NAVIGATING THE INTERNET
As a small business owner you are probably consumed by the demands of your business and have little time to think about your on line presence. If you are like 60% of small business owners, you do not have a website at all. If you are one of the 40% who do own a website, it is highly likely that your website has outdated features. This is short a non-technical guide to understanding which features are critical to maintaining a competitive edge in today’s marketplace.
Mobile browsing, particularly from phones is growing at a phenomenal rate. Over 60% of all consumers are conducting searches from hand held devices. That means your website must function as well on a phone as it does on a laptop or a big screen. If it is configured for mobile devices, it will also rank better on search engines.
You may have heard the terms mobile friendly, mobile optimized and responsive, but what do they mean?
- Mobile friendly: A website that displays between devices. However, though Google might deem it friendly, it may not appear so to users. Because it was created to be viewed from desktops it will appear as a miniature version of itself on phones, but the fonts will be too small to read.
- Mobile optimized: A step up, the site will not just be a tinier version of the desktop site. The site will reformat itself depending on the device, resulting in simplified navigation, larger graphics, single column display, and thumb friendliness. In other words, it won’t look like your desktop site.
- Responsive: A wonderfully flexible website that completely re-orientates based on the screen size of the device and looks great from all angles. Hence, the term responsive-it responds to the screen size. Ideally, this is what you want to have in order to create a great user experience. And, perhaps, Google will prefer this format in the long run and rank the sites which utilize it higher.
What does that mean? A well-designed website today will be responsive, easy to navigate, will have great content, and will download quickly.
- Structure: The structure of the website is key. Nowadays, a website page fills the entire screen. As our eye moves from left to right and downward, the website should logically comply with this movement. The site should display your/company name, what you do, and your telephone number at the top. Your pages will also be displayed here, as well. As the user scrolls downward information and visuals –that is- content-is displayed. As we scroll further we get into the footer where business hours, maps/directions, a call to action, social media buttons, and other information can be displayed.
- Simplicity: Of equal importance is avoiding visual clutter. Remember the 90’s when backgrounds were busy, there were multiple columns on a page, and white fonts on black backgrounds reigned? Do you remember how hard that content was to read? Simple, clean design with a lot of empty space is what users want to experience now. As a side-note, splash pages, so beloved by architects, artists and photographers are hated by the public.
- Images: Studies have shown that people respond better when people’s faces are featured in images. There are multiple ways of using faces to humanize your business, sell your product or services, and direct the flow of content. While you should not use stock photos to represent your office or staff, stock photos can be used to great effect in many instances to enhance the appeal of your website.
- Color: There is a whole psychology of color that has been well researched by advertisers, with each color having both a negative and a positive connotation. However, it can be often misused by designers who do not understand the nuances of its application. For example, white connotes purity but can also indicate sterility. Blue is used to connote trustworthiness and stability but can also come across as cold and indifferent. Think of medical practices you have Googled. Do they bring to mind hospitals and frightening procedures or health and healing? Green, on the other hand, is associated with health, vitality, holistic medical approaches, and nature.
Consumers are coming to your website for information. Nowadays, they scroll until something catches their eye. This why your content needs to be tightly written, well organized, short, and to the point. To guide consumers, the headlines need to be pertinent, and because we are moving to a post- literate image rich society, the visuals need to enhance the text.
Some key features consumers are looking for:
- Strong headlines
- Fast answers
- Short content
- Personalized content/stories, which will humanize you and your business.
- Contact forms
As a small business owner, do you need a blog? You may, depending on your goals:
- If you are looking to improve your rankings on Google and appear on the coveted first page then great content and regular posts will be a necessary addition to your website.
- If you desire to build authority and position yourself as the go- to expert in your field and stay ahead of your competition.
- If you want to engage your customers, attract new ones and gain their business. Statistics show that websites with blogposts attract six times as much business as those without. However, you must have over 400 posts to get to this position.
- Long tail search queries- We know you are Joe the Chicago Plumber but when people Google- How to unplug a stopped up drain-will they be able to find you among the field of competitors without a helpful blog post or how- to video about unplugging a drain?
Some things to know:
- Google is phasing out keyword stuffing. Therefore, you won’t need to reiterate that you are a Chicago based plumber in every paragraph.
- However, you will need to keep abreast of analytics since they are constantly changing. For example, Google is now looking for posts of 1000 words or more, mistakenly equating length with quality, instead of search intent and how well the question is addressed.
- If you hate writing or don’t have time for it, you can create video content, a podcast, or hire a writer to do it for you.
BEAUTY AND INDIVIDUALITY
Do you remember those blue and white medical practice websites I mentioned previously? Did you notice that all the medical in your search sites look more or less the same? That is what can happen when you use an agency that exclusively specializes in one field. You often get the same template and a bland design that doesn’t take into account your individualized personality, business, or practice. How can you expect to stand out among the competition when your website looks like everyone else’s?
Your geographic area, user demographics, service, and message needs to be presented with intelligence and purpose. Focusing on what you do and the segment of the population you do it for is critical in creating a stand-out website. Great thought must go into choosing images, tone of voice, colors, and other features that will contribute to achieving your own goals and those of your customer or client.
SEO-SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION
SEO consists of all the methods you can use to increase the visibility of your website. Some will be written behind the scenes, and some are seen upfront. 60 to 70% of all searches are organic, that is, not from paid ads, which makes SEO important.
What you need to know:
- Keywords: SEO keywords are the words or phrases describing your product or service. They make it possible for people to find your site via search engines. Your keywords need to match the phrases that consumers will be using as closely as possible when they conduct searches.
- Meta descriptions: These are the behind the scenes description that summarize the content of a page for search engines.
- Content: Content consists of the information you have on your website about yourself, your business, your products/services etc. The key to creating appealing content for users is to make it short, informative and visually attractive. Authenticity is a big buzzword in content. In other words, be who you are and use your authentic voice to help consumers find what they are searching for.
- Link building:Through links, search engines can analyze the popularity of websites and pages based on the number and popularity of pages linking to them. As a small business owner, you will be aiming for local popularity to elevate your rankings. For example, if you are Joe the Plumber, a link from a respected trade magazine about plumbing matters or home improvement is weightier than a link from a site about hair styling, even though Joe may have done a great job unclogging the drain.
Have you ever seen web designers who offer branding as part of their services? They seem to think that creating a logo for your business amounts to branding. Nothing could be further from the truth. Starbucks did not achieve fame due to its logo, but because of the ambiance of its coffee houses and the way they altered the perception of how coffee should be drunk. Granted having a good logo helps brand recognition eventually, but it’s the way you consistently market your business or product that makes the logo recognizable.
MARKETING STRATEGY/ SOCIAL MEDIA
You need to be able to steer consumers toward your website. To that end you need a funnel. Simply put, this is somewhere where consumers will see your brand consistently. Depending on your budget, this could be simple or elaborate. The name of the game these days is giving away valuable content rather than advertising.
What you need to know:
- Trade magazines, local newsletters, or papers can all function far better and more consistently than referrals for your business.
- Social media- paid for ads and organic content.
- Email lists-where you consistently send out helpful content and broadcast specials.
- YouTube videos
I hope this has been a helpful, easy to understand walk through the elements that consumers are demanding today, which can help your business thrive.