Building an online presence
The internet has changed the way that consumers and businesses research product and service information. If your small business does not have an online presence, you may be missing out on reaching potential customers.
Not so long ago when looking for information regarding a product or service, the best place to start was the phone book. But times have changed and Australians are some of the biggest internet users in the developed world.
According to Nielsen Market Intelligence, 16.2 million Australians viewed 31.8 billion pages online and spent, on average, 40 hours across 63 sessions in October 2013 alone.
So what does this mean for your business?
Currently, less than 42 per cent of small businesses have a website.
Having an online presence for your business is important to make sure you can be found by potential customers whether they are at home, in the office or on the move.
TYPES OF WEBSITES
If a website is the most effective way to reach your customers, there are several types that you may wish to consider.
A brochure website promotes and informs customers about who you are and what it is you do. This type of website should showcase your products, offer information about a service you provide, your contact details and contain a photo gallery or short video.
An e-commerce website can drive additional revenue to your business by selling your products or services online.
The sites require more maintenance than a brochure website, but have the advantage that your business is “open 24 hours”, meaning that you could be selling while you sleep. You will need a payment gateway that allows customers to make a purchase, such as PayPal.
An educational or engagement website — a blog, Facebook, Google+ or LinkedIn page — can be used to educate consumers about the benefits of your products or services, allow other consumers to offer input and help you to directly engage with consumers.
You need to carefully consider who your target market is. If they are not likely to engage and converse online, than this type of webpage should be avoided.
These types of pages can be linked to your existing website.
Before building a website, you should carefully consider what you want. Having a website will affect the way you run your business.
You will need to find time to manage your site, ensuring it is up-to-date, or you may need to reply to an increased number of enquiries or process additional sales. Some key points to consider before building a website are listed above.
Just as with the rest of your business, you need to set some goals to measure against and adjust to make continual improvement. Ask yourself, do you want to use your site just to provide further information or increase the number of enquiries and sales leads?
In addition, would you like to educate your consumers, or sell and process orders online?
CHOOSING A URL
A URL (or uniform resource locator) is a unique internet address where your website will sit. You need this in order for your website to be found and viewed. A URL is not your actual website, you will still need to construct a page that can be found at your URL address. The most common URL addresses in Australia are those that end in “.com.au” or “.net.au”.
You need to make sure your preferred URL is available. A URL should be your business name or a term which best describes what you do or sell.
If your ideal URL is available, it should cost between $15 and $35 for a two-year term. If it is not available, you may wish to back-order the address.
However, this can be expensive and will only be worthwhile if the current owner releases it.
In order for potential customers to get a good understanding of what you do or sell, you will need to publish the right information. For websites that feature products, ensure you get an accurate description from your supplier and highlight what makes it stand out from the competition.
For those who offer services, write down exactly what it is you offer and why a customer should choose you over someone else.
If possible, have a look at your competitor’s website. Examine what type of look and feel they have, navigate your way around the site and read the content. If you are a bit unsure as to how best describe what you do, you may gain some insight, but make sure you create your own original content.
Remember that when writing your content, be thorough but concise. When it comes to writing your company profile, or “About” page, it is important to reflect on what your business is and what it stands for.
Try not to put too much content about your history or personal involvement, keep it to what your business can do for its customers.
There are many options to build your site including a range of do-it-yourself options.
Self-build website companies usually offer a range of template themes that can be tailored to suit the look and feel that you are trying to achieve. For many, it is free to use their building software, but you will need to pay them for hosting your website. Companies can be found on Google by typing in “free website templates”.
Most website developers or marketing firms will also use some sort of template to build your site, but you will still need to supply them with content about your products and services.
A professional will be more up-to-speed with current trends in terms of look and design, navigation and overall functionality.
If you choose to use a professional website company, do your homework to see what experience they have and what support services they offer, especially after your website is complete. Also, compare pricing to ensure good value for money.
Remember, first impressions count. On average, you have less than 30 seconds to grab a browser’s attention, so make sure your site is going to quickly grab the reader’s attention.
The fastest growing segment for all internet use in Australia is mobile. Increasingly more people are using smartphones or tablets to access the internet. It is critical for the success of your website that your site be optimised for mobile devices. This means that when someone views your site from a phone or tablet, its pages will automatically be displayed in a format that is easy to navigate. If a customer has to zoom in and out to find pages or move around to look at content, chances are they will exit your site. Most DIY companies are including this in their plans.
