A website is not a small business marketing plan.
A small business website can and should be a part of your marketing efforts. But alone, a website is no more a marketing plan than having a sign on your front door. In fact, a small business website is just like a sign on your door: people can only see it if they walk up to your door. So how do you get them there, or do you need to bother with that at all?
Like foot traffic, generating web traffic is the challenge — if, I mean, IF — that’s really what you want your website to do. And like marketing plans, generally, small business website marketing is full of wishful thinking. Wouldn’t it be nice if we just put up a sign, a website, or a blog post and all of sudden the world finds you?
In my last post, Ok, so you’ve got a website, now what?, I discussed the general purposes and expectations for a small business website. To reiterate: just having a website is not a business.
First Steps towards a useful small business marketing website
1. Define your web presence
If you are running a web-based business, such as an app or an online service or marketplace, your online marketing plan will be much easier, as your website truly is your doorstep. Still, you should be including your actual services as a part of your marketing plan. Likewise, your site is not a marketing program, so you need to think through how your functional site can also work as a marketing plan.
If you are just looking for a placeholder on the worldwide web, your job is much easier than if you want search engine presence and greater activity than someone just looking up your phone number or address. Whatever your goal, your align it with realistic expectations.
Outside of a marketplace or web-based service, some possible expectations may include:
- static internet placeholder (just to be there)
- local listings inclusion
- landing page for other marketing efforts (flyers, direct mailing, online ads, etc.)
- high rankings for search engines in particular category or key words
- blog (could be your sole purpose or in addition to a website)
2. Define your audience
A first distinction should be if you want visitors to find your site through a direct search for you or your domain name or to find you through search engines. Some thoughts:
- If your visitors will go looking specifically for you or your domain, an easy-to-remember, clearly defined domain and site title are essential. Search engines will return your site directly on a www.mysite.com search. For example, I opted to incorporate my academic support company as a website, i.e. “School4Schools.com LLC.” (This has some problems, as well, as the “4” can be understood as “for,” so I registered both School4Schools.com and SchoolforSchools.com and set the 2nd to redirect to the 1st.). The name is the site and vice-versa. Still, the name is not descriptive, so we developed a secondary, marketing site with a name that tells our story in the domain, www.bettergrades.me. Our hope is that’s easy to remember, easy to type into a browser, and tells a story just through the domain name itself.
- Your site title should be distinguishable from other sites so that search engines will find you directly rather then returning a bunch of other sites with similar names or services. For example, “Bob’s Plumbing” will give lots of different plumbing related businesses with “Bob” and “plumbing” in them. Your potential clients may more directly find you if you are asking them to search for “Bob’s Honest Plumbing.” There’s an entire set of strategies and difficulties regarding “Search Engine Optimization,” or SEO, which I will discuss in future posts. To start off, however, you will save yourself considerable trouble in the future if you consider from the beginning how your name and site title interact with search engines.
- If you are looking to attract an audience from the internet generally, you are taking on a huge project! Some initial thoughts:
- Stay narrow and clear in order to match your content to your audience
- Be prepared to add new content regularly (such as with a blog)
- Be prepared for slow results: SEO takes time!
3. Define your site layout & content
Your site should look like it means. Match your site design and content to your original website goals. If your purpose is local listings, then include your address, a map, pictures, phone number, etc., all right there, as all you’re doing is creating familiarity and providing contact information. And since you’re focus is local, make it be about you and your community, about how you specialize in helping your neighbors, how you’re involved in the community, and so on. Include a calendar with local events, and link yourself to and from other local websites.
Web visitors make up their minds about a site in two seconds. Focus on your first impression and why someone would want to stay longer on your site. Think through how you approach other businesses and what you want out of them, and see how that might apply to yourself.
Content aside, basic design criteria should include:
- “Responsive” design that is optimized for any device (monitor, tablet, phone)
- Easy to control from administrative side (“back end”)
- Flexible design & building
- As little customized as possible so that you can get help on it from anyone and not depend upon a single developer who alone knows how your site works.
The solution to all three of these is CMS, Content Management Systems, such as WordPress, Joomla and Drupal, which are essentially website frameworks that are customizable on top of core functions. More on that in upcoming posts. ProjectOneView is built in WordPress, as are most of my other sites. Bruce Fulton of www.electriclayout.com is expert at WordPress and Drupal, both of which he uses on his own sites.
Of course a web-based service will have customizations or be built from scratch for its particular purposes, which Bruce builds all the time. However, for our small business marketing site, we want to stay simple and stay standardized.
4. Define what is realistic
Web-based marketing can be expensive and problematic. Be careful, because it’s not as easy as loading up a site. Big time brands and companies spend enormous sums on their sites and online marketing, and as a small business you have no way to compete with that.
Building web traffic is a slow process that can only come with time and your own efforts to build content and good reasons for search engines to find you, other sites to link to you, and for people to visit you.
Above all, keep align your website goals to your overall business and marketing plans. You can get severely lost throwing darts into the dark wall that is internet.
“Unless your website is your business, running a website is not your business!”
Michael Bromley is founder and President of School4Schools.com LLC and the A+ Club. Bromley is a published historian, teacher, and entrepreneur. Contact Bromley at (703) 271-5334 or firstname.lastname@example.org