Truthfully, a website is the one area small business owners are going to struggle. Even though technology has made it much easier to design and build a great looking website, there are just so many things involved with the building and managing of a small business website that most business owners end up getting bogged down, falling behind, and then becoming frustrated at the internet entirely.
It used to be that simply having a website put your company a step above. That day is gone. Website design is lightyears ahead of where it was ten years or even five years ago. If you have no website for your business, it’s way past time to get one. If you have an old website, it’s probably time for an overhaul. Customers expect a lot from a company’s website.
The good news is that the opportunity to serve customers is more robust than ever. From a great user experience and customer education to eCommerce and online support, much of what makes your business great and unique can be replicated online. A good website can take customer service to the next level by merging it with marketing and in turn fostering happy patrons and referrals for your small business.
Your website is usually the first or second interaction a potential client will have with your business, so it must be good.
Must-Have Items For Your Small Business Website
Here are a few of the most important small business website must haves to help you start serving and attracting your clients online.
Mobile Optimized Website
When it comes to a small business website, we must have the right info in the right places and in an easy to understand and navigate format that looks good on all devices. Anything else will leave a bad taste, especially a website that doesn’t work good on mobile devices and tablets.
Over half of all internet browsing no longer takes place on desktop or laptop computers. It happens on mobile devices like smartphones and tablets.
Older websites exist in just one format that looks the same regardless of the screen size. Your website that looks beautiful on a big monitor may be cramped and illegible on a tiny phone screen. Users may have to scroll back and forth on a touch screen across columns without accidentally hitting links, or pinch-zoom to find the link they want. A graphics-heavy desktop browser site may also take forever to load on a smartphone, which is usually already on a slower mobile network.
More likely, the user will just abandon the site. Studies show that 71% of users “bounce back” (i.e. immediately leave) a site if it loads on their phone in a mobile-unfriendly version. It’s no wonder that having a site that works and looks great on all devices is at the top of our small business website must haves, especially when looking to provide great customer service online.
Making the switch
You have a few options to make your site mobile. Mobile-dedicated sites used to be the standard. This is a separate site optimized for smaller devices. If you have ever seen “m.company.com” on your phone in the place of “www.company.com,” this is the configuration you are looking at. The mobile site is lightweight and loads quickly but might be missing some functions of your desktop site. Mobile-dedicated sites aren’t really great for small business owners because they have multiple versions that need to stay updated at all time, making it hard to keep track of what’s on each site(mobile and desktop.)
Most businesses now choose a responsive website. This kind of site adapts and reorganizes itself based on the screen size it detects. The upside is that you only have one site to modify and the changes will populate into all versions because there is only one version.
A site that might load on a desktop into a three-column layout with navigation links in the page header might adjust and reorganize into one stacked column with a hideaway “hamburger” menu (the three parallel horizontal lines) when it loads on the latest smartphone.
Mobile Responsive Website Test
To find out if your business has a responsive website or not perform this simple test. Doing this will also give you a clear picture of what responding to the needs of the users and the devices they’re using actually means.
- Using your mouse pointer, click on the right side of your browser window about halfway down the page. Your cursor should have changed into an arrow.
- Click and hold.
- While holding, drag your cursor horizontally over to the right side of the page. You should start to see the browser window start to get smaller.
- Once you have dragged the window over to the left as far as you can, and while you are still holding your click, drag back over to the right of the page.
If you have a responsive website, you should have seen the content start to move and shift around with the end result looking just as nice as the starting point.
If you do not have a responsive website you will either see the text start to go off the page or getting so small you can’t really use the site easily.
Here is a quick example of a small business website that has a responsive design.
Speed Optimized Website
People; your friends, yourself, neighbors, community members, and leaders are all in a hurry to get where they are going or get what they need and want. This most definitely includes researching anything online—if the site loads slow, frustration sets in and we go elsewhere. People want great customer service, they don’t want to stand in your lobby for 10 minutes before they are acknowledged and they certainly don’t like waiting 10 seconds to see your website.
It’s an impatient, instant-gratification era. Studies show that 56% of users will immediately leave a site that takes longer than three seconds to load. If your website is taking a while to load, your customers won’t find your site worth the effort.
Think of a fast website as just another aspect of great customer service. You want to satisfy your customers, so don’t waste their time. Not only should the front page of your website load quickly, but so should the blog, the “about us” page, the “contact” page, or the online store. Clicking on links within your site should take your customers where they want to go quickly and seamlessly.
Ways to speed up your website include:
- Picking the right hosting plan
- Reducing the number of HTTP requests
- Optimizing images for the internet
- Minimizing plugins and external scripts
- Enabling caching to improve the experience of repeat visitors
- Make sure your code and the contents of your database is “essential-only.” No excess baggage.