If you choose a professional to design your site, be sure to enquire about mobile optimisation.
Now that you have a domain URL and a webpage that is ready to go live, you will need website hosting. This is what keeps your page available on the internet and enables browsers to see it. If you have chosen a DIY website option, you may be required to use that company for hosting.
A professional may have a preferred hosting supplier. Without hosting, your website will not be available on the internet. Check what amount of space is available for your hosting options.
If your website is content heavy or has a lot of pages, large pictures or video, you will need a higher grade of hosting plan, or your website will take too long to load. Hosting can start from as little as $5 a month.
MAINTAINING YOUR WEBSITE
You must ensure that the information is up-to-date, including photos, product information and stock levels (if your site has e-commerce). No one likes to see a website that was last updated months or even years ago. DIY website options should allow you access to update your site’s content. If you are using a professional, enquire whether you are able to update your own site or whether you have to go through them.
Having the ability to update your site is ideal. The last thing you want is to be waiting for your site to be updated, especially if you have regular information that needs to be adjusted. A website that has fresh information and photos is also more search-engine friendly.
If your site contains old, stale data then you are not likely to be ranked as high on search engines such as Google.
SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMISATION
Once your website is up and running, it is essential that it can be found by your potential customers. Most people will use a search engine such as Google, Bing or Yahoo to find what they are looking for. It is worthwhile taking some time to conduct some basic search engine optimisation so that your website can be found. Search engines are very large and complex systems that will list and rank websites in order of their relevance to what has been typed into the search bar.
There are also many other ways that search engine results are produced and displayed. Many business owners do not engage in SEO and often wonder why their site cannot be found. DIY website companies will offer a certain amount of SEO tools built in. A professional will be able to include some SEO tools, just be careful of what you are paying for.
PROMOTE YOUR WEBSITE
This may seem obvious but many businesses do not promote the fact that they have a website.
You should take every single opportunity to direct people to your website. Include your web address on your business cards and signage (including vehicle), and mention it to customers, in your voicemail and on all promotional materials. If people do not know your website exists, you cannot expect them to visit it.
The internet is constantly evolving, as are consumer trends and demands. The only way that you will know if you are achieving your online goals is to measure your website on a regular basis. Sign up for services such as Google Analytics.
It’s a free service that will provide a report about the number of visitors to your site, how long they stayed on your site, what pages they visited and where they came from (for example, Google, Bing, Yahoo, from an incoming link or directly typed into the internet address bar).
If you measure your site on a regular basis, you will soon be able to recognise what adjustments you need to make to ensure your website can be found, and is visited and used by your potential customers. The ultimate measurement is the number of enquiries you receive from customers who have visited your website. The internet is rapidly changing the way we conduct business. Getting your business online is a key to success.
For information on how to effectively market a business, go to agric.wa.gov.au/small_landholder
BUILDING A WEBSITE
Some key points to consider before building a website:
- Who is your target market and what would they look for online?
- Do you want to simply promote products or services to encourage more enquiries?
- Do you want customers to be able to purchase your products or book your services online?
- How will having a website affect your time management?
- What changes to your business will you need to make to be online ready?
WEBSITE DESIGN TIPS
Design tips that should be applied to both professional and do-it-yourself websites include:
- Be clean and free from clutter across the pages;
- Be easy to navigate through to the various pages;
- Have clear contact details, including an email responder to allow customers to contact you directly from the site;
- Contain a Google map displaying your location; and
- Use high quality images as these will go a long way to describing your product or service. If you do not have quality images, consider getting a professional or a friend who is skilled in photography to take some photos for you, or consider using stock photography.
SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMISATION BASICS
SEO tips to help browsers find your website:
- Name and describe each page. You will only have a short number of descriptive words available, so be concise.
- Include a list of single words and wording groups (two or three) that an internet user may type into a search bar if looking for your type of business.
- Include a geographic reference based on where you are and be specific. Broad geographic areas will not allow a search engine to drill down to your location.
- Use your keywords within your content.
- Make sure you have a Google maps listing.
- Having multiple incoming links to your site is excellent for search engine ranking. Get other credible organisations and businesses to link to your site as this builds site authority;
- Include a freshly updated testimonials page.
- Link to your social media accounts or, better yet, include a live feed to your website.
© The West Australian
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