For many small business owners in Moray the reason for having a website amounts to little more than obligation. I’ve heard the following explanations a thousand times. Your customers expect you to have a website, so you asked your mate who is good with computers to put one together; he’s no designer but he was able to it for free. You had a personal WordPress blog and just included all your business details on there. If somebody needs your contact details, at least you’ll have something up online for them to refer to.
At the risk of being rude, you got it all wrong from the word go. Your expectations of what a website can offer are so low that you are just not prepared to invest the time, the money or the effort.
The first thing you should do is stop thinking about your website solely in terms of a virtual PO Box, a brochure or an obligation.
In the right hands your website can perform successfully as your virtual shop-front, your sales team, your promoter, your desk team and even your aftersales support. And unlike your offline premises it’s also available on a 24/7 basis. It can be doing work whilst you sleep or are on the golf course. In short, it deserves your respect.
Your website is not the window-dressing – it’s the shop.
Your website should react and behave like any other member of your staff. It should fulfil a specific function, play a specific role and accomplish explicit commercial tasks and objectives. A ‘brochure site’ does none of these things; it’s the online equivalent of a sales team who little more than hand out flyers and refuse to engage you in conversation; the kind of staff who keep their head-down when a customer enters the shop or hide in the store cupboard until closing.
You wouldn’t be content just handing your customer a leaflet. You’d engage them in conversation, you would identify their needs, answer their questions and provide a suitable solution.
And you should adopt this same approach with your website.
As a Moray hotel owner, shop owner, showroom owner or restaurant owner, you have probably invested substantial thought and money into creating atmosphere on your premises. If you extend this same attention to detail to your website you’ll almost certainly reap the benefits. Pictures are there to tell a story. It doesn’t matter whether you do them yourself or have somebody do them for you but quality images are an increasing necessity in a world of visual overload. As the world becomes fluent in the language of pictures, so should you. And if necessary, use the natural beauty or appeal of your location to do the selling. If you have the Cairngorms on your doorstep, a wonderful coastal panorama or even if your premises just look slick and professional, don’t just tell them, show them. Nobody makes a purchase without context, and it’s creating the right context that separates the amateur from the pro.
You’d never dream of scribbling on a bit of paper and handing it out as a flyer. Apply the same common sense to your website. In this day and age it is often the first point of contact between you and a new customer. Approach it with the pride it deserves and keep all your objectives clear. If you don’t know what you want your customer to do once they get to your website, how are they going know? Build a clear pitch and issue a clear call to action. Yes your website should be a journey of discovery for the user, but it’s only fair to provide the route-map.
Here are 5 things you can do to take your website more seriously:
1. Create a Mobile Friendly website.
In a recent Google survey of 1,088 smartphone users, 67 percent stated that they’re more likely to buy when a website is mobile friendly. Google have even started sending out warnings to website owners telling them to make their site compatible with Mobile and Tablet devices. Imagine having a door to your shop that can only allow customers no taller than five foot to enter. Imagine having a hotel or guest house that could only accommodate people between the ages of 55 and 65. Any business owner worth their salt wouldn’t discriminate in this way and neither should you. Make it an equal opportunities thing. Allow all users to access your website no matter what device they are using and if necessary serve device-specific content, whether it is ditching the large-hi res images for mobile or boosting it for high-definition retina screens and Smart TVs. Your website has the technology to know what what sized-screen your user is using, use that information to provide the best experience possible.
And besides, Google is now actively penalizing sites that don’t support mobile devices. Ask a web specialist about building a ‘responsive design’.
2. Build your website around specific business tasks and objectives.
Forget the idea that your website is nothing more than a brochure. Ditch those ‘About Us’ pages. Ditch those ‘History’ pages – and ditch all those default WordPress themes.
WordPress is a blogging platform and as easy and as cheap as it is to set-up and maintain, it simply doesn’t adapt easily to business goals and objectives. How many business owners out there are prepared to design and print-off their own business cards, leaflets and brochures? How many restaurant owners would be prepared to cobble a menu together in Microsoft Word, insert a bit of clip-art and put it proudly on their tables? How many of you would be happy to get out your planes, your rasps and your saws and start knuckling down to some serious joinery to get your boutique showroom in order before opening? You wouldn’t, you’d hire a professional. Your business is that precious. You want it to look as good as possible and perform as successfully as possible. It’s not that you’re without ideas, but you may need those with the tools and the skills to give them shape, and it’s the shape that will give them impact. Have Q&A sessions with your designer. Help them get under the bonnet of what you do. Tell them exactly what you want to achieve and how you would like users of your website to respond.
Design in this context is always about planning. It has a scheme, it has an agenda. It isn’t just about being decorative. Get the advice of a professional. Ask them what’s wrong with your existing website and get them to do some brief scoping work if necessary. WordPress (and other free template providers) has some terrific options but it often needs a skilled hand to customize the design and adapt it so it serves your key business objectives. Get someone to install or create new themes more suitable for your business, get them to install and configure plugins that will convert directly into sales, fulfill targeted marketing objectives or just offer greater functionality.
3. Stop spending so much time on Facebook and Twitter.
There’s an increasing number of business owners who are rejecting websites in favour of ‘Community’ Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. And though both these of platforms should form a part of your online marketing campaigns, they should rarely be the focus. Keep the traffic moving between your website and Social Media. Keep it flowing. Develop targeted campaigns that coincide with offline events and promotions, new products or new offers. Provide engaging, skillful content that seeks a specific kind of response and fulfills a specific commercial objective. Don’t just post for the sake of it. Social media is a great way of maintaining contact with existing customers but as a tool to acquire new customers it’s generally ineffective. Tweets and posts are more likely to get shares if they have some unique appeal that is separate to your business objectives. Interesting images or videos can play a solid, supporting role in extending reach.
