and make it clear how each of them benefits your clients.

If you have a respectable client list, you can ask their permission to list them on your site. Prospective customers will feel reassured to be in good company. You can also gather testimonials from satisfied customers or even full case studies which highlight exactly how you met your clients’ needs. Another good idea is to include on your site an online portfolio of your work. For example, if your business is something like cake decorating or portrait painting you should provide photographs of your best work.

Make your website a conversion funnel

While the visually aesthetic nature of your website is important, the main role of your site is not as advertisement or an exercise in branding. Effectively, your website is your ultimate salesperson. With this in mind, you want to shape an effective conversion path, or “funnel”, in marketing speak. That is, directly attempt to turn your site visitors into customers.

The principle of “less is more” has come to the fore in such website funnel design. The aim is now to guide visitors where you want rather than cast them adrift on a sea of information. This means firstly making your site visitor aware of you or your product. Next, you seek to build interest and inspire desire in your offering. Finally, you request action from your visitor, whether that be signing up to an email list or making a purchase.

It pays for local businesses to start a conversation with a customer as soon as possible. You can provide an online contact form, as well as your email address and phone number, to make it even easier for your customers to contact you. Questions can be answered and a business-to-customer relationship established. You can go even further and provide a live chat facility, so customers can reach you immediately via online text messaging. This makes sense in a world where so much communication is conducted via texting, a means by which many feel most comfortable.

Connect your site with social media

You don’t want to make a fantastic website and insulate it from social media, so make sure you add buttons on your site to connect it to popular platforms like Facebook and Twitter. This will mean investing a little time in establishing a presence for your business on these platforms, if you haven’t already done so. According to research, 69 percent of consumers are more likely to use a local business if it has information available on a social media site.[3]

One of the benefits of building a social network is the time-honored principle of how crowds attract attention. The classic example of this is how a busy restaurant attracts more customers than quieter neighboring competitors, as newly arriving customers reason that such popularity is based on a better product. So, ensure your site visitors can see signs of activity from your network, such as online comments, Facebook likes and tweets. You can do this by integrating “widgets” into your site which display the latest activity on your social media.

So, there you have it. It’s quick, easy and effective to establish a website that’s also compatible with mobile devices and savvy with social media. It’s cheap, too. But it could be expensive if you miss out. The world has changed. It’s shiny, new and connected. And it’s child’s play to climb aboard.

Let’s build.


[3] ComScore Networks and TMP Directional Marketing, 2011. http://www.gmslocal.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/GroupM-Search-TMPDM-Local-Search-Usage-Study-2010.pdf