As the owner and operator of a small business, you may be wondering: Do I need a website? If you’re asking yourself if businesses benefit from having their websites, the resounding answer is yes. Here’s the scoop on why- and how you can optimize your website to your best advantage to put (or keep) your small business on the map.
Link Your Website to Your Social Media Accounts and Updates
There’s no doubt about it: Small businesses are in vogue, especially if you live in the Bay Area, where there is a huge focus on sustainability and supporting small businesses. Corporations have monopolized entire industries for a long time, and people are waking up to the effects of this dynamic on the working class. To boost healthy changes in the economy, many Bay Area residents are buying from- and investing in- small businesses.
That said, small businesses face a unique set of challenges when it comes to business networking. They may be trusted staples in their communities, but they’re not so popular that people don’t question their credibility. To establish a loyal customer base, it’s important to build meaningful long-term relationships with clients and customers. This means tapping into the power of personalized tech, which is at the public’s fingertips.
In a world where people can summon the answers to open-ended questions via voice commands, consumers expect to be catered to by event and business technology. After all, they’re catered to by AI on a daily basis, from the comforts of their homes. They want to be able to learn about and interact with small businesses from the comfort of their homes, too. The importance of social media marketing cannot be overlooked. In order to reach niche audiences and keep up with industry standards, small businesses need to interact with their audiences across social media pages. That means cultivating a presence on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and possibly more. But for small businesses, especially in the world of event planning, it’s also vital to stand out from the rest. That’s why your social media pages and updates should be linked to your website- and your website should be fabulous and engaging.
Consumers are generally wary of small businesses that do not have websites. Most businesses do, which allows consumers to contact them with any questions or issues. Having a website also allows small businesses to maintain momentum by keeping consumers updated on any exciting news and developments. Even during times when there’s not a whole lot of change to document, it’s important to start conversations on your website and across social media platforms.
For example, Instagram is a highly visual platform that allows users to apply filters and edit their photos to a nearly professional level of quality (or at least a stunning simulation of professional quality). When you create unique hashtags that represent your business, you acquire hundreds to thousands of followers who will also visit your website. (The link to your website should be at the top of the page as well as frequently appearing in your posts).
In this era of technology, we know that most people research products or services online before they purchase them. If your business doesn’t have a website, you’re sending the message that you are not a popular choice, are not engaged with your customers, or are too outdated to be relevant to them. Although customer reviews of your small business may appear on consumer websites such as Yelp, you can choose which of these reviews- if any- to publish on your website. To be fair, just about every business gets some negative reviews- you can’t please everyone. But creating your own website gives you the opportunity to influence the way consumers see you.
Have you ever researched a doctor or specialist and was dismayed to find multiple, legit-sounding negative reviews? If so, did you wish for a chance to find out more information about the doctor in question, or even interact with his office without making an appointment? Sometimes the reviews are so startling bad that we just pass the doctor by altogether. But more often than not, this is a person who has come highly recommended; or your research has yielded good results along with the bad, and you want to satisfy your curiosity without committing to an appointment (especially if your insurance doesn’t cover the visit and you will have to pay!)
Well, it’s the same with small businesses. More often than not, people would like more information than reviews on consumer websites to provide. By having your own website that is easily searchable, you’re giving your audience a window into who you are, what you do, and what your business is all about.
Your Website Design Should Be Unique and Visually Appealing
Now let’s talk design and layout. Needless to say, websites that appear old and outdated give a bad first impression of your small business. In keeping with the evolution of personalized tech, many business websites feature unique infographics and an interesting design concept.
Obviously, the first step to creating an awesome website for your small business is to christen it with a domain name. When naming your website, take advantage of SEO by looking up keywords and phrases associated with your business or industry. (Make sure your URL is also SEO-friendly). By including these words in your domain name, you’re optimizing the changes that people using search engines will come across your website. Remember, your domain name is important because it’s the point of entry to your website.
Technical Difficulties: How to Avoid Them to Maximize the User Experience
Although it may be tempting to use your creative license and come up with an abstract or esoteric name that has a unique meaning, don’t. The harder it is to spell and the more abstract it is, the less simple it is to stumble across on search engines. In this case, less is more. When your domain name is short and packs a meaningful punch, it’s easier to remember and type quickly for people who want to visit it. For the same reason, you should also avoid using numbers and/or hyphens. In addition to being easy to spell and therefore search for, it should ideally be easy to pronounce, too. This way, when you mention it in passing at networking events or in your daily life, people will be able to recall it when they go home and search for your business on the web.
It may sound trivial, but you should try to use a .com domain name rather than .net, .edu, or other domain extensions. For some businesses, it may be more appropriate to use .gov, .org, or .edu- but this is usually not the case for small companies. The address should be broad enough to support future growth. For example, if you’re a book retailer that eventually wants to branch out and sell films, toys, or novelty items, don’t choose a domain name that includes the word “books.” (You could always use “booksandmore.com,” but that sorely lacks originality and consumer appeal). Instead, use a broader name that doesn’t indicate that you only sell one kind of product).
