As a small business owner, the web holds a lot of challenges that, if navigated successfully, may yield some treasures. But there are some waves on the horizon, and uncharted waters ahead for many who would pursue those riches.
A secret for those of you who are starting out with a fresh website, and something to learn about the storms ahead. There are fundamentals about conducting business online that will be helpful for you to learn, and there are a few best practices that have been well documented in some places. But a constant on the Web is that there’s always something new, always something that even the most experienced business folks and online marketers alike all face together for the first time.
Let’s take a look at some of those cresting waves approaching from the distance.
Exploring the mobile web
The web provides some big opportunities, but the mobile web may provide even more. For a small business owner, making your goods and services available to people over the mobile web may be a chance to get involved in an area that many larger businesses haven’t figured out how to navigate yet.
How well does your web design work on a handheld device? Have you looked? If not, this is a good time to start. Cameron Moll published a series of articles on designing for mobile devices in 2005 that are worth a look. He’s since published a book on the topic, which is now available through his Mobile Web Book site. The site includes a sample chapter.
Have you used mobile search? Will your audience? Mobile access to the web will grow far beyond desktop access sometime within the next few years. With the ability to provide location-based search (Video) using GPS enhanced phones and cell tower triangulation, search engines are going to be able to provide local search results based upon a user’s location.
Voice search on a phone is now a reality, with Goog-411 providing answers to spoken queries over the phone, and Microsoft providing similar capabilities at Live Search 411. There’s speculation that Yahoo’s One Search may also provide voice-based search in the future.
Unlocking the riches of social networks
One of the fastest growing sections of the Web centers around social networks, where people who hold common interests can share news, links, comments, contacts, and information with each other. There are plenty of these networks to join, such as Facebook, Myspace, Linkedin, and Bebo, to name a few. It’s also possible to start your own social network using sites or software like ning or pligg.
In building profiles for yourself on different social networks, connecting with other people, and writing about your life, your business efforts, and your brand, you can start a dialog with people who may share interests with you and who may be interested in you and what you have to offer as a business person. Exploring communities and making connections through social networks can be time consuming, but it may also provide you with access to people whom you may not have met before – from around the world or around the block.
One rule about being involved in social networks is that you want to avoid being perceived as promotional and one-dimensional. Become part of a network and make friends, help build the community, and develop actual relationships with others. Building your own social network can require lots of resources, including a substantial investment in time and energy, and requires that you create something engaging enough to attract visitors, and keep them coming back.
Another social activity that many businesses have been starting to venture into is keeping a journal or a blog, where they can share information about their business and services, write about news that interests them, and have a voice on the web that discusses timely topics and issues. If done right, blogging by a business can open up communications with potential customers, present clients, and possible collaborators. Done wrong, it has the potential to make a business look insincere and clueless.
The waters run swift where there’s high bandwidth
In increasing numbers, people have begun to log into the Web with faster connections, and the use of multimedia, whether video or audio or images, has started to grow. A business no longer has to rely solely upon text and some images to present themselves to others on the web.
The Web is not solely a broadcast medium, like television, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use video as a means of talking about your business, or about the subject matter that your business specializes within. If you sell boats, fishing excursions, fishing gear, coastal vacations, or luxury destinations, a video about sailing or boating or fishing can attract attention to a subject that might be of interest to a wide audience.
The use of audio podcasts can provide another channel to bring information to people who might be searching for information or entertainment in an area related to what your business has to offer.
It can be a challenge to create audio or video that engages, entices, and gets people to associate positive feelings towards your business, but it can also be an opportunity.
No treasure maps
When it comes to incorporating the mobile web, social networks, and multimedia into your efforts to make your business more visible on the Web, there are no clear guidelines or maps leading to success in these relatively uncharted waters. Instead, there are possibilities that may not pay dividends without hard work and paying attention to what others are doing, and failing to do.
These are some of the fastest growing areas online, and there are many who are now writing about them, commenting on them, and sharing their experiences. Like any business opportunity, it can pay off doing some research, and mapping out possible directions before committing too much time and resources into any one effort. In facing these challenges, small businesses can as easily be trailblazers as large businesses.
Happy New Year, and may the challenges of 2008 help you find your own path to treasures on the Web.
Bill Slawski is Director of Search Marketing at KeyRelevance, Inc., blogs at SEO by the Sea, and has been one of the Running a Business Forum moderators at Cre8asite Forums for the last six years. The Small Is Beautiful column appears on Thursdays at Search Engine Land.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.