As we continue to move ever more rapidly into the digital age, local businesses are under more pressure than ever to make sure their online presence is up to snuff. Recent world events, which include widespread lockdowns and the forcible closing of many local businesses, have many business owners thinking hard about how they can use digital technologies effectively to stand out. It’s a more important time than ever for local businesses to find a competitive edge online to safeguard their survival and continued growth in these economically uncertain times.
Moreover, many local businesses, and even established corporations, that have failed to adapt to rapid technological advancements have met a bitter end. Such companies are often left behind by their leaner and more adaptive competitors.
Even corporations so big that they once appeared almost monolithic and indestructible surprised shareholders by how quickly they could crumble when faced with an inability to adapt to changing times. For example, we need to look no further than Blockbuster laughing off an offer to buy Netflix in 2000 for a measly 50 million dollars. Or, we can look to Kodak, which ignored trends towards digital photography even when they had every chance to capitalize on it.
But, aside from these larger-than-life examples, our economy is littered with millions of smaller examples of local mom-and-pop businesses having to close up shop after being unwilling or unable to adapt to technological shifts. The internet is perhaps the most powerful tool local businesses can use to differentiate themselves from their competitors. And, let’s face it: in these times of economic uncertainty, business owners ignore it at their peril.
So, let’s explore 5 tips local business owners can use to improve their websites and maybe even kickstart their digital transformation.
Have a Clear Vision
Many business owners make the mistake of not knowing exactly what they want when they set out to get their website built. Getting clear on the exact features and functions of a website is the first step to building one because it provides direction as to which tools to employ, or what kind of team to work with.
Knowing what kind of website a business owner wants is what will allow him or her to answer other fundamental questions regarding how to get it built. It will determine which website builder, programming language, framework, or other tools must be employed. It will also inform what kind of employee or agency to hire, or if the business owner is capable of building the site himself.
As this piece by the LA Times explains, there are many new ways that business owners can limit their web design costs if they know what they’re looking for.
That is not to say that a business owner should necessarily create this vision for their website on their own. On the contrary, speaking with customers, confidants, consultants, and web developers is often an important step in crafting a vision for the website. Some web development agencies even offer suggestions of possible versions of the website, with approximate pricing for each version, so that a business owner can determine what makes sense for his budget.
Regardless of what forms this preliminary market research takes, the point is that a business owner should arrive at a clear understanding of what he wants his site to be and what he wants it to do before he goes about building it. Neglecting to do so can result in a lot of wasted time and money.
Prioritize Website Design
After a business owner decides what he wants his website to do and which features he wants it to include, he should make sure that it is designed in a way that is intuitive, mobile-friendly, and impactful. Speaking with a web designer is often helpful to establish the aesthetic of the website’s brand identity. Artistically inclined business owners might even be able to create some mockups that illustrate the look and feel of the website of their dreams.
Depending on the goals of the business owner, he or she can also consider using a prebuilt design template that is offered by many different website builders on the market today. If a business owner decides on a web builder like WordPress, Wix, Squarespace, or another option, it’s worth it for them to spend a few minutes browsing through the design templates of their web builder of choice.
Most web builders on the market today, including the ones mentioned above, feature free or paid templates that can be customized as needed to suit a business owner’s needs. Using a pre-made template can often save time and money, but it’s important to make sure the design template includes the functionality that is needed for the website.
As this piece by the Washington Post explains, the design is crucially important for local businesses like restaurants. Why shouldn’t a restaurant or local business’s website be as well designed as its physical location or interior?
Ensure Mobile Responsiveness
A website’s responsiveness refers to its ability to be viewed on mobile devices such as smartphones. This is a critically important part of modern websites, given the continuous rise in mobile device usage.
Business owners should make certain that the design template they use, or a website built from scratch by a web designer can be viewed seamlessly and easily on mobile phones as well as tablets.
If business owners work with a web developer to build a site from scratch, they should ensure that any code that the web developer uses or writes will allow the design of the site to look great on any device.
Optimize the Website for Search Engines
When building a website, business owners should ensure that Search Engine Optimization (SEO) best practices are being followed. Doing so will make the website more discoverable by Google and other search engines so that customers can find the site when searching for relevant keywords online.
Internal SEO, or on-site SEO, refers to work done on a website that optimizes its visibility on search engines, and it’s an important part of website development. As part of this process, developers will register the site with Google through a tool called Google Search Console, as well as include metadata on each page of the site. This metadata that is included as part of the code that comprises each web page indicates to Google what keywords the site is relevant to.
Business owners should also consider registering their website with Google My Business, Yelp, Trip Advisor, and other directories to make it more discoverable. Linking it to their social media profiles is also a good step to take.
Consider a Blog and a Content Marketing Strategy
After the website is built, business owners should consider populating the blog page on their site. A blog can be a great way to connect with potential or existing customers.
Creating content that relates to nearby events can be a great way to grow a business’s audience. Keeping up with a good source for local events can be helpful for this purpose.
Publishing relevant content on a website’s blog can also be part of a broader SEO or content marketing strategy that is designed to increase organic traffic to the website. Business owners should consider making the content they publish on their website optimized for search engines by making it part of a larger backlinking or PR effort.
Content that is part of a comprehensive SEO strategy can drive large amounts of traffic to a website, and it is a tactic used by some of the largest media companies in the world.
Hopefully, these five tips will be a good starting point for business owners to build the website of their dreams and keep up with these unpredictable times.
Marina Turea works as content manager at Digital Authority.