An online presence is crucial to a small business. But it is not a simple as throwing something at the internet and hoping it sticks! Getting it wrong can do more damage than good. It is not just a matter of cost but the time and effort you are willing to invest in developing a positive online experience for your potential customers. DIY websites can be relatively cheap and simple to get off the ground but it would be a mistake to think that such sites can compete with other professionally designed and managed sites.
There are now approximately 5 million small businesses in the UK. Between them, they are involved in more than £150bn pounds of e-commerce. It’s a crowded and highly competitive field, with small companies fighting tooth and nail to attract the attention of would-be customers. At the risk of stating the obvious, a quality website is essential if you want your business to punch above its weight.
Unfortunately, on this point there’s a mixture of good and bad news. 81% of British SME’s are running a website of some sort or other. Despite this frankly impressive statistic — a worrying 80% — simply aren’t fit for purpose in today’s digital age. The vast majority of SME’s are using sites that are based on out-of-date technology. They tend to be “static”, limited to five pages and offer no regular content updates. Many also have failed to grasp the importance of good Search Engine Optimisation(SEO) or have an effective social media presence.
The end result is such sites rank very low on a Google search — and even when they do attract visitors, they rarely convert them to paying customers as they project a poor image online. These businesses are effectively paying to operate off-line and are missing huge opportunities to grow and engage with potential customers and a market that continues to grow year on year.
You can be sure if you are hesitating to take the plunge and get properly involved in e-business your competitors won’t be! If time or expertise is in short supply, look for a website designer that will build your site and look after it for you. Sign up for a Twitter account and get your designer to set up a Facebook page for your business. When you stop for a 5 minute coffee break check out what your competitors are doing on Twitter and emulate them!
Three essential points for an effective internet presence.Dynamic content
A dynamic and up-to-date website will be more relevant to a visitor and it will also give repeat visitors a reason to return. A good designer will offer to update your site for you regularly as part of a servicing plan. News, specials and testimonials are a few ways of making a website more exciting and dynamic. And best of all, updating your content regularly makes it more search-engine friendly.
Social Media is the key to engaging with your potential clients. Twitter and Facebook can be excellent touchstones for you to check you client satisfaction levels and head off any potential problems before they can escalate. Some websites come with CRM (customer relationship management) capabilities to help manage your existing customers. Tools — such as a customer contact list, email marketing, custom enquiry forms and SMS alerts — will significantly improve your ability to stay in contact and engage your customers. And if your site has an appointments-booking system, you can enjoy a big boost in productivity while also improving customer experience with email confirmations and text reminders.
First impressions count, and a professionally designed website with professional images makes all the difference. Internet users frequently make their mind up about a site within the first couple of seconds. An important factor many people overlook is the colour of a site. Whether it’s a subtle hint to complement your logo — or a full patterned background — the right colour scheme plays a big role in catching a visitor’s eye. Unfortunately, a lot of amateur web designers go overboard when it comes to choosing a colour palette. Pictures of your products and services can clearly showcase what you can offer customers. And the use of top-quality images also offers another advantage: your business is more likely to get noticed on image-heavy media sites such as Pinterest.
The importance of visibility
With nearly 130 million websites in the UK alone, the internet is becoming an increasingly crowded marketplace. You must make your website visible to your customers and the way to do this is twofold. First it is important to climb search engine results, the king of which remains Google. The second and increasingly important way to drive traffic to your site is Social Media. A little over 30% of all traffic to UK e-commerce sites came from direct links from SM sites such as Twitter and Facebook in 2014.
If your website hasn’t been optimised to help it up the rankings, you can’t independently reach out and help potential customers find you; instead you’re relying on them stumbling across you by chance. If this description fits you, despite having a website, you’re effectively working off-line and in the dark.
A well crafted website and an effective social media presence are the key to maximising the opportunities the internet provides for UK SME’s. Time and money may be short but spend what money you have on a good website designer and what time you have learning to exploit Social Media to your business advantage.
See my article on choosing the best hosting provider HERE. My overall choices for the best hosting providers are –
Best Budget UK Based Shared Hosting Provider
Best Overall Hosting Support & Platform Shared & VPS Hosting
Best Cloud, VPS & Dedicated Server Hosting Provider
*A relatively new type of hosting, ‘Cloud Hosting’ has emerged in recent years. I will write another article on this subject and or amend this article when I have firmed up my thoughts on this development.