Are you making mistakes with your small business website? Business websites exist to sell, directly or indirectly. Small businesses often lose sight of that, and make mistakes with the content, design, marketing, and technical aspects of their sites. Learn how to fix these mistakes so your site delivers business results.
I gave this presentation, Website Mistakes Small Businesses Make, and How to Fix Them, at the Tech Lunch for the Michigan West Coast Chamber of Commerce on Jan 15, 2015. In the audience were businesspeople, site owners, site managers, and digital marketers. Below are the slides and detailed notes.
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Your website should be the center, or hub, of your web presence. Although you’ll have profiles and content on several third-party web platforms, they should all promote and link back to your website. Why? You can’t control third-party platforms, but you can control your website.
Some businesses try to avoid the effort of setting up a website by using third-party platforms. For example:
The problem with third-party platforms is that you’re at their mercy; they can change (or disappear) on a whim. Some web experts use the analogy of renting versus owning land, and advise, “Don't build on rented land.”
We’ll explore some of the ways in which you forfeit control by using third-party platforms (building on rented land), but maintain control by having your own website (building on your own land).
The most effective way to use your website and third-party platforms together is in a hub and spoke model. Think of a wheel with a hub and several spokes extending from it. The hub represents your website, which you own and control, and the spokes represent the various third-party platforms which connect people back to the hub (your website). In this model, you’re not dependent on the success of any one third-party platform, but you use them to support your website and improve your overall web presence.
All else being equal, would you choose the consultant with a website, or the consultant that’s only on Facebook? How about an accounting firm, staffing firm, real estate agent, business coach, or manufacturing company? The fact that your business spent the money and time to create a website enhances your professional image and lends credibility.
The terms and conditions of third-party platforms often allow them to use your content (text, images, videos, etc.) in ways you may not like. Are you willing to allow this? Your website gives you more control over your content.
Sometimes people tell me that it’s so much easier to post content to third-party platforms than to their websites. I agree that many platforms make it very simple to post content, and some website systems are more difficult to work with. That’s why we create sites with WordPress and train clients to manage their content. WordPress may not be quite as simple as posting to social media, but it can be close, and it’s certainly simpler than many non-WordPress systems.
Third-party platforms, including social media, control their visual designs, and you must work within them. They also frequently change layouts, image sizes, etc., and you must scramble to adapt. With your own website, you control the visual design. You (or your web designer) can ensure that the layout, typography, images, colors, etc., match your brand identity.
On third-party platforms, you must work with the tools they provide. A website gives far more flexibility and potentially greater functionality; you can use a huge range of web technology. A few examples:
You (or your web developer) can build the functionality you want into your site, limited only by your budget and available technology.
Search engines (such as Google and Bing) pay attention to domains (the main part of a website address, such as mybiz.com). When you put your content on Facebook, LinkedIn, etc., your content is on their domain. To raise your ranking in searches, you’ll be better off using your own domain and establishing your own reputation with search engines.
Search engines measure several factors to determine a website’s ranking, including links from other websites and activity on social media. That’s why the hub and spoke model works; the spokes (third-party platforms) point back to and support the hub (your website).
If third-party platforms without a website isn’t the right approach, what is? Use those platforms to promote your business, directing followers to your website. Remember, your website is the hub, and those platforms are the spokes that guide followers back to your website.
When we create WordPress websites, we integrate social media in ways that are appropriate to the site. These may include
As a business, you should use third-party platforms to promote and drive traffic to your website, not as substitutes for a website. For the sake of your business’ web presence, you need the control that a website provides.
How many of you have a small business website? What is the purpose of your website?
Business websites exist to sell, directly or indirectly. Businesses have goals for their sites, such as convincing prospects to hire them, request a quote, purchase a product, etc. Businesses often lose sight of this and get caught up in the visual design (colors, graphics, fonts, etc.). They ask for a website that “pops” rather one that sells.
There are several items that go into optimizing a website to sell. These can include items related to the website itself and items related to marketing the website. I’ve divided them into categories: content, design, marketing, and technical.
