If you’re a small business owner, you hopefully have realized how critical it is to be online. More than ¾ of US adults are online, and that number is growing.* Often, the first place people look to when considering a product or service is the Internet. If you’re business isn’t online, you are at a HUGE disadvantage. If you’re just starting to develop your site, or even if you have a site and want to review its effectiveness, consider the following web site essentials.
1. User-Friendly Layout and Design – Your web site is quite possibly the first impression that your prospects will get of your business, so you don’t want to flop. If your site is confusing to navigate or looks incredibly amateur, your potential customers or clients may close your site and move on to the next (likely your competitors).
* Make sure that your web site has simple navigation. Your menu tabs should be understandable and in a sensible order for your web visitors. You should always be able to click on your logo or a “Home” button to navigate back to your homepage. Also, if you have outbound links (links to other sites) ensure they open in a new window or tab, so your web visitors don’t lose you’re site.
* Ensure your site has a consistent look and feel on all of your web pages. The main purpose of your web site is to reach your prospects and tell them about your business. But, your site is also an opportunity for you to build your brand. So reinforce your brand with your consistent look, feel and message.
* Maintain a professional, minimized look. Sometimes, small business owners think everything they put on their web site is the most exciting news. While you do have exciting news or promotions to share, that doesn’t mean you need to use another bright color, or bold, or italicized text styles to stand out. You're better off keeping your look consistent and simple. Don’t worry that they’re not going to read it if it’s not in a fancy text type…visitors went to your site to read about you. They will – if they’re not distracted by all of the crazy colors, clipart, animation and excessive exclamation points.
2. Effective Content – Your web site must be more than just your logo, some great images and your contact information. Give your web visitors a good understanding of your business and what you have to offer. They should know what you do within 5 seconds of being on your site. Provide clear messaging with call-to-actions to encourage visitors to DO something (print a coupon, sign up for your email newsletter, come in for a special deal). Also, consider offering relevant education or industry information to your visitors by blogging. A blog is a great opportunity to provide insightful information or helpful advice for your visitors. It can also raise your credibility as an expert in your field and keep them coming back to learn more.
3. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – The best looking website is worthless if it can’t be found. Optimize your site for search engines by using meta tags, inbound links and using the right content/keywords.
* Meta tags are codes in your web site that search engines use to learn what a web page is about. Most web site editors or content management systems have meta tags that allow you to write a description of the web page (so you don’t have to have any web coding expertise). This is the most basic way to describe each of your web pages for search engines, allowing them to determine how relevant your site is for certain search terms.
* Establish inbound links. These are links to your web site from other web sites. This is also known as off-page SEO, because it helps your site get higher ranks in search engines from pages off of your web site. You can do this by providing educational or entertaining content on your site that other sites may want to provide a link to. You should also make sure that you are listed in online directories. Check out GetListed.org to start finding and registering with these directories - it’s free.
* Develop relevant content with appropriate keywords. All of the copy on your website is the meat of your SEO. So, in this copy you want to use keywords that users will be searching for. But, you also don’t want to be “keyword stuffing.” Search engines are savvy enough to realize you’re doing this, and it can be counter-productive…not to mention it may make your content sound redundant. Stick to one keyword that you intend to focus on for each of your web pages. Make sure that you use keywords in context as part of your relevant content. You can also use keywords in your images that are on your site; search engines will recognize those file names. Remember: while the content on your site should help your SEO, it ultimately should be written not for a search engine, but for your prospects! (That’s a justified exclamation point).
* BLOGHER, APRIL 2011; PEW RESEARCH, MAY 2010; US CENSUS BUREAU, MAY 2011