Successful Small Business Website Tips: Setting Up Your Online Presence
So much is going on in the world right now and as a result, things are changing fast. Brick & mortar businesses are transitioning their sales or services online so quickly that within a matter of hours they’re coming up with new business models and plans that would usually take them months or even years to develop fully, and that’s awesome! (Seriously, we’re in awe.)
It’s incredible to see the collaboration and community support pouring out as individuals and businesses step up to support and lift each other up. It really seems like coming together is what’s getting us through this uncertain time. And a big part of that has been seeing everyone step up to help wherever they can.
Like so many others, we’ve been thinking a lot about how we, as strategists and content creators, can contribute amidst the chaos. And what we’ve come up with is this: a blog post series and downloadable checklist to help you make sure that as you move fast to tackle this pivot, you’re also setting yourself up for sustainable, long-term success.
Pivoting Online: Cover All Your Bases
Some business owners transitioned to online models so fast in the past few weeks. It’s so impressive, and almost unbelievable! Their quick-thinking is likely what will keep their doors open, but it likely also forced them into a frantic search for answers to questions like, “How do I set up an online store?” and, “How do I market myself online?”
So now that it’s all set up and you might have a moment to breathe (and we do mean just one literal moment), it’s worth revisiting some aspects of your pivot, to ensure you’ve set yourself up for long-term success.
Download the Website Essentials Checklist to identify what exactly on your site might need a little more love.
If you are one of these business owners, we salute you. We respect your hustle, and we want to help! This post will help you make sure that, in all the chaos, you covered all of your online bases.
If you are a business owner who hasn’t yet pivoted to online but wants to, know that you totally can, and that now is your chance!
Where To Start? Easy! Your Website.
There are many things you’ll eventually want to consider when adding online sales or services to your business, but the first thing is really your website. And for this, we (Alexandra and Kira) have you covered! We’ll walk you through all of this great stuff:
- Start With Your Content
- Write Product & Service Descriptions That Convert
- Take On-Brand Photos
- Cover Your Bases with These SEO Must-Haves for Your Small Business Site
- Set Up Online Payments on Your Website
- Set Up The Essential Analytics Tracking that Every Single Website Needs
- Keep It Up-To-Date & Keep Evolving!
Let’s do this!
Step 1: Start With Your Content
We find that the first thing people do when they want to start or improve a website is dream up their web page layouts and plan out their functionality. They’re thinking about the design, the colours, the carousel of testimonials they want to include– and we get it. This is the fun stuff! But if this is you, please, please, please, hit PAUSE, because the first thing you actually need to do is write up your website content!
You need to know what content your website will be showcasing before you figure out how to showcase it, right?
This holds true even if you’re using a template. We know that creating content to fit into a template seems like a time saver, but trust us: building out your content to make it fit into someone else’s template is going to be more time consuming (and less impactful) in the long run than creating something tailor-made.
So before you do anything else, open up a Word doc on your computer and start typing! Outline what content you think should go on each page of your site, and fill in the blanks from there. And if you need some inspiration, check out your competitors! It’s okay to loosely take the best parts of what they’re doing and combine them into a super-website that you really love. Yes, your content will probably change a little when you start designing, but that’s okay! It will still only help things to have your core information ready to go before you start work with your web developer, copywriter, SEO specialist, or whoever else.
Step 2: Write Product & Service Descriptions That Convert
Solid product & service descriptions that make people want to click that “yes, please!” opt-in button are:
- Tailored to your audience; and
- Optimized for On-Page SEO.
What does that mean? So glad you asked!
First, let’s talk skimmable
If your product/service descriptions are full of exclusive industry jargon or confusing acronyms that make your reader feel like they need a dictionary to understand what you’re offering, then they’re not skimmable! Same goes for long, unformatted word walls– they’re the online version of monotone, and they’re really hard to skim.
Want your reader to click “buy” or “read more”? Keep your copy concise, engaging, and make sure your keywords and main points leap off the page!
Rule of Thumb: if there’s any chance your reader will A) get bored; B) get confused; or C) get distracted while reading your product and service descriptions, you need to shorten & punch up your copy!
Next Up: Ideal Client
When it comes to tailoring your content for your ideal client, you need to go back to basics. Who is your ideal client? What do they need right now? What are you helping them with? Is she a Karen? A Becky? Is he a lot like your uncle Joe? Whoever they are, get in their head. Write down what they like, what they’re struggling with, where they hang out, what their goals are– everything you can think of!
You should be so clear on your ideal audience that you could have an imaginary conversation with them in your mind (or out loud for that matter– we’re not here to judge how you get through the quarantine!). The point is that only once you know who they are to that extent can you write descriptions that will speak to them.
Finally, Double-Check Your SEO
Optimize those descriptions for SEO! How, you ask? Simple. Figure out your keywords and work. them. in. Follow the same steps you would use for optimizing a blog post or a page of website copy. (More on that below.)
