5 Things You Need to Know About Small Business Website Design

Small businesses usually mean smaller teams and smaller budgets. But does that mean that small businesses don’t have something big to offer customers? Of course not. Thanks to the internet, there are now more ways than ever for small businesses to get noticed online — even with fewer resources.

Here are five things you need to know about small business website design. From approaching SEO strategically to knowing where to invest your marketing budget, these tips will help your small business compete with big businesses and attract customers to your brand.

1. Local SEO is the perfect place for small businesses to shine

Web design and SEO go hand in hand, and the first thing many businesses do when their new website launches is determine what they can do to attract more visitors to their site. Many small business owners have felt the frustration in trying to compete with big businesses in organic and paid search, but there’s a particular corner of SEO that’s skewed in favor of small businesses.

When you conduct a search and Google suspects that you’re looking for a nearby business, they’ll display a map with three businesses that match your search. This is known as the Local Pack, and its purpose is to help users find a local business that most closely matches their search.

Google's Local Pack displays 3 map results before organic results

Google's Local Pack displays 3 map results before organic results

In a study that gathered data from five different industries, an SEO writer found that small businesses out-ranked national businesses in the Local Pack in 4 out of 5 industries — meaning that, in 4 out of 5 cases, small businesses showed up in the Local Pack and national brands did not. The industry of exception was self-storage, which is thought to be the outlier because Extra Space Storage and Public Storage concentrate their budget and resources on localized marketing. Meanwhile, auto insurance shops, auto repair shops, hair salons, and pizza restaurants consistently outranked national brands in local search.

This is particularly important news for small businesses because 50% of users who conduct a local search on their phone visit a store within a day, and 18% of local mobile searches lead to a sale within one day. So, not only are small businesses gaining an edge by showing up in the Local Pack for most searches — they’re showing up for searches that have a higher chance of leading to a purchase than organic search results.

Right now, local search is a great place for small businesses to shine, but it does take some effort to increase your chances of showing up in the Local Pack. According to Digital Marketing and Search Engine Land, you can boost your shot by:

  • Ensuring that all of your business listings and citations are accurate and that there are no duplicates. This applies to both global and regional directories, and it means that your business information needs to be accurate and only listed once per directory.
  • Updating NAP in every instance your business appears online. NAP stands for name, address, phone number, and it’s a very important trifecta to Google. On your website, in Google Maps, on social media, and in any directories, make sure your NAP is consistent and accurate.
  • Filling out your Google My Business profile completely and accurately. It’s not too surprising that Google sometimes shows favor to businesses that use their tools. Google My Business allows you to list your business for free on Google. Make sure you fill out your profile completely and accurately to increase your chance of showing up in the Local Pack.
  • Including relevant contact information on your website. If you have store/business hours, Google prefers that they be listed on your website. They also prefer that you include links to your business’ social media accounts and that you include a direct phone call link so that mobile users can click to call your business.

2. You can gain a competitive edge by maintaining a 4-star review average on Google

One notable update to Google is that it now provides the ability for users to filter the businesses in map view by their ratings. This change allows users to only see businesses with a certain star rating. Not only does this change mean that businesses need to worry about maintaining a high average in their reviews — it also means that businesses need at least five reviews to show up in filtered search at all.

Businesses with less than five reviews aren’t given an average rating next to their business name. If your business has four 5-star reviews, it’ll still disappear when a user filters their search by rating. If your business has five reviews and averages at 3.9 stars, it’ll be bumped out when users search for businesses with an average of a 4-star rating. And, the more expensive your product or service, the more likely it is that they will.

Users can now filter their map search results by business ratings

Users can now filter their map search results by business ratings

Google has been increasing the importance of reviews for a long time, so it’s very likely that this isn’t the only change that will filter our businesses. It’s also worth noting that this isn’t just a visibility issue for your business. Even users who search for your exact business name are likely considering making a purchase, and your reviews can strongly influence whether or not they take that step. In fact, 90% of customers’ buying decisions are influenced by business reviews.

