Part 1: Findability The findability of most small business websites is so poor that the only prospects who ever make it to your site were probably already aware of your company and were searching specifically for you. Maybe they typed in the url off of your business card, or clicked your link in your email signature. This is good, but what about the mass of people who are searching for your products or services, who don't yet know that you exist? Will your website show up in their Google searches, Facebook combing, LinkedIn asking, or forum posting? How many times have you heard a business owner gripe over the lack of "results" that they have seen from their website? The problem is that results come from actually doing something on an ongoing basis, in a skilled way.
- search engine optimization
- online advertising
- Google AdWords
- social media marketing
- content development
- traditional advertising
- email marketing
- direct mail
These all need to work together from a big picture plan, down to the nitty-gritty, in order to have a truly findable website. Only then can you start to get down to the real nuts-and-bolts of what really works or doesn't work on the website. Moral of the story: don't bash a site until you're doing all of the right things to get people to the site. If you're getting traffic, and still no conversions, then you know you've really got an on-site issue.
Part 2: Branding
In Part 2, we will go over Branding, how many small business websites fail to execute it effectively, and what effect that has on the business. Firstly, what is branding? Branding is an umbrella term for the overall perception of your business. For our purposes, true branding is the sum of all of the intentional efforts that you make to portray a certain attitude, emotion, philosophy, or value about your business. This includes your logo, your brochures, the typefaces and colors that you use, how you answer the telephone, and of course, your website. Basically, your brand, and your website, is responsible to give the right vibes. How do you want your company to appear? Corporate? Friendly? Authoritative? Neighborhood beauty shop, or celebrity stylist? We'll come to you, or you come to us? You must have a clear and detailed answer to this question - an answer that is tied to your business goals. Then all of your website's visuals, interactions, copywriting, structure and functionality must follow suit. You might think that the most common problem with small business web design that fails to brand effectively is that they choose the wrong voice - that the website presents the wrong answer to the "Who are you?" question - a friendly, neighborhood family accountant coming off as an impersonal tax cruncher, for example.
While that is often the case, just as often the website looks almost totally unbranded. The small business website design is too often an afterthought executed in between the operational hubub of actually running the business. It gets tossed up onto the web without any inkling of the true personality of the organization, but instead looks templated, unprofessional, nondescript, and worst of all, forgettable. Let's say you're that neighborhood, family-values accountant - would you rather your receptionist answer the phone flatly, "XYZ Taxes." Or in a friendly tone, "Good Morning, XYZ Family Finance Consultants, how can we help ensure your family's financial comfort?" Which do you think your callers will remember? The Branding segment's answer to the question, "Why does small business web design get a bad name?" is this: Upon hearing your dull receptionist answer the phone forgettably, you should demand that he do better to represent your brand, or hire somebody who will. Just the same, while working with your online marketing company in developing your website, you should ensure that you ask the right questions. Once they've been answered completely, ensure that, based on those answers, your website is a clear and compelling representation of your brand's personality and purpose.
Part 3: Website Content
A big problem for small business websites is not having content that is well-written and structured. Once someone has found your website, you want to be able to grab their attention and tell them how they will benefit from using your services in a way that will hold their interest. There are 3 very important factors to the content on your website: Content Strategy In most cases, when a company wants a website built, the last thing they tend to think about is how relevant and interesting the content is to the visitors of their site. They fill the site with an overabundance of "fluff" that only serves the purpose of filling up the pages. This kind of content consists of vague and confusing statements which usually don't give the potential client a direct answer as to HOW they are going to serve them. This is indeed one of the failings in small business web design. This is where "Content Strategy" comes in.
This is the planning stage. You have to think about how relevant the content would be to your target audience and write about what you know they would care about most. Get to the heart of what you're offering, but if you need to get there through the side-door, do it. Find the middle ground between your readers' interests and your core offerings and value. When you have a clear Content Strategy, you have a plan for growth which is more than essential in small business web design. Your blog posts will all follow a relevant theme, your new pages will be on-point, even your email blasts will have a compass to your reader's clicks. Content Language When someone visits your site, they already have a certain goal in mind. When you've figured this out in your Content Strategy, you must then provide information that is straightforward, concise and if appropriate, entertaining. Web content is not like print content. People do not want to read brochure fluff. They expect to be spoken to directly in a conversational tone. They expect action-oriented copy that stays on point and serves them, not your business.
Further, when writing web content you need to quite literally choose your words. Having a strong search engine strategy in place will allow you to pepper every piece of content with keyword phrases that search engines will gobble up and serve to searchers on a silver platter (otherwise known as the first page of Google). Content Structure Structure your content so that the path to what your potential client is looking for could be easily found and acted upon. This includes both the internal structure of each content piece as well as the structure of your site's navigation. Time is of the essence, most people just move on if they can't find what they what and need right away. Have a clear path to relevant content based on what the user is currently viewing and how they got to you. Use bullet points, callouts, headlines, and get to the point quickly. Don't try to build up suspense in the first paragraph and hit them with a bang in the fourth, which happens quite a bit in small business web design. Hit them with relevant content in the first sentence. Content Should Be:
- easy to read (bullets, highlights, callouts, sidebars)
- clearly organized
- SEO friendly
By having a well-written website with a well-planned content strategy, you could potentially increase the amount of business you are taking in. This will be due to your site being much more organized, interesting, visible and geared toward the customer's needs.
Pay close attention to the website findability, website branding, and website content of your small business web design and you will have a formula that even the flashiest websites that ignore these can't beat. Prospects will FIND you, prospects will RECOGNIZE you, and prospects will RESPECT you.