Our #1 tip: write about your keywords, for your ideal client
And when it comes to combining writing for your idea client with writing for SEO, here’s our #1 tip: write about your keywords, for your ideal client. In other words, your keyword is part of your content skeleton, which you’ll flesh out with copy written for your ideal client (a little nod to high school English class for ya!).
Step 3: Take On-Brand Photos
Now that you’re online, your customer can’t touch your product or see it up close like they would in person, and you can’t shmooze potential clients over coffee like you would face-to-face. So high-quality, on-brand photos are your new best friends! They’ll showcase the quality of your product or service, and introduce you or your products in a really inviting way.
But don’t worry, you don’t need to be a master photographer to capture quality photos! There are tons of tips, tools, and tutorials available to help you nail the shot.
We’re not experts in this arena, but we found a few resources that can point you in the right direction:
- Hubspot has a Beginners Guide to Product Photography
- Shopify has a DIY Guide for Product Photography that are both great resources
And before you move on, be sure to take those photos of your amazing products (or your beautiful face!), and optimize the image files for SEO. More on how to do this below.
Step 4: Cover Your Bases with These SEO Must-Haves for your Small Business Site
At this point, you’ll have your new virtual storefront all set up and ready to go. Let’s make sure people actually visit it!
You need to be doing everything you can to make sure that your website rises to the top when someone searches for the things you offer. If you’re a gym pivoting to offer online home workouts and someone searches “home workout with no equipment,” there are things you can do to climb your way to the top of that list.
Google is the most visited website in the world in the best of times. Add to that the fact that people are practicing social distancing while new online businesses pop up left, right, and centre, and you start to see why SEO is so important.
Website SEO Essentials
Setting up a site with good SEO is a complicated & time consuming process, so if you have a website, at some point you should consult an SEO expert to make sure you have all your bases covered. But in general, these are some things you can (and should) do yourself, right from the start:
- Consider Website Structure;
- Enter Metadata;
- Optimize Your Product and Service Images; and
- Write your content for humans first, robots second.
And don’t worry, we have broken each of these aspects down further for you!
Think Through Your Website Structure
One of the most common and biggest mistakes I see is business owners creating their websites without SEO in mind. Every page on your site is an opportunity to rank for a keyword, so if you aren’t doing what you can to rank, you’re leaving a lot of leads and traffic on the table.
To start, conduct some level of keyword research to identify what people are actually searching for. Then, choose one keyword to focus on for each page of your site.
Keyword research can seem daunting and time intensive, but we promise that it’s easier than it seems. And, doing it from the beginning has a huge ROI! It will save you a ton of time and resources down the road when you do consult an SEO specialist, and will mean that prospective clients are more likely to find your site right from the start! Well worth the effort if you ask us.
Pro Tip: Even if all you have time to do is get on the phone with a few of your current customers, you can do Keyword Research! Call them up and ask them “Before you knew about us, if you were searching in Google for a product or service like ours, what would you type?”
For Example: Imagine a fitness studio that offers spin classes and bootcamp programs makes one page that is just called “Classes,” to showcase all of their offerings. But then, they do a little keyword research, and see that their audience is actually searching “Spin Classes” or “Bootcamp Classes” specifically. By not optimizing towards either of those terms, they realize they were leaving all those searchers high and dry!
It would be much more strategic for this studio to create 2 separate pages tailored towards each of those keywords instead!
Enter Your Metadata
“Enter Your Metadata” is like the “Eat Your Veggies” of website optimization. It’s an essential SEO step that you need to get into the habit of doing repeatedly (as in, every single time you post something new).
Metadata is what Google (or other search engines) pull into the Search Engine Results Page (also known as the SERP). It consists of two major aspects: a page title, and a meta description. You should think about this as your ‘pitch’ to get customers to click on your link instead of the other links on that page.
If you don’t fill this out, the search engine will do its best for you, but its best is never that good. You have the opportunity to craft a perfect pitch, and you should seize it every single time!
Note that there are limitations to the length of each to be mindful of, so your pitch doesn’t get cut off in the SERP. It’s best to make sure you include your focus keyword in both your meta title and description, but don’t “stuff” them in there for the sake of it – we talk more about this below.
Optimize Your Product Photos
This step is especially important if you sell products and you have photos of each one on your site, but really, every website should prioritize it. This is because going back at a later time and updating ALL the photos on your site can be extremely time consuming.
Do your future self a solid! Every time you upload new photos to your site, consider these two major things:
1. The size of your image files
Have you ever visited a website where an image loads in chunks? It happens because they’ve uploaded a huge image file that takes a long time for the site to process. This negatively impacts the viewer’s experience, as well as site speed– both of which are important factors for SEO.
Prior to uploading your photos, reduce the size to just slightly larger than they need to be, so on the largest screen they’ll be full-size.
2. Image File Names and Alt Text
Have you ever noticed that sometimes when you search in Google, it pulls up relevant photos along with links and text? Google does this by associating images with text searches. It makes these associations through the words used in the image, the image file name, and the alt text used on the website that image is featured on.