Small business websites are often full of long, eye-glazing paragraphs describing the company’s history, culture, mission, products, and services. The focus is on the company, not the visitor. There’s nothing to excite the visitor or get them to take action.
Content refers to the text, images, and video on a site. Effective content is content that accomplishes goals. For a marketing site (one that markets a business’ products or services), a goal might be to have a visitor request a quote. For an e-commerce site, a goal might be to have the visitor purchase a physical or digital product.
Effective content will persuade visitors to perform actions that lead to these goals. This requires calls to action: text, images, or videos that prompt the visitor to take the next step towards the goal. Each visitor is asking, “what’s in it for me?” as they browse your site. Create content that answers that question, and you’ll have effective content.
Businesspeople think they can write, so they don’t see a need for a copywriter. The truth is, you and I have seen far too many small business websites with spelling and grammar mistakes, and long, boring paragraphs. In addition, most people don’t know how to write persuasive marketing copy, or write for both humans and search engines. A web copywriter can proofread, convert long, boring paragraphs into concise, persuasive writing, and write with SEO in mind. In short, a copywriter can help create effective content.
Many small businesses don’t have blogs, often because they say they don’t have time to blog. Blogs have many advantages: they help build relationships, establish credibility, aid in marketing, and have SEO benefits.
For more, see my post Why your business website needs a blog.
Fortunately, WordPress makes it very easy to blog. If you don’t have the time, I recommending finding someone inside your business who does, or outsourcing to an agency or freelancer.
It’s usually painfully obvious when a small business site includes stock photos. The worst ones are shots of people who aren’t employees or customers of the business. It’s especially bad when the models in the photos are demographically different from the business’ actual employees or customers. Part of a website’s job is to make a business seem authentic and credible, but stock photos of strangers make visitors question your legitimacy.
I recommend having a professional take photos of the people in your business in action.
I understand a small business’ desire to appear professional, but it often results in cold, distant websites with boring copy and stock photos. Write personal, engaging copy, and include actual photos of the people in your business. You may need a copywriter and photographer, but the result is worth it. Also, reveal some of your personality (hobbies, interests, fun company events, etc.) in your pages and blog posts. You don’t need to stick to text either; use photos and video too.
Small businesses often want to take all their marketing material and put it on their website. This often results in pages that are so packed with information that visitors give up before they start. I recommend giving just enough info on top-level pages (Home, About, Services, etc.) to persuade visitors to click deeper into the site. You can always give more info later, once you’ve drawn them in.
Businesses are often focused on increasing traffic to their sites, and overlook how much of that traffic they’re converting into customers. Conversion optimization (AKA conversion rate optimization or CRO) is focused on increasing the number of conversions by testing different versions of pages. It’s about getting visitors to take the actions you want. While SEO and other marketing efforts are focused on increasing traffic, CRO is focused on making the most of the traffic you get. If visitors aren’t converting, it doesn’t matter how many you get.
You can do some basic testing yourself, but you’ll get the best results from working with a conversion optimization specialist.
The number of visitors viewing the Web from mobile devices (phones, tablets, etc.) continues to increase. If your site isn’t mobile-friendly, mobile device users may leave the site. You may lose prospects, and it’s also sending a negative signal to Google.
I still saw small businesses launching fixed-width websites in 2014! These sites are difficult to use on small screens, because you need to zoom in and drag around to see everything. This is not a good user experience. Make sure your site is mobile-friendly. I recommend using responsive design, meaning that your site scales to fit browser size.
As I mentioned earlier, small businesses tend to focus on design over content and functionality, leading to a design that’s so busy and cluttered that it detracts from the content. The vast majority of people come to a business site for its content, not its design. Use a simple design that puts your content in the spotlight.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of getting traffic (visits) from organic search results. On-site SEO refers to optimization within your website, and off-site SEO refers to optimization outside your website. We’ll talk about on-site SEO later. On-site SEO will only get you so far. If you want to outrank competitors, you’ll probably need off-site SEO. These items are often part of off-site SEO:
I highly recommend working with an SEO professional on these items. This can be pricey, but well worth the investment if you consider the lifetime value of your customers.
