While it’s not only important to have a web site these days, keeping it up to date is equally important. Even if you’re a long-established brick & mortar business, without a web presence, you’re losing out on a large pool of potential customers. According to a recent ConStat consumer tracking study, a staggering 97 percent of consumers now go online to research product and service offerings from local businesses. So, if you fail to keep content updated or list the basics like hours and contact information correctly on your web site, as well as update search engine listings like Yelp and Four Square, you will not only turn off new customers but may cost your business the ones you have.
Updated content = more traffic & profits
“Search engines favor sites with new content,” notes web developer and business advisor Jason Reis, owner of Long Island, N.Y.-based brand consulting firm Flexhcorp. “If your business is among those that come up first in a search, that gives you a leg up over your competitors. And that helps convert visitors to your site into paying customers.” If you haven’t already, Reis recommends setting up a Google Analytics account. “This tool allows you to track where visitors to your site are coming from, how they’re finding you and what areas of your site are getting the most traffic,” he explains. The heat map function gives a geographical representation of your site, showing the number of clicks per image, text, link, which can then be compared against sales data or number of visits or inquiries if a professional practice. “It’s a powerful dashboard that provides a lot of insight into your business without requiring a lot of technical skills.”
Tim Murphy helps maintain the web site, MotionWorks, for his wife’s Neehah, Wisc.-based physical therapy practice. He notes that by adding more information to the website, search engines are able to index more content, and therefore, the site shows up in more searches, which in turn drives more traffic to the website, and as a result, more patients to the practice. “This happens slowly, but makes a huge difference over time,” he explains. Murphy typically sees an uptick in traffic when he posts articles from his wife’s monthly newsletter to the site “My wife thinks in medical terms,” he says. “With some key word research to see how people are looking for particular symptoms or conditions discussed, I convert them into layman’s terms to help capture the questions prospective patients are asking.”
“When a potential customer visits the site, they’re deciding if they'd like to do business with you or not,” Murphy points out. “An outdated web site can easily cause a potential customer to take their business elsewhere.” He sees the time put into the site as a long-term investment. “Keeping your site up to date shows that you’re actively involved in your business,” he explains. “We’ve found that it’s helped build our customer base over time.”
Christopher Wenk, owner of Sinful Sweets Chocolate Company in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who supplements his brick-and-mortar store with online sales, noticed a significant dropoff when he did not update his web site over the period of a few months, so he started using social media to drive people back to his site. The result: sales grew almost 17 percent, month over month. While having a Facebook page and using Twitter can help extend the reach of your business to a different demographic, it should not be considered a substitute. “Think of your web site as the hub for your business, where everything begins and ends,” explains web marketing consultant Gretchen Roberts. “With social media, you’re basically renting the space.” Unlike your own web site, the provider owns the content. “It can be an effective tool to extend the reach of your business, that is if you can get enough people to ‘like’ or follow your business,” notes Adi Bittan, co-founder and CEO of OwnerListens, which offers an app that allows customers and brick-and-mortar businesses to connect with each other. Bittan recommends focusing on the channels that bring in the most customers.
Wenk, who hopes to expand his online business and establish a greater presence in the community, is in the midst of an overhaul of his business’ web site. “I’m trying to create a brand that people can identify with and depend on,” he points out. As part of his strategy, Wenk has employed a local web developer to streamline his site to make it more navigable and user friendly. “There will be more up-front information about our products, such a pricing per pound, and answers to questions customers routinely ask about our products.” Such features as “build your own chocolate bar” will also be added to the new site, and he hopes to eventually enable an online delivery system within city limits. The design team has also created instructional videos for Wenk on how to update and change certain features on his new site once the redesign is complete.
Your website is often the first impression of your business
“No matter how a potential customer hears about your business, they’re more likely to visit your web site before visiting your business,” points out Roberts. When she takes on clients, they often have different notion of what their web site means to their business. “What matters is that your site is found,” explains Roberts. “And that depends on the content, not the design.” And once you get those visitors to your site, it’s the “authenticity” of the content that will help turn them into paying customers. Roberts is surprised by some of the stiff language and corporate speak many small businesses use on their sites. “As a small business, one key advantage is size,” notes Roberts. “This allows you to reach out to consumers on a more personal level.”
Reis also cautions against websites with a lot of sales talk. “You want to establish a personal connection with visitors to your site,” he explains. “The best way to do that is give them a ‘backstage pass’ to your business.” That could include a behind the scenes of upcoming changes to your business or special access to events/sales that non-visitors are not privy to.
Having a plan is key to developing quality content for your site. Roberts gives all her clients questionnaires to help them develop a web strategy tailored to their particular needs and goals. “If you can explain who you are and what makes your business different from your competitors using key words so your site is easily found in a search, that will pay off on your bottom line more than having all the bells and whistles of the latest in graphic design,” Roberts points out.
Don’t forget about mobile visitors
“We are seeing increasing customer complaints about businesses’ web presence,” notes Bittan. “This is mainly due to increased mobile usage.” Incorrect opening hours and unclear directions are a common complaint, as are incorrect menus or product listings. “This is particularly an issue in urban and tourist areas, where people are more likely to be looking up a business on their smartphone,” Battan points out. But there are tools out there to help make your website more mobile friendly.
Consumers are also connecting to businesses through apps and sites like Yelp, Google Places, and Trip Advisor. “Such sites are feeders to your website and your business,” explains Battan. “So, you must keep them up to date as well.” Companies like Yext or Single Platform charge a monthly fee to update business listings for you. “This is free traffic to your site,” points out Battan. “If your business is listed on multiple sites, it may be worth paying for such a service.”
Making sure your web site is compatible across multiple platforms is also important. “The trend in development has shifted to creating a ‘responsive’ web site,” notes Reis. “Depending on what resolution in which a site’s being viewed (e.g. tablet, smart phone, etc.), pages/images are scaled to that resolution.” This allows a web site to be readable on any device.
While regular blogging is a good way to keep your web site high up on the search engines, for many small business owners, that may be difficult to sustain. “If you’re pressed for time or writing is not your strength, record a short video blog using a web cam instead,” recommends Reis. “You can then upload it to your site and filter it out to your social media channels.” And Bittan points out the importance of giving existing and potential customers multiple platforms (email, chat, text, phone, social media) in which to contact your business, as that’s largely determined by age. “Provide people with easy ways to give feedback without having to fill out long contact forms or provide personal information if they don’t want to,” she explains. “If someone wants to know if your business is open, give them as many ways as possible to find out.”