What does a small business gain by having a website? Customers! Small business owners need to realize that people aren’t using the yellow pages for anything other than door stops these days (except maybe my wife…that’s another story). In the past year, all three major search engines are skewing search queries towards local even when a user doesn’t include a local modifier. Small Business Owners owners need to not only create a Web presence, but they need to control it as well! It’s possible to create a Web presence without a full site thanks to things like Facebook, Yelp, Manta and other social media outlets. However, you have no control on any of those outlets. You have no say on how they’ll let you connect with customers. You can’t create an email list on Twitter. By relying on “other” sites to house your conversations you’re severely handicapping yourself.
Without a real Web site, you lose out on ways to:
- Differentiate yourself
- Create authority and credibility with customers and within your industry
- Spread ideas
- Get social
- Take advantage of Universal Search’s ranking power
- Benefit from the engines bias to show local results
- Share your company story and information
- House your own community
- Save costs by answering frequently asked questions
- Target your specific neighborhood (defined by zip code, points of interest, ideas, etc)
- Build an email list
Where should a small business owner start in building a Web site? Identify the purpose(s) of the site: Not all small business Web sites have the same goal. Many simply want to promote the product, while others are looking to promote their ideas or build an active community. MAKE SURE to give some thought to what you want to accomplish before you consider anything else. You’d be surprised how it changes your perspective.
Get your domain: In most cases, the domain name you choose will probably be very similar to your business name, however, that is not always the case. Be creative! A name plays a prominent role when people discover, remember, think about, talk about, search for, or navigate to a website. It establishes a theme for the branding of a website before people even visit it for the first time. You’ll find some basic pieces of advice all over the Web, and it’s worth mentioning those right away. Ideally, your domain name should be:
- Catchy and memorable,
- Easy to pronounce
- Easy to spell
- Not too similar to competing domain names
- Not a violation of someone else’s trademark.
Get hosting: This is typically where small business owners start eyeing the door. They’re cool with coming up with a sweet ride domain name, but for some reason “hosting” sounds scary. If you’re a small business owner, there are plenty of very affordable hosting options available that will get you up and running for less than $10 a month. Your hosting plan should also allow you the opportunity to create a [email@example.com] email address – VERY IMPORTANT – make sure you set that up to give you some added credibility
Hire someone to design it: You don’t need a fancy, feature-heavy Web site in order to promote your small business on the Web…You do need one that looks professional. If you can’t do it yourself, hire someone to give you a hand. You have to be willing to spend some money if you want quality service that gets results (this also applies to SEO and Content partners). Remember, there’s always some truth to the statement “You get what you pay for.”
Create your content: Again, you’re not Microsoft, Ford or Amazon.com. You don’t need a huge Web site over flowing with content. You just need to give potential customers some place trusted to land that tells them who you are and what you’re about. That means creating (at minimum) your Home page, Product or Service pages, an About Us page, and a Contact us page to share information about who you are and what you do, but also to localize your business through content.
Get listed: Claiming your local business listing in Google, Yahoo, Bing, Yelp, BOTW and all over third-party sites is is key! If you’re not sure if you’re site is already listed or what info the engines have about you, the appropriately-named GetListed.org is your window into that world.
Marketing it: Like the design stage above, you may want to outsource your marketing efforts to professionals who can help you create a social media plan or a marketing road map. However, if you’re willing to get your hands dirty, this is a step that you can handle with a little education. There are plenty of easy ways to build buzz for your small business site without hiring a full-fledged Internet marketing company. One great resource is American Express’s OPEN Forum. You may not even need people like me.
While the number of Small Business Owners creating Web sites is up, that number really needs to grow in the next year. The search engines’ obsession with local has made your Web site an even bigger part of your business and marketing plan. Get on board or be left behind.