They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but adapting to new business practices and opportunities in the digital age is crucial as ever-evolving technology drives constant changes for small businesses. It might be worth learning to “fetch” some of these ideas vs. learning how to roll over and play dead.
Picking up new skills and knowledge can be particularly difficult for small businesses with limited resources or lack the support of a full-blown IT department. However, you can take certain steps to help your Connecticut small business thrive amidst all the challenges of the fast-paced digital business world.
To help you find your way across the small business digital landscape, this article offers some ideas on how to harness the power of online marketing, plus a few tips to help you come to terms with doing business in general in a hi-tech era.
How to Market Your Small Business in the Digital World
A solid online marketing strategy is imperative for small businesses to remain competitive in the digital era. It enables you to attract new customers as well as retain existing clients.
Modern marketing strategies may include a social media presence and online advertising. Still, your business’ website is by far your most powerful marketing tool.
Your website and other digital channels showcase your products or services and are likely to be the first contact potential customers make with your business, so a strong first impression is essential.
What Makes a Good Business Website?
As well as being visually appealing, a successful small business website needs to be easy to navigate and designed to ensure a good user experience.
The best business websites also:
- Mirror the brand image of the business.
- Target the right audience – consumers looking for the types of services or goods the business offers.
- Are well-organized with an easy to follow navigation. When people come to your site they will ask themselves “am I in the right place? How do I find the information I want?” if they can’t easily answer those questions they will leave. There are millions of websites out there, don’t have one that causes people to leave before they had a chance to look around.
- Load quickly. A slow website is another reason why people will “bounce” out of your site without looking around. There are tools from Google and GT Metrix that help give you an idea of how your site speed ranks.
- Converts – what actions do you want your visitors to take? Are you there to educate them? Do you want them to fill out a form, set up a call, or call you directly? If those options aren’t clearly marked on your site, how are you going to accomplish your goal?
Your business site also needs to be optimized for search engines so prospective customers can find you when they’re browsing online.
Not too long ago, you only had to make sure your website looked good on desktop computers. Today, your business site needs to perform well on mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets, and laptops. For several years, Google has given preference to websites that offer a mobile-friendly user experience.
Mobile-compliant sites can be particularly important for small local businesses. According to Google, more than 90 percent of U.S. smartphone users look for local information on their phones. Unless your website is mobile-friendly, it can be difficult to view and navigate on a portable device, with users having to zoom or pinch in to read your content.
Many people find this annoying and are likely to leave and start looking elsewhere for the information they want. On the other hand, a mobile-friendly version will be easily readable and immediately usable.
With more and more people using portable devices, a mobile-friendly site is a necessity to:
- Enhance visitor experience.
- Generate more business.
- Build a strong reputation.
- Rank better in search engine results.
Organic SEO, Search Engine Marketing, and Link Building
Increasing the visibility of your website so that the home page (and specific service pages or blog entries) rank highly on Google’s search results (page 1 is always the goal) is the focus of most digital marketing campaigns.
Several different options fall under the digital marketing umbrella.
Search engine optimization (SEO) focused on generating leads is vital for small businesses. This basically consists of Website content aimed at getting top listings for free on major search engines like Google. The goal is to match up what your business offers with the information your potential clients seek. The richer your content and the greater that content’s depth, the more Google will recognize your website as authoritative in your industry or area of experience.
- Having this content properly organized and formatted to make it easy for Google’s search engine to index it is one of the key goals of a strong SEO effort.
- Search Engine Marketing (SEM). This tends to refer to paid-for search engine marketing – pay-per-click (PPC) advertising through platforms like Google Ads (formerly Google AdWords). Here you are bidding on keywords and phrases to get your ads to show when relevant search queries are entered. A good SEM program can work hand in hand with SEO and tend to have a quicker result. But, it comes at an added cost due to the need for an advertising budget. Be sure to factor an ad budget into your decision-making process.
- Off-page SEO link-building – This refers to the process of getting references to your website from authoritative sources, which tells search engines your website is credible.
This could be from a news site, a site related to your industry or profession (your state legal bar association, for example), a blog article that focuses on your industry, or a local directory. These “backlinks” help Google know that you are a reliable source in your field.
Local Search Marketing
If you’re running a business like a shop or offering localized services, local search marketing can play a major role in helping you target prospective customers.
It’s a form of search engine optimization that makes sure your online listings keep appearing for relevant local searches.
You need to ensure that your business details – including name, address, and phone number – are accurate and consistent across directories like Google My Business, Yelp, and Bing Places for Business, which can greatly impact your local search ranking.
Keeping those listings updated, adding new photos regularly are all good ways to leverage these free and influential platforms. Google My Business provides a direct link that you can copy and send to your clients and colleagues to have them leave a review. Incorporate that link into your closing emails with clients. Reviews are another excellent way to set your business apart and there is strong data that suggest those reviews play a role in what businesses Google suggests when someone types in a search like “Best accountants near me.”
Google My Business Listings
Creating a free local business profile on Google My Business – or claiming an existing listing – allows potential customers to find you easily and quickly in a hectic online marketplace, especially when they’re on the point of making a purchase or hiring a service.
You need to make sure your listing is as comprehensive as possible to make the most of:
- Establishing your credibility online.
- Appearing in local search results.
- Convincing more prospective customers to take action.
- Persuading former customers to return.
- Maximizing your online advertising.
Why Your Website Needs An SSL Certificate
If you think maximum website security is only necessary for e-commerce sites, think again. The absence of an SSL certificate for any business website can lead to distrust among prospective and existing customers and see your site spiraling down search engine result pages into obscurity.
SSL Certificates – Secure Sockets Layer – safeguards both your business and your customers against cybercriminals by establishing a coded connection between your server and the browser. Tech-savvy individuals are likely to shy away from sites tagged by Google as “Not Secure” because they’re not SSL protected.
Google and other top search engines also consider SSL certification as part of its ranking process, so failing to ensure SSL compliance will reduce your online visibility. If you go on your website and don’t see a padlock (it will show differently depending on what browser you are using), talk to your web developer about adding an SSL certificate. These days, a certificate is included with most hosting plans. Squarespace and Wix also include it on their platforms. If you don’t have one, get one.
Professional Resources to Help You Navigate the Digital Business Maze
Many small businesses turn to professionals to help with digital admin matters and online marketing because it can be time-consuming and in some cases downright bewildering for the uninitiated.
For example. search engine optimization, local search marketing, and link-building ideally need to be an ongoing process, which typically demands the attention of specialists, who can also help with other marketing aspects such as:
- Online reputation management.
- Social media marketing.
- Email marketing.
Adapting the running of your business to the digital arena also brings its own problems, with a plethora of detail to take care of while you try to focus on the multiple challenges of growing your business.
Here again, professional help can be invaluable, particularly in taking the headache out of business website building.