What are the processes that small businesses need to adopt to take their websites to the next level?
Been there done that
We (Local Direct Network) have had a website for some years now but early in 2011 we decided we needed a better one.
We launched our first carefully thought-through website, www.ldn.net.au, in April of 2011 and since then our traffic has gone from a few hundred visits per month to almost 10,000 highly qualified readers. We’ve discovered many buyers interested in our services that we never knew existed and we’ve grown our sales significantly as a result. In fact, we now operate a small 1800 Customer Service Centre simply to deal with the increase in incoming business enquiries.
A website is not just about looking good; it’s about engaging an audience, extending a brand promise and offering existing and potential customers something more than just your contact details and a few lines about what you do. If you don’t have a website and you’re not at least beginning to explore the opportunities the internet offers your business – get on board now.
OK, so where do I start?
There are a two basic areas that will determine the success of your website. The first is your website’s ability to attract and engage the right people; the second is causing that audience to take a desired action. In real terms, this quite simply means that your website must first get buyers to visit your site and steer them towards buying your product/service then and there online or coming into your shop.
Attracting the right audience
Getting qualified buyers to your website is all about being easily found for what you do and who you are. Of course, customers might read your website on a business card or on your store front window, but if you want your site to work for you, its primary objective should be about attracting new customers.
In order to be found in search engines, your site must be optimised for search. This practise is called search engine optimisation (SEO). The easiest way to think of SEO is to imagine Google and other search engines as fussy friends that you’ve invited around for a cuppa. If your house is not clearly marked from the street, has not been updated in a while, looks like it might fall over because its foundations are not sturdy or is messy and hard to navigate on the inside, your friends are not going to think very highly of you and are definitely not going to recommend to anyone else to visit your house.
Search engines use similar rules and criteria to determine if you are suitable for recommending to their friends, only their friends are millions of users – many of whom represent potential customers. There are far too many SEO tips to list here but a good content management system (CMS) like WordPress and some simple CMS plug-ins will take care of lots of them for you. Basically your website must be easy to find (with Google tracking codes acting as a street name and number), well-built, well-organised and deliver an engaging experience that makes people want to stay longer.
What the CMS tools will not manage for you is the quality of your content. A regularly updated website is much more attractive to search engines than a stagnant one. That doesn’t mean you have to redesign every week, and it doesn’t mean posting useless commentary every day. Quality updates that Google will credit you for are regular (once a week is a good place to start) postings of news, thoughts or insights into something relevant to your business and customers.
Be sure to use lots of words that your customer might search for in your posts. At LDN our articles are full of words that point to what we do, who we do it for and where we do it. This ensures that Google ranks us high in search results for more general searches like “Letterbox Distribution”, industry specific searches such as “Retail Flyer Delivery”, and also location specific queries like “Letterbox Drop Geelong”. SEO value adds over time, so you can’t publish an article and expect traffic to pick up immediately. Build good content over time, and your traffic will almost inevitably follow.
Converting traffic into customers
It’s fantastic to have lots of people viewing your website but unless they’re buying, all your efforts aren’t paying off. First you must decide what action you want readers to take. Then, you need to make a neat pathway on your website to this action.
For the LDN site, we know that people want to either call us for a quote or use the online tool we’ve built to quote or book their letterbox advertising campaigns online. We know that most people who find our website want to know how we can help them conduct a letterbox drop. We also know that when they find out how cost effective our services are, they’ll book a campaign then and there or call us to enquire further. And this is precisely why on our site, our phone number, a map to find a local branch and even a big bold link to our online quoting and booking system are clearly visible on every single page.
All we’re really doing here is making it easy for the user to find the information they came for – we’re giving them a very clear path to follow that suits both them and us.
Learn and improve
I knew very little about what it meant to create a great website a year ago. But today, after lots of reading, watching, learning, tracking and tweaking, our website is one of our best sales tools. It will never replace the incredible people we have working in the team, but if we continue to learn what people like and don’t like about our website and improve it accordingly, it can continue to make all our jobs a little easier and open doors of opportunity.
So in summary: think carefully about who your relevant audience are, consider what they will be searching for when they’re in the market for your product and evaluate how you can design your site in order to capture these viewers and encourage them to take a desired action. Do these things and your website will deliver your business both a short and long term benefit.