Before uploading your images to your site (we generally do this while we are reducing the file sizes), re-name your images to include the product or service name or other relevant keywords. And when your website gives you the option to add alt text– do it! Don’t go nuts and make long file names to get in as many keywords as you can, just pick the most important ones that are relevant to that image.
Write Content For Humans First, Robots Second
A tricky part of creating any content is figuring out how to develop pages and posts that appease the bots and entertain/educate the humans at the same time. Many business owners get caught up on this! They overthink it, and then find themselves either creating
- Super strategic but inauthentic (read: keyword-stuffed) content, or
- Relatable content that doesn’t do anything to propel them forward.
And sadly, neither of these are great for business.
Ideally, you want to land somewhere in the middle with strategic, relatable content that is still authentic and moves you forward. This way, you’ll ensure the content on each page is clear, concise, and adds value for your prospective customer.
You can go about doing this using a strategy very similar to the one we recommended for writing product/service descriptions (well… ok, it’s the exact same one): plan to write about your keywords, for your ideal client. Again, your keywords contribute to your skeleton, and targeted copy fleshes the whole thing out.
Step 5: Set Up Online Payments on your Website
If you’re planning on asking your customers to pay for your product or service online, then you’ll need some sort of E commerce integration. If you’re tech-savvy, you may be able to set this up all on your own, but it can be a complicated process. Hopefully this post is enough to get you through, but don’t be disappointed if you end up needing some more help.
First, know that there is no “best” platform. It totally depends on your product or service and how you want your online site to function. If you’re not sure where to start, you might want to reach out to a web developer or web designer to point you in the right direction. But if that’s not an option, check out the following resources:
- If your website is hosted on WordPress, WPBeginner has a great blog that breaks down the top e commerce integrations and their pro’s and cons.
- If you’re starting from scratch, here’s an article about the 7 Best E commerce Platforms to Build Your Store Today from Website Builder Expert.
Just be sure to pick a platform that suits all your needs. And, if you’re not sure… ask someone! It’s a lot more time consuming to undo your work and repurpose it than it is to do some research and map out the plan in the first place.
Note: We don’t offer web development services, but we are connected with a lot of spectacular people who do! If you would like a recommendation, reach out to us! We’ll make sure you’re in good hands.
6. Set Up The Essential Analytics Tracking that Every Single Website Needs
Would you like to know which pages on your site are bringing in the most traffic? What about how your customers are finding your site, or which of your marketing efforts is yielding the highest ROI?
In our opinion, every business owner should know at least this about their online business.
Maybe you don’t fully understand how to interpret or use the data just yet, but if you want to be able to make informed decisions down the road, you need to set up the tracking now.
Why? Because most businesses have some level of seasonality, meaning that their sales will vary month-to-month. In order to accurately compare data, we need to collect an entire year’s worth of information for the most reliable forecasting. It really limits the impact of a marketing strategy when we have absolutely no data to work from!
The important things you want to make sure you set up in Google Analytics from the very beginning include:
- 3 views: All Website Data, Master, and Test
- Filter out internal traffic from your Master view
- Filter out external traffic from your Test View
- Test to make sure your filters & views are working in Real Time!
Don’t have this set up yet? Lucky for you, it’s fairly simple, and I wrote a post to walk you through it. And if you would like a little extra assistance with the implementation, we can help you with that!
Bonus: Set Goals To Track
I also recommend that you set up goals on your site to track your sales or leads. This is how you can most accurately attribute ROI to your different marketing channels. This is a bit more complicated to set up, and if you’re not very familiar with Google Analytics it may be a challenge. Again, don’t be disappointed if you need to seek extra help.
Here are some helpful resources if you’re wanting to get started on setting up goals on your site. And as always, if you’d rather have someone set them up for you – get in touch!
- Overview Video: Setting Up Goals an Ecommerce
- Setting Up Goals from A Thank You Page (Destination Goals)
7. Keep It Up-To-Date & Keep Evolving
Now that you’re all set up, all you need to do is keep that website up-to-date & keep evolving it with your business! Remember that your website is often the first place people will check for information on your business, so even if you just have one outdated page, your visitors might think that all the info is out of date.
And, as your business evolves, remember that your website needs may also evolve. When that happens, you may want some support taking your website content or strategy to the next level. If you’re looking for guidance then, know that we can (and would love to!) help you out.
You’ve Got This
As much as you can, stay positive and have fun with this pivot. Who knows, maybe this new chapter of your business will be better than anything you would’ve imagined if circumstances hadn’t forced you to!
A great place to start is to identify which parts of your site need a little more love. We’ve developed a Website Essentials Checklist that walks you through the 10 must-haves for every site. Download it today and you’ll be sure your site it set up for long term success.
If you need any help or advice now or as you keep moving through the online business landscape, get in touch with us. You don’t have to go it alone– and we’d love to help you bring your brand new vision to life!