Your business needs marketing to succeed, and so does your website. There are many ways to market a website. Besides organic SEO, here are a few additional options:
I highly recommend working with a digital marketer on these items.
Any public website can be targeted by hackers. Your host and site admins need to be up to the challenge.
We’ve had businesses come to us after their sites are hacked. They usually pay more to have them fixed then they would have paid for almost 2 years of our maintenance plan, which would have likely prevented the hacking.
Visitors don’t like waiting for sites to load. You may lose prospects, and it’s also sending a negative signal to Google. If they notice that mobile visitors are leaving your site immediately after arriving, it could negatively affect your ranking.
In addition to a good web host, I recommend using caching and a CDN (content delivery network) to make the site even faster.
We had a bed and breakfast come to us because their site was loading slowly, and they were afraid that prospective guests would leave the site.
Websites can be damaged in several ways, including user error, hackers, and hosting issues. That’s why regular backups and simple restoration options are critical. Many hosts offer backup and restoration, but I recommend that you also keep an offsite backup (using Amazon S3, Dropbox, etc.) in case something happens to the host. Don’t keep all your eggs in one basket.
We talked to a consulting firm that approached us after their host lost their website and had no backups. The firm was able to find some archived content, but ended up recreating much of the site.
Just as you need to update the software on your computer and mobile devices, you need to update your website’s software. Why? Updates do the following:
In the case of WordPress, this means core, plugins, and themes. Other systems require updating too. We’ve cleaned up a couple sites that were hacked through vulnerabilities in their outdated themes.
Updating software can be technical, so you may not want to take this on. Most of our clients leave their WordPress software maintenance to us.
On-site SEO refers to optimization within your website, making it easier for search engines to crawl your site, and making it more likely for people to click your pages in search results. On-site SEO can include such items as URL settings, indexing settings, page titles, meta descriptions, and a sitemap.
Researching and implementing keywords can improve the structure and content of the site. Together these account for ~44-55% of Google’s ranking factors. (Moz and SearchEngineLand; see also Keyword Research).
Businesses often upload images that just came off a camera or phone. The images are huge (3 MB or more) and have meaningless names (e.g., IMG_3490.jpg). This is bad for performance, SEO, and accessibility.
When I talk about large images, I’m talking about file size, not necessarily the dimensions of the images. Large images load slowly, especially on the slower connections common with mobile devices. They also take up a lot of space on your server, and could choke your backup system. Ideally, people would resize and compress images on their computers before uploading to their websites, but we’ve found that rarely happens. So, we install a plugin that automatically resizes and compresses images in WordPress.
Images with meaningless names provide little or no SEO benefit, and the screen readers used by the visually impaired may not be able to read what they are. For the sake of SEO and accessibility, give every image a descriptive name before uploading it to your site, and add the title and alt text attributes. For example, a builder with a photo of a house by the lake could name the file “Holland Homebuilders custom waterfront home on Lake Michigan,” and use the same for the title and alt text attributes.
Some small businesses have a blog, but it’s not on their domain. For example, let’s say the business’ site is at smallbiz.com. They might have their blog at smallbiz.wordpress.com, or smallbiz.blogspot.com. This looks unprofessional, and it’s also preventing your domain from receiving the blog’s SEO benefits. It’s better to have the blog on your domain, at smallbiz.com/blog, for example. If your blog isn’t there already, I recommend moving it.
When people share admin accounts, it becomes difficult or impossible to tell who did what. This can also be a security problem, because people usually end up having more access than they should. For example, everyone shares the same Administrator account. Instead, give each person their own account with the proper permissions.
We’ve talked about website mistakes in content, design, marketing, and technical aspects. How’s your website?
There are many other website mistakes small businesses make, but these are a few to get you started. Feeling overwhelmed? Take a deep breath. You may not need to address all of these, or you may not need to address them all to the same degree. I highly recommend hiring a company or professionals who can help you find the right mix for your business website.
Let's talk about how we can fix your website to get the business results you deserve. Contact us!