Over the past two decades, most small businesses have staked their claim to at least a small plot of real estate in cyberspace.
The first pioneers of this exciting new medium reaped the rewards and faced head-on the challenges associated with innovation, often heard to say, “As exciting as this here World Wide Web thing seems to be, we have no idea how to use it or what these here web pages should look like.”
So these Wild West pioneers, these Internet astronauts, did what any of us would have in that situation: they winged it!
The first webpages were, well, web pages. Companies took this term literally, reproducing all of their glossy brochures, pamphlets, sales slicks and white papers by “digitizing” them. (Remember that word?) They made “Web Pages.”
This arguably made sense at the time, but 20 years have passed, 20 years with lots of technological advancements, many of them with quite simple applications. Yet, despite these exciting innovations, most business websites still fall into the ho-hum “online brochure” category.
If you’re at a trade show, client meeting, social gathering or reptile expo (my personal favorite), brochures serve a purpose: to give a prospective client you’ve met directly further information related to your products or services.
Pay close attention to the “met directly” part.
Your website should provide this interaction. It should be the direct meeting experience. It’s the main course, not the after dinner mint. Think about it. When we say, “Visit us on the Web,” we’re treating our website as a destination for them, a place to go to experience something.
Today, we have countless tools at our fingertips (many of which are cheap or free) to make sure that the people who visit our sites are greeted with compelling messages. These messages are put forth in a format that ideally engages them and prompts them to take action, such as contacting you or buying your product.
Your website should resemble a physical place that greets visitors with a warm and welcoming smile, entices them to take some time and look around, and establishes a level of trust that compels them to reach out to you.
Unfortunately, many business owners lack the tools or knowledge to create this experience. The result is a flat and static site that resembles an online brochure from 20 years ago.
Ensure the design creates the perfect buying environment. This includes everything aesthetic, from your color scheme, fonts and graphics to the general layout and design structure. Most sites we see give off a stale, boring corporate feel.
If this is the case for your site (be honest; no one’s looking), you can change this easily with a few smart design updates.
If you’re offering senior care services, for example, should your site use dark, depressing colors? Or welcoming, emotional hues? The color and layout of your site should mirror your company culture and value proposition.
Many small business website owners (and, unfortunately, web designers) design web pages to ensure that visitors can find every piece of a site’s entire content from a single page. The result often manifests itself in super-busy, confusing and unattractive webpages.
A simple solution to achieve better navigation would be:
It’s not about you. (Really.) “What is this site about?” is what a person wonders when first glancing at your webpage. Well, most small business sites are about their small business. Confused? OK, let me rephrase:
Nearly every local business site on the Web is full of content about its business — articles, stats, charts and videos — when, instead, the content should be focused on the needs and concerns of your audience!
Focus your content on their needs, the interests and concerns of your audience. Your visitors (don’t think of them as “readers!”) should be greeted immediately at the door when they arrive with a message that says “Welcome! If you’re looking for ________ and _______, then you’ve come to the right place!”
We all know that a picture paints a thousand words. Did you know, however, that a thousand words draws zero clients?
This is the most obvious sign of an online brochure: lots of text with very few photos, videos or compelling graphics.
Imagine walking into a high-end jewelry store that has replaced every glittering necklace, gold watch and sparkling diamond engagement ring with plain white index cards with typed descriptions
Pretty monotonous, right? Not exactly conducive to selling lots of diamonds! Well, this is exactly what most sites do: plaster every page with copious amounts of text that few people have the time or inclination to wade through.
For 1000 times more results, use video, photos and other multimedia to greet and engage your visitors. Anyone can buy a cheap video camera, webcam or have videos made for little cost. Remember, your site is the all too critical first impression. It is a location that should cheerfully greet and engage users. It’s hard to do this with just words.
How often do you publish new content? The business owner who mistakes his or her website for an online brochure treats content as an event, a one time happening. (I mean, you write a brochure once and print thousands of copies, right?). Wrong.
People and search engines both love new and original content (as well as Tobey Maguire).
You must commit to writing at least four pieces of original content each month, period. This is why we always recommend WordPress site platforms — they’re super-easy for non-technical folks to access and update website content and publish blogs.
For ideas on what to write, see our blogging and content tips category.