So, what can your small business do to be seen and bring in more customers?

  • Do everything you can to provide a phenomenal experience every time. It seems like a no-brainer, but it’s best to focus on giving customers a reason to want to leave reviews. With initial phone calls, when collecting payments, when greeting customers, in emails, when appeasing an angry customer — all of it matters. All of these experiences affect how loyal a customer is to your brand, and their loyalty will reap long-term benefits beyond just the nice review.
  • Resolve any issues with unhappy customers. Help Scout provides some staggering statistics on customer satisfaction: 91% of unhappy customers will not willingly do business with you again, news of a negative experience spreads twice as far as news of a positive one, and it takes 12 positive experiences to make up for one negative one. But, if you can resolve a complaint in a customer’s favor, they will do business with you again 70% of the time. When you know you’ve got an unhappy customer, concentrate your efforts on listening to them, understanding them, and appeasing them. After all, for every one customer who complains, 26 other customers remained silent — so it’s extremely likely that this one unhappy customer is actually helping you spot a real problem in your business.
  • Encourage customers to leave reviews. If you know that you’re consistently providing the best experience you possibly can and you’ve done everything in your power to implement feedback from unhappy customers, there’s nothing wrong with simply asking your customers to leave a review. While customers who were completely thrilled with their experience are more likely to leave a review, some customers just won’t leave them unless they’re asked. Google doesn’t encourage you to solicit reviews or bribe customers, but you’re in the clear to ask. Try asking through your website, in emails, on social media, or even on customer invoices and receipts.
  • Respond to every single review. Your customers, as well as Google, want to see your business engaging with the reviews it receives. For positive reviews, say thank you, echo the sentiment the customer had in the review, and encourage them to visit or purchase from your brand again. For negative reviews — as hard as it can be — don’t argue. Simply apologize, thank them for the valuable feedback, and provide them a direct way to contact you to discuss the matter further. Even better, let them know you’re already in the process of reaching out to them.

3. DIY websites don’t cut it for many small businesses

You’ve undoubtedly seen them before: The ads promising that you can create a beautiful, functional website without the help of a web design team. And it’s certainly appealing. Spend a few hours of your own time to create exactly what you want and to save some money.

But, viewing your website as a piece of marketing material, the DIY route is usually not the best short-term or long-term investment. Many businesses are initially drawn to these solutions because they’re advertised as low-cost alternatives to working with a web design company. Yet, one of the immediate problems with these DIY website builders is that they tack on extra prices for any sort of advanced functionality, such as an online shop or a method for collecting customer payments.

Some businesses get to work on building their own website through these platforms only to find that there are extra costs hiding along the way. WordPress does this in the form of plug-ins, widgets, and themes, while Squarespace does it in the form of skyrocketing the price for any e-commerce features. Some other websites will allow you to build one page before charging extra fees — and all of that’s not to mention the sites that plaster ads all over your site in order to keep the platform free for you.

There are countless articles advising businesses to steer clear of DIY website builders, but many of them contain generic points like “it won’t be as usable” or “you can’t customize it perfectly.” While true, these points — and even the hidden costs — aren’t the biggest reasons to avoid this path. Here are some very important considerations and reasons to avoid building your own website:

  • Many DIY website platforms use Flash. We recently wrote about how Flash slows down page speeds and isn’t favored by Google. Apart from Flash, you often won’t know what’s being used on your website, and these sites don’t exactly make it easy for you to find out.
  • Your customers will recognize that your site is DIY. These platforms have become so commonplace that many users can recognize them and even identify which platform you used. While the DIY platform may advertise that it’s more affordable, your customers will have another word to describe it — “cheap.”
  • Your access to analytics is restricted, if not nonexistent. The sites that do offer some sort of metric-tracking do so with older scripting technologies, leading to inaccurate readings of your visitors, bounce rates, conversion rates, referral sources, and more.
  • You’re out of luck if you need support. If your site goes down, if you have a question about setting up a particular feature, if there’s a bug on your site that you can’t crack — well, you’re on your own. Even DIY platforms that offer good support tend to not know what’s wrong with your site because they didn’t build it. On the contrary, when you pay a team of web designers to build your website for you, you can bet that their helpful, thorough knowledge of your site is one quick phone call or email away.