- Use a “Content Delivery Network” (CDN)
You may think your business is too small to be noticed by hackers. Think again. Data-thieves use automated tools to find vulnerable websites. In fact, 56% of all internet traffic is from an automated program like a scraper, bot, spammer, or impersonator.
If your website is targeted, your customers’ online security could be compromised. Their identities and money could be stolen, their computers infected with viruses and malware. Few small businesses can come back from that kind of hit to their reputation. Further, a lack of cybersecurity hurts your website’s SEO ranking.
Worst of all, the Federal government passes some responsibility for hacker damages on to the owner of the unprotected website. Your company could be subject to stiff fines in the event of a data breach.
Some security measures can be seen by your site visitors. Such as the closed padlock in the browser bar or a Google Recaptcha form that makes you verify you are a human. But some website security measures are performed on the back end where no one see them. These back end security measures, like malware and security scanning, are crucial to ensuring that your site visitors have a smooth experience on your company’s website.
Being upfront about the precautions you have taken is a priceless opportunity to build customer trust, an essential ingredient of the customer service relationship.
The Main Ways To Secure Your Website
Regular website updates. The WordPress platform has opened the door for many developers who have created amazing themes and plugins that add functionality to your website with simplicity and no coding experience. The best and easiest way to secure your website is by simply making sure that your website stays updated. This is because the makers of the themes and plugins are always working to update their code to ensure your websites stay secure. So, by not updating your website every week, you are putting it at risk.
SSL and Encryption. You used to only see “https” and the “lock” icon at the top of pages that ask for passwords and credit card numbers. In response to cyber threats, and to help keep people’s information secure, the entire internet is migrating to this encrypted connection. This is considered a base-level form of security as Let’s Encrypt actually offers this service for free! These also protect data passed through or stored on your websites, like social security numbers, passwords, phone number, email addresses, and credit cards. Some customers won’t fill out a contact form if you don’t have a valid SSL certificate.
2FA. Also known as two-factor authentication. Which is where you have to enter the correct username and password and then also enter a code that was texted to your cell phone before being allowed into the backend of your site. This is to prevent anyone from logging into your website and making changes you don’t want.
Web Application Firewall (WAF). WAFs guard against malware and hackers, DDoS attacks, and brute force attacks against your website. The easiest way to integrate something like this into your WordPress website is to use a security plugin. Doing so will make it easy to secure your website because the plugin will automatically configure a certain level of protection for you. Beyond that, they make it all really easy to understand.
Conversion Optimized Website
A website optimized for conversion prompts visitors to take action, removing any barriers stopping a visitor from finding, contacting, or visiting the business. It’s how a website can turn a passive visitor into an engaged customer. Conversion optimization makes it easy for your clients to get in touch with you on their terms and varies slightly from business to business.
Brick-and-mortar businesses are not exempt either. Online interactions drive 56 cents of every dollar spent at storefronts.
A website can foster engagement in several ways:
- It can walk a customer through a “buyer’s journey” through an online store, from browsing to the shopping cart to checkout.
- It could gather the visitor’s contact information (phone number, email address, etc.) and deliver them as a “lead” for you or your sales team to follow up with.
- It could provide crucial information, encouraging the customer to make an informed buying decision in a brick-and-mortar store.
Websites don’t do this automatically. Conversion opportunities need to be built into the website, including:
Contact forms that work. The form should be easy to find, near the top of the website or as a pop-up screen. You might consider offering the customer a coupon or free informational product (an email or a PDF document to download) if they enter their contact information.
Tap-to-call feature. Remember, more than half of all internet searches take place on the phone. If your phone number is right at the top and the browser can simply touch it to call you, you have made it easy for them to reach out and become a customer.
Content, content, content. 47% of shoppers will look at five pieces of informative content (that is, written or recorded material — articles, emails, blogs, videos, etc.) from a business before making a purchase with that business. Again, think of this as customer service — you ensuring that they will be satisfied with their purchase because they understand it fully.
Address and directions. Remember, people are in a hurry. If you want your website to help drive in foot traffic then having your address, an embedded Google map of your location, and even a link that says ‘Directions’, which takes them to Google Maps, is a must. Furthermore, all small businesses should have their correct business name, address, and phone number listed on every page because Google uses that information specifically to help populate their local search results (the local map pack).
Search Engine Optimized Website
The most beautiful website in the world is useless if no one finds it. 91% of Google searches never make it past the first page of returned search results. Your site had better be there, or your potential customers won’t know you exist and referred customers will already be turned off when they search for your business.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is—commonly—the practice of getting your website to be a top result for searches in your niche or industry. Which is great, but honestly not a very smart investment for small business owners to pursue these days. There is just too much competition out there already.
A search engine optimized website is definitely a small business website must have! SEO first and foremost results in the ability for a person to type your company’s name into a search engine and find your website, social media profiles, reviews, business citations, and more! Doing this ensures that people can find you and when they find you they can learn about and easily contact your business.
