As a business owner in the 21st century, you don’t need to be told that you need an online presence in order to survive. You don’t need to be reminded that Google can rank your site lower in search results if you aren’t mobile friendly, and that the influence of social media on the consumer journey is huge.
Yet a staggering 3 out of 5 small businesses don’t have a website of any kind. Why? According to one store, enterprise business moved in and internet shopping made efforts to compete seem entirely impossible. Little by little, the revenue dried up and the business closed its doors.
It is important to understand that this story is not an outlier among small businesses. It’s equally important to understand that as a business owner, you absolutely must have room in your budget to afford a website. Having a website may not guarantee success, but not having a website will very much guarantee that there will be little opportunity for growth and visibility.
Websites Create Visibility
The reasons why your small business needs a website will vary, but the bottom line is this: in today’s market, if you don’t have a website, you’re invisible. It’s not a matter of whether or not you need eCommerce solutions — although when they’re done right, they certainly will boost your success — it is 100% about whether or not your customers can find you when they want or need you. Some 85% of customers head straight for the internet, many times via their mobile device, to find businesses — and yes that even includes small and local businesses.
In many ways, the internet — search engines specifically — are the new Yellow Pages. Having a website with a good SEO strategy will ensure that customers can find you when they search. Not having a website has the effect of not listing your business in the phone book at all. Thanks to Google’s orientation for local SEO in conjunction with its emphasis on mobile, and their latest emphasis on what is called micro-moments — proximity based results are on the rise. When a customer is three blocks away and performs a search for what your business offers in products or services, the goal is to have your business appear first among the results. Incidentally, that brings us to the next point.
You Must Be Mobile-Friendly
One of the new factors in Google’s ranking algorithms is whether or not a site is mobile-friendly. In fact, it’s gone so far as to separate search results done from a mobile device with indicators to if a site is “Mobile Friendly.” This refers to how easy it is for a person to use your website from a mobile device, and not being mobile-friendly could rank your site lower in the search results. As you can see, the importance of having a mobile-friendly website cannot be emphasized enough.
Confused about why? Let’s take a look at some statistics:
- 86 million Americans shop from their smartphone
- 40% of shoppers consult 3 or more online channels before making a decision to buy
- 52% of shoppers use their devices to do that research and compare prices while shopping in-store
- 62% go directly to the retailer’s website
- Black Friday purchases made online spiked another 35% over last year
- 40.4% of online traffic during that time was done from a smartphone
An Online Presence Boosts Growth
You may still be wondering how a website can help grow your business. It may be especially confusing if you’ve been running your brick-and-mortar store for a long time. In-store shopping and online shopping are competitors, right?
That’s actually not the case. Even if you choose not to follow the path of ecommerce, a website can still boost sales in-store. You see, customers think in terms of experiences, and they don’t really see a difference between in-store and online — they are both experiences of the same brand. We mentioned that customers do research from their mobile device while shopping in-store, so consider that 76% of purchase decisions end up being made in-store, and that 66% of customers say that in-store messages influence that decision process. Access to information about your store, including reviews of your store and of your products and services helps improve in-store sales.
Another aspect of an online presence is social media. You may feel that you don’t have the time, but this is a key way to hyper-target customers in your local area and share news, new products and services, and offers that drive interest in your business.
Websites Keep Customers In-The-Know 24/7
When operating a brick-and-mortar location, what your business can do is limited by the hours and days that your business operates. Customers with questions cannot simply call at any hour of the day to get information right away, but they can visit your website at any time they’d like. First and foremost, make sure you’re offering them the basic information they’ll need for your business: hours, contact information, customer service information, and locations. For instance, a catering company should display menus, while a lawn service business or exterminator could display service bundles and pricing.
Any good site, however, offers much more than that. You’ll need to invest in good content. In part, this is to keep up your SEO and maintain or improve your search engine rankings. More importantly, this can establish your brand as a leader in your industry. Here’s how:
- Blogging — Having a blog is actually very important to your business. It gives you a platform to help share all sorts of information about your industry, your products/services, and the latest happenings at your store. The best part? It gives you a platform for engaging your customers, receiving feedback, and even performing certain amounts of testing.
- Social Media — This is just as important to your business, but needs to be executed a little differently. It will help you identify, understand, and target your real audience by building brand awareness. It also offers a method to engage with your customers and offer customer service, but just as importantly, it allows you to expand your professional network and engage with other influencers in your industry. The best part? It’s affordable, and most social media channels offer in-house analytics.
- Videos — This can actually straddle two platforms: social media and your business website. Your website will help make your videos much easier to find, but videos are going to make your brand much easier to understand and appeal to customers. Aside from sharing potentially complicated ideas in a simple, interesting way, videos also serve another vital role: credibility. The best part? Videos increase reach, engagement, and landing page conversions.
Showcase Your Brand
Remember, even if you don’t want to delve into eCommerce, your website can offer great opportunities for businesses, even those that are small. Your business website is an opportunity to show everyone the very best of your work. Alongside the information that customers might need 24/7, you can offer them the value of your business, even when you aren’t doing business. Customer testimonials are a big plus, giving potential customers an inside look at the results of your work. Similarly, case studies show them examples of exactly what your services look like. You can offer a portfolio online, but it can also be so much more than just showing off your work. You can tell your business’ story and attract the right kind of customers.
Your Competition Already Has a Website
If your only competition is another small, local business, this may or may not be true, given the number of small businesses that don’t have websites. However, as a small business, there is undoubtedly a larger business or online retailer that’s also your competition. There’s no reason to lose customers to competition for the simple fact that they couldn’t find you when they wanted exactly what you could offer them.
Get Your Website Started Today!
Have you determined what you need for your website? Consider what you want your site to be able to offer. Are you going to have an online store, or a way for customers to submit inquiries? Do you know what domain you want or which webhost best fits your needs?
Remember that your site needs to be mobile-friendly. Do you know which of the 3 techniques recognized by Google you want to use?
Try to keep your in-store offerings and your online offerings the same. Do you know what system you’ll use to track inventory for online sales? Is it integrated into how you track inventory in-store? Do you have synchronized marketing and offers in-store, on your site, and on social media?
Determine what kind of budget you have for web development. Do you need to scale your ideas back in order to be able to afford a website right now? Remember, you need to balance the quality of your customer needs with the quality you’re paying for web development.
Don’t forget that you have options, and not all of them cost thousands of dollars. To dip your toes in the water, utilize social media, a platform for feedback, and ensure all of your information is correct and available across Google media, sign up for Google My Business. In fact, even if you know exactly how you’ll proceed with a website, sign up for Google My Business anyway, since it meets many of your needs in terms of local search. Consider your website development options. Other platforms offer DIY web development, so take a look at WordPress, Wix, and Joomla.
Always keep your site updated. Is the website displaying the correct hours and contact information? Does it advertise sales that are current, or are the offers listed out of date?
Utilize the information in this post to begin developing your business’ online presence today!