By Ann Marie Van Den Hurk for the Lexington Herald Leader
There is a digital divide between small businesses and consumers. According to the Score Association, a Herndon, Va.-based nonprofit organization of small business counselors and mentors supported by the U.S. Small Business Administration, only 51 percent of small businesses have websites, while 97 percent of consumers search for services and products online.
And of those small businesses, many are lacking the basics such as no call to action, any phone number/physical address/email address, or social media accounts on the front page. Adding in that four out of five consumers have used a smart phone to shop yet 93 percent of small business websites are not mobile compatible.
This digital divide is hurting small businesses. Small business owners give many reasons why they don’t have a website, such as they don’t think they need one, cost, lack of time, or complexity. They are missing a huge chance to connect with customers since 91 percent of consumers have visited a store because of an online experience and 37 percent use the Internet to find a store at least once per month.
How as a small business can you address this digital divide?
You need a website for your business. No more excuses. It is costing you business.
While you can DYI your website, it may be better to hire a professional website designer to either create your website or audit your current website. Michael McCranie, founder of the small business-focused website design firm Type3WebDesign.com, suggests the following when looking for a web design firm:
▪ The contract should be project-based not hourly and should spell out what the firm is doing in detail, such as who is providing/creating content for the site, what content management system is being used, and what the creating design standards are for the website.
▪ The contract should spell out that the small business, not the website design firm, retains ownership of the website including content and domain name.
▪ The design firm should be able to provide the small business with customer references and links to their work on active websites.
▪ Notice how quickly and in what manner they listen and respond to you. This will give you an indication of the future working relationship.
What makes a good small business website?
A website can be as simple or elaborate as you want; however, the bottom line for your business is that it provides value to consumers. It needs to align with your business goals. McCranie said that a good website should:
▪ Be visually appealing to the users.
▪ Share great content above the fold or before users have to scroll.
▪ Include a call to action and contact information such as email address, phone number and physical address on every page.
▪ Load each website page in under four seconds; two to three seconds is ideal.
▪ Include a regularly updated blog.
▪ Be mobile-ready so it can be viewed effectively on all devices types.
Where does SEO fit into the picture?
Search Engine Optimization is vital when it comes to helping consumers find your website. SEO has replaced many traditional marketing tactics, so it is important to invest in it because it can help to drive tons of new business to you, said Grant Kantsios of the Charlotte-based SEO and design firm Kantsios Consulting.
Businesses need to discover what potential customers are searching for and include title tags and meta descriptions on every page of their websites. Both Kantsios and McCranie agree that site speed is important.
As a small business you cannot afford not to have a digital presence today.
Ann Marie van den Hurk is an award-winning, accredited public relations professional and principal of Mind the Gap Public Relations. Email her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @amvandenhurk.