Many local business owners make the mistake of outsourcing the creation of blogs and website copy to an external party, so they can save time and focus instead on their core businesses. While this might seem to make sense, this may set these site owners up for low traffic and business growth over time.
These days, people expect helpful, high quality content. You are what you write. This is the widely accepted truth in our new information economy.
It’s the philosophy of Cobrametrics that you should own your content. No one beyond you and your employees has as much passion, vested interest and knowledge about your business as you do. The good news is that you can hire copywriters and editors to help. But you must take full responsibility for the voice of your business online.
All the traffic, great articles, design and compelling videos you can amass will add up to very little unless you first have an effective call to action.
Take a good look at your home page. Does it convey a sense of urgency, prompting people to take action now? Or is the message more like, “This is what we do. Think about calling us at some point in the future, if you might want to talk with us at some point.” (Yawn.)
It’s imperative that you not only give people a reason to contact you, but to contact you now!
Here are two very simple and effective urgency-building tactics:
What tools does your site utilize to capture contact information from prospective clients?
Many sites do a decent job of displaying basic contact information (phone number, email address and physical location). So does a brochure.
To transform your site into a lead generation engine, you must actively capture lead information.
This is easy to do with simple contact forms. These forms can send data to your email address or popular email marketing/lead management system such as Aweber, Constant Contact or Mail Chimp.
Another benefit of simple contact forms is that they provide metrics, providing you with a simple way to keep track of and manage leads.
Tip: Be sure to have a lead capture form on every page of your site. This has been proven to increase conversions. With most modern website and blogging platforms, like WordPress, contact forms can be inserted into footers and sidebars with a click of a button.
Your conversion needs fuel to run. Without it, it won’t run. Period. To convert more visitors into leads, you must be visible to Google and other search engines. And guess what? At the risk of beating this dead horse, most small business websites make poor use of keywords and fail to display fundamental SEO best practices.
Again, this article can’t possible serve as an SEO primer (see our most excellent “SEO and Search Engines” category for that) but here are a few tips to place you in the top 1% of your local market:
Does your site have clearly displayed testimonials and examples of your wonderful work or product?
As a species, we’re all pack animals. We place a great deal of trust and confidence in peer validation: if I’m a tall, goofy mountain biker (which I am NOT, by the way), and other tall, goofy mountain bikers recommend Larry’s Tall Bikers’ Bike Shop, my odds of buying from this shop have just increased greatly.
Your site should also display icons, images, and content, which convey a sense of trust, stability and community. These may include social media icons and links, association logos (I’d feel better working with an attorney who’s active with his/her State Bar, wouldn’t you?) and quality-related logos (BBB, Yelp!, etc.).
Be sure to exercise caution here. You don’t want to get into the “Well, enough about me. So, tell me, what do you think about me?” mode. Again, it’s about giving the customers what they want.
“Measure what can be measured, and make measurable what cannot be measured.”
— Galileo Galilei
This quote (and the many variations in existence) pretty much sums up my philosophy for all business. One of the first questions I ask local business owners who contact me with questions regarding their website traffic, marketing and lead generation is “How many visitors is your site getting, and how many convert to clients?” 9 times out of 10, this is is where the metrics discussion ends (and begins).
It’s nearly impossible to gauge the effectiveness of or improve any process, including marketing (which is arguable the most important and least favored process in business).
The first step in your online marketing program (or, for that matter, any marketing program) is measurement. Think about it: you’re investing (and oftentimes wasting) hard-earned money on marketing, a big part of which is website traffic-generating efforts.
It’s critical to set up a basic online marketing funnel and web analytics tools to assist you in these endeavors. We use and recommend Google Analytics for traffic analysis. To measure other marketing pursuits, you can use a basic spreadsheet that will help you keep track of your marketing ROI.
Your website plays an ever-expanding role in your marketing and how clients find you. Local businesses are experiencing a virtual gold rush that can yield never before imagined visibility and growth, yet few are taking advantage of the many simple-to-use resources that can help meet this growing demand.
It’s critical to implement the right user experience and best practices available to ensure your site is an extension of your local business.
Implement these 11 tools and, before you know it, your site will welcome all with, “Hello, there. It’s a pleasure to meet you. Come on in and stay awhile.”
You might even make enough money to decide to update your glossy brochures for the next reptile convention.