Then by building a website that is mobile, fast, secure, conversion-optimized, search engine optimized, and full of great content, Google will start ranking you for more and more keywords related to what is on your website. 80% of Google searches are informational in nature. Which means they are not looking for a business. Which is why it is important to have great, educational content on your website.
Types of SEO for your website
SEO can be either “off-page” or “on-page.” “Off-page” optimization involves getting other websites to link to yours, indicating to Google’s web crawlers that other sites are citing you as an authority. (Sorry, social media links are usually ignored by the crawlers, as are the links from your friend’s website whom you then link right back to. They have to be legitimate links to your website.)
“On-page SEO” is the job of making improvements to the actual website itself. Be it content, structure, or speed. Steps to optimize your website for a high search rank include:
Speed. Fast pages rank better because they provide more enjoyable user experiences by delivering whatever the searcher was searching for faster than the other websites.
Mobile optimization. Search engine crawlers actually look primarily at the mobile version of a website primarily these days. If your website is mobile people feel right at home and are able to navigate around and use your site with confidence because it looks and functions like the other apps on their phone.
Secure. Search engines will down-rank unsecured sites and sites with potential malware problems. When your website is secure, not only do the users feel safer when filling out contact forms and clicking on links, but the search engines love it too!
Page structure. The site should be easy to understand, with orderly chunks of content divided by relevant headings. With each page having one main topic, and easy to understand content broken up by a nice design and other elements like images, lists, frequently asked questions, and much more, it makes understanding the page content or meaning much easier for both the search engines and the consumers.
Keyword-rich. The major keywords of your business should appear in the site header, sub-headers, meta-headers, and site description. But we are way past the days of just stuffing those keywords into the content. When you’re writing your content and being naturally educational, your keywords will naturally appear. So write more content that helps your customers or clients!
Content-rich. Search engines interpret more words on the site as a sign of authority. If you have 1,000 words of content and your competitor has 500 words, all things being equal you should rank better. Note that the crawlers can tell if you have just entered 1,000 words of nonsense or 1,000 copy/pastes of your top keyword! There are also many different writing services out there that can get the majority of your article off the ground and then you can add the finishing and personal touches making it more useful for your customer base. Read this extremely detailed article on how and why to write more content for your website.
Schema markup. Schema a coding language that tells search-engine crawlers what your page is about. More specifically it helps then understand the various types of content you have on your page. Common schema tags for small businesses include “Product,” “Review,” “Local Business,” “Article,” “Event,” “Job Posting,” or “Video Object.”
Alt tags. Alt tags are primarily used for screen readers, allowing them to read the image to a blind person, but the search engines also use them to help understand what the web page is all about. Images and videos should be titled and tagged according to what is in them and not just stuffed full of your keywords. Like the rest of a search engine, people like to start their searches for images and then narrow down from there as we are visual people. The search engine crawlers can’t see your beautiful images, but they can read the alt tags and add the included keywords to your ranking weight! Optimizing your images allows for them to be found in images searches, which will drive more traffic to your business.
Local map integration. This is the practice of embedding a Google map of your business onto your website for people to easily see and reference your location.
Accuracy of information. Local map results appear right at the top of Google searches and give mobile browsers a chance to directly tap-to-call your phone number and view info about your business without leaving the search results to go to your website. These map results pull from what is called a Google My Business listing. Each business should have its own Google My Business listing. The business name, address, and phone number listed on your website and across all your online directory listings (yellowpages.com, Yelp, Facebook, etc.) should match that map listing down to the period. (Don’t ever use “1st St” one place and “1st Street” somewhere else — it throws off the search engines!) The information listed on your website must match what is shown in Google My Business and the other places online.
People are in a hurry, and your website is not a treasure map. The information most of your clients come looking for should be easy to find and load quickly on both desktop and mobile form. A small business website does not have to be fancy. A lightweight, user-friendly website will build goodwill with your prospects and improve your ability to deliver high-quality service for your customers.
There’s a reason they call it the “information age.” With more buying options than ever, customers want to make an informed purchase. Informing your customer is an essential component of customer service and your website is the best place to do it. Having the above will help ensure that people can actually find and use your website.
Add as much informative, entertaining, readable content to your site as you can. This can include in-depth product descriptions and reviews, “top-ten” blogs, how-to videos, and “about us” sections that tell a story. Highlight your happy customers. Gather testimonials and include them prominently in your website. Don’t try and just sell people on our website but actually, try and help improve their day!
Don’t be afraid that sharing in-depth information about your industry will encourage customers to comparison-shop or “do it themselves.” Be as open and educational about what you do as possible, the search engines will thank you with greater rankings and your customers will thank you with honest service. Don’t require a phone number or email address to be entered to access every single blog, video, or article. Customer relationships are built on trust. Give them the information they need quickly and easily, then provide great service when they need, and you will have made a happy customer for life.
Hopefully this general list of small business website must haves will help you along the way.