Any hard and fast rules about all of this? Kind of. If your product or service has a strong ‘community’ or social dimension then the rewards can be significant. If it doesn’t, it’s going to be tough and you will have to be creative. For instance, a pub with a regular roster of events and promotions can benefit greatly. Users are more likely to share or re-tweet news about an event, especially if they think other friends might be interested in going. The pub is a social experience and fits snugly within the dynamics of social media. If you custom-build or bake, again it can be a powerful medium, especially if you take shots of your latest designs. Sharing a picture of a unique cake that has been baked for a birthday or celebration will appeal to the customer, so make it easy for them to do this by taking the picture yourself and sharing it with them on social media. They are looking for ‘likes’ and ‘retweets’ just as you are looking for likes and retweets; it’s a trade like any other.
4. Consider some serious SEO to get your website more visible in Google.
Facebook and Twitter are great at building loyalty and keeping existing customers informed, but they have limited impact when it comes to acquiring new customers or exposing your business to a wider audience. Look more closely at other channels like Google Adwords for increasing exposure and attracting sales. Yes it demands a little more skill and experience, but the rewards are far in excess of anything you’ll experience through Facebook. An experienced web professional will be able to build you a site that ranks highly in Google. This will expose you to high-volume searches. If you are a guest house in Moray, its entirely possible to rank highly for searches like ‘bed and breakfast in Moray’ or ‘guest house in Lossiemouth’. Ask them to provide a list of all the high-volume search phrases related to your industry. Unlike Facebook and Twitter people using engines like Bing and Google are actively seeking out your products and services. In this respect, they are better sales leads, better prospects. There is a much chance you can convert them into leads. And here’s another thing: the reporting tools at Facebook and Twitter are totally inadequate. A specialist could install reporting tools like Google Analytics on your website. This will allow you to monitor user-behaviour. You will be able to keep a close eye on where your users come from, which search terms they may have used, which pages they visit, which links they click on, how long they stay and how often they return. It gives a depth of understanding that Facebook ‘Insights’ could only dream of (and it can even monitor users in real-time).
There are instances when it pays handsomely get the specialists involved, and you’ll probably even learn something yourself in the process.
5. Unleash the power of Google Adwords
You’ve probably seen these. These are the small ads and promotions you see at the top and bottom of the search results when you use Google. From time to time you will also see them appear on the column at the right. These ads compete directly with what professionals call ‘organic listings’ (or SERPS). Organic listings are the normal ten search results you will see on the page. These are the results that haven’t been paid for, and if your website is performing poorly in the ‘organic’ search results, then forking out a few quid for adwords will often see a decent return on investment.
How do paid ads perform into comparison to normal or ‘organic’ search listings? Well a first page listing will generally favour organic results. First page organic results get clicked on 94% of the time compared to just 6% for Google Adwords (53% women/47% men). But if you don’t have a listing that appears in the top 3 results Google Ads can offer some serious search support. And here’s why.
If you are fortunate enough to be the first result on the first page at Google you can look forward to having between 35 and 48% of the user clicks and the second result anywhere between 8 and 12% of the clicks. In fact the first 3 results on any Google search will generally account for 68% of the clicks. Obviously click-thru rates differ for branded and non-branded search terms, which means someone searching for ‘Decora Elgin’ will click on the first listing 80% of the time compared to 35% of the time for more ‘long tail’ and unbranded search queries like ‘furniture shop Elgin’. In terms of unbranded, long tail searches the clicks are more evenly distributed across the page.
The good news is that Google ads could cost you as little a few pounds each day. There is no minimum daily spend and ads can be paused or removed at any time (which is great for running short-term, highly targeted ad campaigns when foot traffic or enquiries have been low).
The PPC model Google Ads offer is usually the best. This means you only pay Google when someone clicks on the ad and enters your website.
In a nutshell, this is what you do:
- Sign-up at Google for an Adwords account.
- Create an ad (using the ad tool provided).
- Choose which search queries you would like to appear against (eg. ‘home security moray’, ‘plumber Fochabers’ etc)
- Select the maximum price you would like to spend (or ‘bid’) on each keyword (anywhere from £0.20p to £3.00 a click depending on your competitors have bid on the same term)
- Choose your maximum daily budget (could be as low as a pound or as high as £15.00 – the choice is yours).
Choose whether you want to appear in specific geo-regions like Scotland or more national and international searches.
The tools and resources Google provides for customers are immense and the tactics and skills used are varied, so either prepare for steep learning curve over a period of several months or get an experienced adword professional like myself to assist in set-up and preparation. Your objective is to get a decent return on your investment, so my advice would be to keep the search phrases you bid on highly specific and do not leave it to Google to automate the process in any way. Any automated process Google uses tends to increase daily spend significantly. Micro-manage the campaign from start to finish using the traffic analysis tools offered by Google to weed out poorly performing search phrases and find lucrative new ones. The data provided by Google on your Adword dashboard can tell you which phrases convert into sales and which don’t. It’s just knowing where to look.
The Adwords Express service offered by Google is certainly one to avoid as it will choose your search phrases for you based on a basic profile of the products or services you offer. If in doubt, get in touch and I can answer any queries or concerns you might have.
About the author
The author has covered all aspects of web development and internet marketing. Work conducted on behalf of Art Empire Industries, GBEye, and the Room4u hotel directory. The author’s mission is to provide an ethical web service to small & medium sized businesses throughout the North East of Scotland and ensure a fair and reasonable trade-off between the money they invest and any subsequent business growth. Works at the Pixel Surgery in Moray.