A well-built website has the potential to determine the success of a small business. However, a recent study conducted by Clutch, a Washington, D.C.-based B2B research firm, showed that 25 percent of small businesses still lack a website. However, from my personal experience, many of the sites built by small-business owners are almost as ineffective as not having one at all, because they're constructed in a way that counteracts their number one business goal: creating new customers.
The Challenges of Building a Website That Creates Customers
There are three common reasons why small businesses struggle to create new customers with their websites.
1. Time and Tech Overwhelm
Most small business owners wear a variety of hats—from sales to marketing to human resources—and they often simply don't have the time to create a website on their own. While many of these business owners are up to the challenge of building a website, if they choose a platform that requires coding or plugins, they are flooded with an overabundance of information that leads to a general sense of “tech overwhelm," and the resulting sites are either incomplete or unsophisticated.
2. The Brochure Effect
Many small-business owners try and create a simple, straightforward site (not a bad idea) using web platforms like WordPress or Wix, but often, these websites suffer from the “brochure effect" and wind up being static pages that offer little in terms of interactivity or engagement. When customers come to these types of sites and don't find the content or information they're looking for, they may leave and never return.
3. Lost in the Web
Some business owners hire freelance designers to create sites that are aesthetically pleasing, but these sites are often costly and the designers may lack basic SEO knowledge when building them. Small-business owners then end up with a visually impressive web presence that fails to attract new customers through organic search.
Although building a website can initially appear overwhelming, it's actually a lot simpler when you understand the three main steps to generating new customers:
By focusing on these three goals, a small business can help turn its site into more than just a digital brochure and begin reaching and engaging its ideal audience.
Reach Your Ideal Audience
The first thing any business should consider is its customer. If a business has been effectively reaching an audience offline, then it should have a solid idea of its customer. But with a website, you now have to think about what that customer is searching for online. For instance, if an entrepreneur owns a walking tour in Boston where he takes tourists around the city and teaches them about its history, then he would want to appear in search results for people searching for keywords like “Boston walking tours." Once the owner of the walking tour figures out what his potential customers are searching for, then he can start building content around those keywords, such as "Five places to visit on your Boston walking tour" or "15 monuments you can't miss during your Boston walking tour."
You should also ensure that your site is mobile-friendly. In 2015, Google released an update noting that mobile-friendliness will be viewed as a positive “ranking signal." In other words, websites that are optimized for mobile may receive a boost in search engine rankings while those that aren't optimized could fall in the rankings. An antiquated or poorly designed website can be just as detrimental as not even having a site because it may not be found by its ideal audience.
Engage Customers When They Arrive
Reaching new customers is crucial, but getting them to stay and engage with a site is even more important. To engage visitors, you need to communicate trust; visitors should clearly see the company as an expert in a particular field. Awards, professional accolades and certifications (better known as trust icons and customer testimonials) should be displayed prominently above the fold (which is what a visitor sees when the page loads before scrolling down) on the site. It's a clear indicator to visitors that they are in the right place and in good hands. If there is too much information on the site and navigating through its content is difficult, then the potential customer will likely look elsewhere.
A website should be created with the customer in mind. Products or services should be simple to locate and acquire, and above all, it should be crystal clear how the product or service provides what the customer needs. Sites cluttered with superfluous images or untargeted content can be a real headache to navigate, and the slightest distraction from finding a solution to their problem can cause potential customers to leave. On the top of every navigation menu, place social icons, phone numbers or an email address. It's also best practice to have a contact submission form at the end of every page or on the sidebar, where customers can join a mailing list or request more information.
In addition to contact submission forms, web chat, the ability for customers to talk directly to members of the team through a messaging service, instantly connects the customer with the small business just like they're walking into a brick-and-mortar store. Bottom line: the goal should be to provide exceptional service and access to your customers.
Convert Your New Users
A boost in traffic is excellent, but if those users don't perform the desired action, then the increase in traffic is negligible. A website for a small business should be designed in such a way that it encourages users to take an action—call a phone number, download an e-book, or buy a specific product online. In order to boost conversion—or compel a user to take a desired action—you should first establish the end goal for your site and build the site in a way that entices that user to take that action.
For example, if the desired goal is to have more people sign up for a newsletter to learn about the release date for new products, then the site should have clear calls to action on every page: “Sign up here," “Learn more today" and “Subscribe for updates." This creates an environment where it's easy for a customer to fill out a form and provide the desired information. Those forms and calls to action should be on every page and above the fold. Make it so easy for your customers to take your desired action that it feels absolutely necessary.
Launching and Maintaining a Website
So how does a busy small-business owner ensure that her site is built to help reach, engage and convert? Whether hiring a freelance designer, which may not be an option financially, or tackling the challenge herself, which may not be ideal if short on time or patience when it comes to technology, the key is to remember the customer the site is trying to reach, engage and convert, and then to quickly measure how well it's accomplishing those three key steps. Through your metrics, you can see page views, time on site, content interaction, bounce rate, referrers and more. In just a few minutes, you should be able to see how much traffic the site is getting and where it's coming from (reach), which content is keeping visitors on the site (engage) and what percentage of users are taking action (convert). This information is what helps enable a site and the company it represents to evolve, grow and succeed.