You should research the domain name to make sure no one else is already using it and make sure it doesn’t contain any official trademarks. If the domain name you want is already taken, you can request to purchase it at a reasonable price from its current owner. This will allow you to use it as well legallyto legally use it as well.
In order to keep your website running optimally, you’ll want to choose a secure website host. We’re sorry to bore you with the technical details, but a website host is fundamentally important because it provides the services and technology needed for people to view and navigate your website.
To design your website, you can either invest in a reputable website builder or access free website-building sites online. Some of the best free ones include Squarespace, WIX.com, SiteBuilder.com, Wordpress, and Jimdo.
Let Viewers Know Who You Are and What You Do
The first thing your website should do is tell people who you are and what you do. This way, viewers aren’t sidetracked by confusion. To further clarify your business and the services it provides, your homepage banner should be a unique visual representation of who you are and what you do. Start with a text blurb that states both of these things, then go on to tell your story in a powerful yet concise way.
Leverage Storytelling as an Experiential Marketing Strategy
Storytelling is a popular experiential marketing strategy that brings your business narrative to vivid life. Since today’s consumers are looking to make an emotional attachment to the brands they patronize, your website should briefly tell the unique story of how your brand came to be. Your story should be concise and cohesive, so avoid long tangents or oversharing of details that will lose viewers’ attention and fail to summarize your business effectively. It should also contain elements and emotions that many people will relate to. For example, everyone loves a good “rags to riches” story of how an underdog came out on top. If you don’t have that kind of story, try sharing an anecdotal experience that inspired you- or a pivotal moment that serves as an emotional turning point and call to action in your life.
If you are a freelance wedding photographer, you could describe what inspired you to make a career out of capturing special moments that will last a lifetime. If your business is a startup that empowers women in tech, describe what life experiences compelled you toward feminist values, and why it’s important to give women space in the tech world. If you’re getting started as an event planner, describe your niche and what inspired it. In any case, the story your website tells should express your values and mission as a business.
Remember, your brand development gives your business a personality that people come to know, love, and trust. Your website is a representation of that personality, so your user interface should stand out as memorable and unique. Using visually appealing graphics with clear, easy-to-read fonts is important; much of first impressions are visual. Although investing at least 100 dollars in a website host sets you off to a great start, you’ll want to make sure all of your infographics are optimized for speedy loading. We all know what slow-loading web pages do to our sanity in a fast-paced lifestyle, so don’t put yourself in a position to be frantically “X’d” out in frustration.
Research the Competition
As a rule, it pays to research the competition before creating your website. Look up other small businesses in your area that are similar to yours to see what the standard is. You may be inspired by the way they’ve optimized their website designs and functions to be user-friendly and compelling. And while it’s more than okay to take inspiration from other small businesses- we recommend it remember that your goal is not just to keep up with the modern Joneses. Your purpose is also to stand out as unique. With effective visuals and storytelling skills, you don’t have to spell out your strong points or the qualities that distinguish you from the rest. Your website should speak for itself. Ask yourself what you like about the way other small businesses created their websites- and how you can put your own personal touch or individual spin on it.
You’ll also want to research your target audience to find out their demographic and personal information. What are their shared interests, what language do they use, and what’s important to them? Marketing toward millennials means designing a website that is highly interactive, makes an emotional connection, and usually espouses humanistic values. Millennials are environmentally responsible, so if your products are sustainable or your services use sustainable resources, let them know on your website.
If you’re an inclusive fashion or beauty brand, tell the story of how you came to value inclusivity, and why it’s so important to you that your industry makes products for everyone. Did you grow up wishing to find representation in the media, but none of the models on the websites of your favorite brands looked like you? Whatever your story, tell it with heart and passion. Just be sure to stay on-brand consistently throughout your entire page.
After you tell viewers the story of who you are and what you do, include one or more calls to action in your narrative. A call to action prompts an instant emotional response that compels consumers to purchase your products or services or interact with you.
Websites Give You Important Data and Help You Track Your Audience
Websites are also useful tools for tracking data that can be used to improve business and marketing strategies. You can see where your audience logs in from, at which time, and what search terms led them to your website. Equally useful, you can also see how long individual users stay on your page, which gives you important information about how compelling your website is.
Knowing the behavioral patterns of viewers is important because it tells us what people are searching for and in which ways your business is relevant to their searches. What areas of interest do people search for when your business comes up as a result? People share their interests with you all the time, in a variety of ways. Maintaining active social media pages and interacting with friends and followers on a regular basis gives you a lot of personal information about your audience. It provides you with insight into their characteristics, needs, values, and desires. But the data gleaned from your website and other technology is also telling.
Taking it a step further, there are tools available to show the location, for example, the Bay Area, where people are logging in from when they view your website. Maintaining your website and linking it to your social media accounts and updates broadens your exposure. It can be very encouraging to see that your small business is reaching more people and bringing more customers in from out of state- sometimes even out of the country.
Whether you’re just starting out or updating your small business’s website, we hope we’ve given you a head start!