It's been a crazy few weeks...we've seen an unprecedented number of website design requests for new businesses. However, every one of our conversations revealed one glaring issue; these businesses are not near ready for prime-time. To help guide these future business owners along we provide them with a checklist of 'to-do' items before they begin investing in the design of a new website.
Let's consider the following. 75% of consumers use the internet to shop for local products and services, of those, 70% will use a mobile device to access the internet. The importance of having a small business website couldn't be clearer. So, why are more than 40% of all businesses still without a website. Furthermore, why is it that more than 65% of those businesses that have websites are out of date and not mobile responsive.
To further argue our point; here are some key factors that make it critical that your small business invests in a well-designed website.
- Your Not Being Found: If you don't have a website you are simply not being found online when someone conducts a search for a product or service. All searches are based on having a web presence and that presence begins and ends with having a credible small business website.
- Builds Credibility: A website helps to build your businesses' credibility. Whether you own a restaurant, a dental practice or a roofing business - establishing credibility with your audience is key to converting them. Nearly 100% of all consumers conduct research online before making a local purchase.
- Anchor Your Brick & Mortar: Your website is just as important as your brick and mortar location. The same care should be taken in designing your website as it did to design and layout your retail location. Your small business website is a natural extension of your physical location.
- Helps You Connect with New Customers: Considering that so many consumers research for local providers online this opens up a whole new channel to discovering and connecting with new customers. Its simple; if you're not online they won't find you.
- Huge Benefit for Local Businesses: Let's revisit the stat that 75% of consumers use the internet to shop a local product or service (70% of which, will use a mobile device). If this isn't reason enough to begin designing or redesigning (if your site is out of date) your small business website - then we're kinda at a loss for words:)
- Opens Up New Markets: If you sell a physical product why not consider offering it online? Unlike years prior, setting up and automating your e-commerce business has become easier than ever. There really is no excuse not to add an e-commerce component to your small business.
- You Are In Control: A small business website is the only digital property that you have full control over. Unlike those business listings services (HomeAdvisor, etc) and social media platforms (Facebook, etc) they have full control of what you can post and how you project your business - you don't have those limitations with your businesses' website.
We think it can be agreed that having a well designed and an updated small business website is essential, if not critical for any local business. With all the options out there today, DIY or for-hire designer; there is no excuse for not having a current small business website.
We are frequently asked what a small business owner can do to improve their search ranking; aka SEO. Our first response is to ask if they know how they are performing in their local market. Typically few, if any, can tell how they rank among their peers. To assist them we take them through a very basic but essential list of questions.
Here is the list of questions that should help you develop a local SEO strategy that positions your business competitively in local search.
- Have you created 'Local Places' pages?
The first step in securing your business presence is simply to claim your business on Google, Bing, Yahoo, and Yelp. The most important of which is Google since they own approximately 65% of all searches. To do this you'll need to visit Google My Business. Upon visiting the site you will be asked to register your business, however, before Google will actually activate your business listing they will require that you verify your existence. To do so Google will send you a postcard (yes, in the mail) to physically confirm your local business. The postcard will feature a code and instructions to activate your business - this could take 7 - 10 days. As for Bing, which owns about 33% of search online, it's a bit less informal. Visit Bing Places to claim and set up your business listing.
- Have you optimized your business pages?
Now that you've activated your business listings it's time to optimize them. To optimize them make sure you categorize your business accordingly, add compelling photos representing your business; i.e. if you're a restaurant upload some quality photos of your food and pictures of your location (inside and outside), and provide a list of sample services and/or products that you offer (include a menu). Add hours of operation, contact information, and location. And by all means, link these listings to your website!
- Have you claimed your business listings and are they correct?
Where have the good 'ole Yellow Pages gone...they're online and there are dozens of listing services; a whole lot more than there were yellow page publications. Unfortunately, many of the listings that are out there are dated and inaccurate and it's virtually impossible to track them. To make things a bit more manageable there are some services that can assist you to correct your listing. MOZ is a great resource to check your local business listings - CHECK YOUR LISTING NOW.
- Are you soliciting and encouraging online reviews?
Reviews are a major factor for ranking your business (good and bad). We recommend that you work hard to solicit reviews from your customers. However, we recommend directing them to one platform (Google or Yelp depending on your business) and respond to every comment if at all possible, specifically those nasty ones. If you do get one of those nasty reviews offer to make amends - especially if the issue is easily resolved don't ignore them!
- Finally, is your website optimized?
There are a number of things that need to happen in order for your site to be optimized, here is a list of some of the more essential items:
- Keep your navigation simple and clearly defined.
- Make sure your page titles are optimized by providing a brief description of the page. Include your business name on every page title. Sample: Our Services | XYZ Company
- Provide a meta description of the page. Each page should include a brief description of what the page represents with added keywords (make sure to include your business name). Sample 'Menu' Page: Carlos' Bistro menu features a great selection of appetizers, entrees, desserts, and cocktails. Carlos' Bistro specializes in French cuisine and hand-selected wines from Burgundy.
- Optimize your photos by including a meta description of each photo. Tag each photo with a brief description, business name, and location before you upload it to your site. This is a great way to utilize your keywords without creating a visual distraction. Be warned, do not keyword stuff - you will be penalized by search engines.
- Optimize your site's URLs. This is as simple as including your name and a brief description of your business at the end of each page URL. Sample Optimized URL: www.carlosbistro.com/menu-carlos-french-bistro
Note: If you don't own the URL that is your businesses name, this little trick will come in very handy.
- Another word on URL's. Search for and buy all variations of your business's URL. Sample URL Variations: carlosbistro.com; carlosfrenchbistro.com; carlosnewyorkbistro; carlosnewyorkfrenchbistro...you get the idea. There are two reasons for this; 1) you do not want someone to own the rights to your business' URL and hold them for ransom; 2) each URL acts as a descriptor of your business and should be pointing to your website.
- Keep your navigation simple and clearly defined.
- Have you submitted your site to Google Search?
The last item on this list is the most essential and frequently the most forgotten. You must submit your website and your website's sitemap to Google's Search Console. Here is a link to set up your Google Search Console.
SEO can be very frustrating and confusing. Keeping up with the constant changes to the rules can be unwieldy. However, if you focus your efforts on what you can control you will be far better off than your local competition.