How can your small business become online friendly? This is the first post in our series “Creating a Brand Online”, where we provide straightforward advice for small businesses who are trying to understand how to translate their brand to the web.
As your customers spend more and more time online each day, you can no longer afford to lack an online presence.
But how to create an online presence isn’t always clear.
Given the different methods and technologies available, you need to find solutions that address your specific business needs. Since every organization is different, it helps if you have a strong understanding of your business and industry to decide on what online tactics to employ.
In this post, we’ll explain some different ways to create an online marketing presence, and what they can offer your business.
Why do you need a website?
When someone researches a business, they’re more likely to look for it online as opposed to, say, looking it up in a phone book. A website helps ensure you’re on their radar.
Without a website, you may still be found on a business directory like 411.ca or YellowPages.ca, or on a review site like Yelp. In these cases, however, you’re limited in how your business is presented, and you have limited control (if any) over your listing. You may also be subject to unfair reviews and inaccurate information submitted by anyone.
With a decent website, you will show up in relevant searches, and you’ll have control over how your business is presented. A decent website will give people basic information on your business such as hours of operation, location, and contact information.
With a great website, you can distinguish your business from competitors, and compel potential customers to take an action – whether it’s to stop by your store, contact you for a quote, make a purchase online, or something else.
Small Businesses Can Get a Leg Up
While it may seem like every business has a website, a lot of small businesses have been lagging behind – and getting ignored as a result. Only 36% of Canadian small businesses and 91% large businesses had their own websites, according to Canadian government statistics from 2007, the most current data available. To put it simply, a website is becoming a core requirement for any business.
Finding The Right Website for Your Small Business
After identifying the need for a website, you need to figure out what type of website will be most effective for your brand.
There are two common types of websites for small businesses: websites that get updated infrequently (a brochure website), and websites that get updated frequently (dynamic websites).
1. A Website That’s Updated Infrequently.
A brochure (or pamphlet) website conveys the same information as a printed pamphlet or brochure. Often spanning only a handful of pages, the information on a brochure website rarely changes, but provides visitors general business information.
2. A Website That’s Updated Frequently.
A dynamic website changes over time as content is added and removed. Some examples of dynamic content include: product listings; a Frequently Asked Questions section; case studies and testimonials; portfolio or photo gallery; news and announcements. While a Brochure website provides general business information, a Dynamic website shows visitors that your business is active.
Many companies start out with a brochure website, then move to a dynamic website once they see the benefits of increasing their online marketing efforts.
Choosing Site Features
Beyond just having company information, there are some common features that make a small business website more useful for visitors.
1. A Blog
A Blog consists of entries (posts) that are created over time. A blog can be used for press releases, news updates, or important announcements. You can post pictures and videos, demonstrate your skills, or share your knowledge and opinions by Blogging. Visitors can share a link to your entries on social media, or interact by leaving comments or posting questions to which you can respond.
2. An Online Store
With an online store, visitors from anywhere in the world can browse your inventory and buy products. They don’t need to visit your physical location, and they don’t need to contact you to make a purchase – they can make payments right on the website. A persuasive website will help drive online purchases, allowing your staff to focus on making in-store sales.
3. Real-Time Chat
For many businesses, customers may have very specific needs or have questions that can’t be easily answered on a website. Real-time chat is an interactive feature that lets visitors type questions to a sales or support agent to get specific information on a product or service. The agent can find out their needs and find a solution that fits their needs. This helps move the customer towards a decision, and ensure they have the right solution.
4. A Members-Only Area
Give logged-in members exclusive access to a section of your website. This area could include valuable resources, like reports or downloads, or information specific to their account. A members-only area encourages people to sign up on your site and spend more time on it. With the contact details you gather from your members – and with their permission – you can send out mass emails (company newsletters, updates, promotions), and build a database of useful information about your customers.
Remember: Your website requirements should be based on your business goals, and they should always be directed towards improving the experience for your customers.
You’re Creating a Website to Benefit Customers
When deciding on what form and features your website will encompass, don’t just choose ones you find exciting, but ones that actually benefit customer. It might help taking a poll of customers to find out what they’d expect from your website. Also, don’t be surprised if your website needs grow from time to time in response to changes in customer expectations.
Evaluating your website needs is something you’ll want to revisit from time to time to ensure you’re always providing customers an experience consistent with your brand.
In the next post, we’ll discuss finding the right social media solutions for your online brand.