For large companies, websites have long been a staple of the marketing mix, but even today, many small businesses struggle to establish a web presence. Lack of resources or knowledge about web development can often keep a small business offline.
But for small, local businesses, a website can serve as digital storefront, providing a platform to convince consumers that the company is a reliable, trusted operation and provides them with the information necessary to easily and quickly make a purchase.
The research firm BIA/Kelsey notes that the website now serves as the core of local business marketing, combining all other forms of advertising including print, Internet Yellow Pages, mobile, SEO/SEM, video, reputation management and e-mail/direct mail.
So what do you need to develop a high-quality website for your business? Here are five tips to get you started:
1. Create A Website!
There’s no excuse for a local business not to have a website in 2011. There are a variety of online tools available for businesses to quickly and cheaply create their first websites, and to help them add on additional offerings like search engine optimization to better promote their sites in local search.
The last thing you want is for a user typing in the name and location of your business on Google or Bing to not find a website—today, it’s expected for any credible business to have a site. Furthermore, whether it’s a search on a major search engine or increasingly popular local sites like Yelp, CitySearch, and YP.com, it’s vital that your company have its own online presence for these sites to direct potential customers for more information, customer service, e-commerce and more.
The website will serve as a hub for your various social media pages on Facebook, Twitter, etc., helping to cross-promote traffic and build your online presence.
2. Ensure That Your Site Has Accurate, Up-To-Date General Information
Put simply, it’s important to make sure that all content on your site is always accurate and up-to-date. This includes everything from store locations, contact information, acceptable credit cards and store hours to detailed products and services descriptions and pricing (including sales items).
Inaccuracies or outdated information can potentially lose a new customer sale or start it off on the wrong foot. Make the investment in regularly updating your site and it will definitely pay off in the long run.
3. Create Customer Service Options On Your Site
Whether it’s a new customer with questions about your products or services, or an existing customer who has a complaint or inquiry about something sold to them, it’s important for your website to have the tools available to easily assist those in need of your help.
These tools can include a direct phone number, regularly monitored e-mail addresses and/or comment forms, and links to your social media pages. It’s important that you respond to customers directly, as quickly as possible, to address their needs. In today’s digital world, any delay can result in a negative online review, post, or tweet that can damage your online reputation and affect future sales.
4. Launch e-Commerce Tools & Reservation/Appointment Options
Consumers are increasingly making purchases online, so it’s important that your business consider offering your products and services there as well. While adding e-commerce to your site requires an investment, it may be well worth the cost in the long run, attracting new customers who may not be willing to come to your actual stores or prefer to make an immediate purchase from the comfort of their own home.
Additionally, consider adding reservation and appointment options for consumers who prefer setting up their schedules online and/or on their own. Why lose a customer eager to make a reservation, but not willing to wait until you open shop?
5. Launch A Blog To Share Thought-Leadership In Your Field
A blog is a great way to offer your perspective on key issues relevant to your business and demonstrate your leadership role in the field. For example, if you’re a local bridal apparel business, you can share your thoughts on the latest fashion lines in your stores and why you chose them, photos of your best dresses on wedding day, or how to budget for the dress of your dreams.
Showing that you’re an expert gives customers the confidence they need to choose your business over the competition. It also provides you with a platform to showcase your products and services in a friendly, conversational way. After all, you’re the expert!
As your New Years’ resolution for 2011, make sure to launch or update your local business website. There will be no shortage of potential customers who will be searching for you throughout the year. Make sure to win the business you deserve by investing in your site now. I work with many Yellow Pages publishers that are bringing website development within reach of small businesses, and there are other vendors out there that are focusing on this market. It’s all within reach.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.