Contrary to the cookie-cutter advice of internet enthusiasts, not every business needs a website. For many business it helps tremendously, and for national brands it is essential. But what about your local operation? Do you really need to spend the time, effort, and money to create a website? And if you do decide to make this investment, how far should you go?
Before answering any of these questions, it is important to answer a much broader question: what is the purpose of a local business website? Once you understand the purpose behind the site, it is much easier to determine how much time and money, if any, you should spend creating the website.
Different types of businesses will have different purposes, of course. But many of them are universal and work across businesses. We’ll spend the most time examining these universal principles.
Information for searchers
When people are looking for local businesses, they often perform a quick Google search. Google now takes location into account when searching, so if you are, for example, searching for restaurants, it will try to narrow the results to your current location. This can be a great boon for many local businesses.
Searchers are looking for credibility more than anything. Google results can be littered with spam, so seeing a website that looks and feels credible can go a long way in winning business. Some credible elements of a small business website include:
- Testimonials from satisfied customers
- User reviews (do not censor poor reviews)
- Detailed product or service information
- A phone number, email address, and street address
- Hours and availability
- A picture of the owner and the location
When creating a website with the intent of capturing search traffic, it is vital to hire a design company. The design itself is itself a sign of credibility. Searchers could very well skip over a site that looks dated, without looking at any of the other elements.
As a modern business card
Search traffic can be great for some businesses, but for many it doesn’t make a difference. Consider that:
- Search traffic is largely noise, meaning that you will see very few real prospects emerge for each search engine click.
- SEO services are expensive, and increasingly so. Google has made many changes to its guidelines, making it harder to rank highly for lucrative search terms. In order to make search traffic worth your while, you have to spend a goodly amount to make it happen.
- Business aggregators, such as Yahoo! Local, Google Local, and Yelp, dominate search results. If you search, for example, for “florist in [your town]” you will probably see plenty of aggregated results before you see any local business websites.
Many local businesses have found it beneficial to eschew typical search traffic and instead use their websites as business cards. How do people find the website, then? Through the age-old art of referrals. A friend, family member, or satisfied customer passes along your website to someone seeking your services. Your website then acts as an elaborate business card for that new prospect.
How should a referral-based local business website differ from a search-based one? Most of the same elements apply, but there are a few more that make sense on a website meant for personal referrals.
- A history of the business
- Any connections with the local community
- A personal letter from the owner
- A detailed explanation of what makes your business stand out among competitors
These features are more personal in nature, and will help capture a prospect who has already been referred to your business. The elements of a search-based website still apply, but the local connections should take center stage for this type of website.
As a storefront
E-commerce is all the craze, and for good reason. When you house your store on the internet, there is no need for a physical outlet. You can keep all of your inventory in a warehouse, without the need for a sales staff or organized shelf space. There are even services that offer drop shopping, which means you don’t even need to own the inventory. Instead you sell from someone else’s inventory.
With such ragged competition, many local merchants might reasonably stay away from the web. Yet there are so many advantages to setting up an e-commerce site and selling products to visitors.
First there is the convenience factor. Expectations have changed in the last decade. Where people once would spend a Saturday shopping, now they are skipping the crowds and shopping online. Deny customers this convenience and you can lose even more of them to retailing giants such as Amazon and Walmart.
Second is the visibility factor. By selling products both in the physical store and online, your business becomes more visible. People can visit your store and, if you don’t have something they’re looking for, they can check the website. Those impressed with your website can then visit the store. Which brings us to…
Third is the inventory factor. Again, you don’t necessarily need to own the entire inventory you own online. You can have a third party store it in a warehouse. If you prefer ownership, you can store the bulk of your inventory in a warehouse, where it won’t take up value floor space. If a customer is seeking it, he or she can order online, or pick it up in the store at a later date.
Running an online store has become incredibly easy. Companies like Intuit offer credit card processing for reasonable rates, and you can even use those services for in-store purposes. E-commerce web design comes right along with a normal web design package, which, as we discussed, is essential for most local businesses.
Does your local business need a website? Chances are the answer is yes, but the type of website depends on your goals. If you want to capture local people searching for businesses like yours, you’ll need a website of a certain type. If you’d like your business to act as a business card, you’ll require a different type of website. And if you want to sell products on your site, you’ll need a different style website still. Understanding these goals will help you make the right decision, saving you time, money, and frustration in building up your business’s web presence.