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Websites for small businesses

I say to all my clients that a website is an online shop window. Often, and usually these days, it’s the first contact any potential client or customer will have with you or your company so it makes sense to do it properly from the off – first impressions, and all that?

A business acquaintance, the venerable Andrew Allen of  Mway Consultancy (Twitter: @MwayConsultancy), sent me a link to a brilliant infographic compiled by Catherine Clifford of entrepreneur.com which outlines some of the mistakes that frequently occur when new or small businesses launch their website and that how poor ongoing maintenance can, and probably will, cost money in the long run. Catherine states that around one third of small-business owners maintain their websites themselves. Proper and frequent maintenance is a time consuming job, especially if there are various social networking profiles to maintain as well. Important key elements are often neglected or, in the worst case, absent.

Call to action

This is vital. Is your message clear? Do visitors know in a very short space of time what you do and the services you’re offering? Nearly half of small-business websites do not have a phone number clearly visible on the home page and a staggering 93% do not display contact email addresses which, incidentally, is not the same thing as a contact form. If a visitor does know what you’re offering, make it easy for them to get in touch with you.

Bad design

Around 40% of small-business owners say that a main priority in improving their website is aesthetics and design. The design of a website is an integral part of its success which not only includes how pretty it is but usability, suitability, navigation, correct choice of images, typeface, location of page elements to achieve objectives, etc. DIY websites from Wix and 1&1 are all well and good (I’m not against them at all) but using an off-the-peg template which is ‘best fit’ to a small-business is not going to be as effective a marketing tool as ‘bespoke fit’. Matalan or Savile Row? As regards DIY, I know how lay a patio but I know a garden landscaper who’d do a better job.

Update, update, update

Blogs, news pages, Facebook posts, Twitter tweets, Pinterest uploads, LinkedIn updates and adding to events calendars all take time. Lots of it. Many of my new clients say they want some or all of these things on their site but will they have the time to do them all? We’ve all visited websites where the last tweet was six months ago and the most recent news item goes back twelve months. I ask my clients to think carefully about blogs and social media feeds. If it’s been a while since any activity it can have a detrimental effect on how visitors to your site will view your business. Would you be more or less likely to contact a company whose last site update was a year ago? 64% of small-business owners say that finding the time to update websites frequently is a challenge whereas only 25% say that the cost of maintaining a site is a hurdle. Ergo, pay someone to do it as most webby types (including this one!) will be happy to offer you a monthly maintenance plan to ensure your site stays current, updated and fresh. And, while you’re website is being maintained in safe hands by a professional, you will have time to concentrate on growing your business.

Metrics & analysis

Is your website failing in its job? Before any project it’s important to ascertain what the website is for – what’s it supposed to do for you and your business? I hear, “I just think you need one these days,” a lot, and this is true, but there still needs to be some goal or well-defined reason for having the site in the first place and how you intend to use it to grow your business. Analytics software can easily be linked to your site so you can identify things like how long people are staying for, number of visits, which pages are the most/least popular, their location in the world and, very importantly, how quickly they’re leaving and which pages are causing them to leave. In short, where your website could be improved. 75% of small business have no idea how their site is performing due to having no analytics access and 60% of those that do have analytics feel they don’t have the knowledge or skills to interpret what they see and act upon it. Ask your website developer to install analytics and then show you how to use it.

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

This is a biggy and potential clients mention this a lot. I’ve written a full article on this in SEO Tips and the Dark Arts and it’s a huge, complicated and intricate area. Catherine identifies that 26% (over a quarter!) of small business websites cannot be found in search engine results because they have not been indexed. Pretty disastrous if you’re trying to attract new business. You can spend as little or as much as you like on SEO but at the very least a website must be well built in line with current standards, have enough well-written content to be attractive to search engines, well designed to attract visitors which boosts rankings and have the necessary meta tags in place.

Social media links

If you want to spread the word about your business to thousands of people without very much work, use social media. I posted an article earlier this week called ‘How Do I Get a Website‘ and one of my Twitter chums retweeted it to their 1619 followers. That’s 1619 people that I don’t know from one retweet which created a substantial spike in my website visits. Imagine how many people two retweets could reach. Website visits translate to conversions. Not bad for free advertising. Catherine’s stats show that 91% of small business sites don’t have Facebook feeds, 94% don’t have Twitter widgets and 83% don’t have links to Twitter from their sites. While having a feed on your site doesn’t count much for SEO as regards fresh content per se, it generates interest in your brand, encourages visitors to interact and, as illustrated above, spreads the word very easily.

Mobile friendly websites

Picture the scene: TV on. End of a busy day. Comfy couch. Nice cuddle with significant other, but, you need to look something up online. Do you, a) get up from said comfy couch, disturb significant other and go and get the laptop or go to the room where the computer is, turn it on, wait for it to boot up and then find what you’re looking for or, b) reach for your smartphone? Yeah, me too. Mobile friendly websites are not just for people who are out and about. Think of all the places you use a smartphone or a tablet and it will tell you how important it is for websites to be optimised for mobiles. It’s easy to spot a site that isn’t built for mobile devices because you have to zoom, swipe, pinch, wait an eternity for it to load and buy reading glasses. 95% of the websites I build now are fully responsive for desktop, laptop, tablet and smartphone – one site fits all. Get yourself a mobile optimised website and don’t be part of the 60% of small business who don’t.

A designated IT team

Catherine says that 44% of small businesses have been subject to a cyber attack which on average cost over £5200 to remedy. Bit of a sting. Whilst most small businesses cannot afford to employ a full-time IT troubleshooter it’s pretty important to have some contingency in place so outsource the work to a reliable IT company with a team of experts who’ll look after your hardware, servers and software needs. There are many companies who provide reactive maintenance but a few who provide proactive remote managed services (if you’re in the locale check out Aabyss who really know their onions) which analyse your IT systems and identify problems before they occur. Downtime on a company’s IT system can be financially catastrophic so it pays to have a decent managed service contract in place and, while not cheap, in the long term it will save your business money.

Sooooo….

Your business’ business is about making money. It’s clear that simply throwing up a website and expecting it to work for you isn’t going to happen. There are many elements involved that enable a good website to succeed and, as outlined above, a poorly maintained site can, in fact, lose your business money. Speculate to accumulate and pay a professional.

Posted in Mobile Websites, User Experience, Web Design Liverpool

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