4. Your website has the potential to pack the highest ROI out of all your marketing efforts

In an age when even some middle schoolers know how to create a website for fun, it can be easy to think about websites as nothing more than an online face of a person or business. But, in the small business world, it’s important to see your company website for what it really is: A piece of marketing material. And, as with any marketing material, it’s important to weigh its cost against the revenue it can generate.

One reason some businesses go the DIY route rather than hiring a web design team is that they have trouble justifying the price of a professionally-crafted website. But it’s important to not just look at the upfront cost of the service (in this case, web design and development) — you must also consider the potential for that service to generate revenue for your business. So, when comparing the cost of creating a website and creating a direct mail campaign, you must also compare the return on investment. In this case, you may pay just $100 for a one-time direct mail campaign, but it may only bring in 5 customers. Meanwhile, a $5,000 website that generates 50 customers in its first year provides a better value even if — even if the initial cost is much higher.

Another important consideration is both the short-term and long-term ROI of marketing. One reason the direct mail methods may be lowest on this graph is that they have one shot to generate leads: when they’re mailed out. On the other hand, Google AdWords can be tweaked over time, email marketing costs very little to be ongoing, and even old blog posts can bring in new visitors to a website, therefore producing ongoing results and increasing ROI over time.

The good news for you is that you should expect your website to provide the greatest ROI out of all your marketing efforts. Websites are unique in that they can generate both short-term and long-term results and they can be changed over time as your business grows. When your website launches, it can generate new leads almost immediately. Then, those results will continue, increasing and decreasing depending on your website’s search engine rankings and how you use your site in conjunction with your other marketing efforts.

5. Long-tail keywords and smart PPC targeting can even the playing field

If you’re not familiar with PPC (pay-per-click) or SEM (search engine marketing), the premise is that businesses bid on ad space in Google search results — ad space that is displayed even before the #1 result on the page. For this search for flowers, the #1 result is actually displayed fifth on the page because the first four results are all paid advertisements. It’s also placed just below the Local Pack, showing just how big of a deal it is that the Local Pack shows small businesses more often than national brands.

If your business wins the space, you’ll place an ad that leads to a page on your website and you’ll pay a predetermined amount each time a user clicks on that link. This is done by bidding on keyword phrases. So, if you were to launch a PPC campaign for the keyword phrase “interior design,” your ad would show up whenever a user searches for that term.

The problem that many businesses encounter is that, the more competitive their market is, the more expensive these ads can be. For example, if Trajectory were to launch PPC ads for the very generic, very competitive term “web design” (which has an average of 368,000 monthly searches worldwide), we could expect to pay about $6 per click. That’s a pretty steep price for just a click, but it’s because the phrase is so competitive. We would bid against other businesses looking to place their ads, so we’d have to bid more than them in order for Google to place our ads instead of theirs.

You can see how this can quickly become frustrating for a small business. Even if you wanted to tailor your keyword, like “interior design,” to a specific location, like Chicago, the suggested bid is $6.22. So, the more popular your service and the more competitive your region, you could pay around $7 anytime someone clicks on your ad, regardless of whether or not they become a customer or even stay on your website for more than 3 seconds. It’s no surprise, then, that it’s often big businesses that buy out this space, leaving small businesses with small budgets out of the equation.

But, with a more strategic approach, you can level that playing field with big businesses. Let’s stick with the example that you offer interior design services in Chicago. You could go for the keyword phrase “interior design,” but a better approach would be to target a long-tail keyword phrase, which is a more specific phrase with 4+ words.

In Google’s keyword planner tool, you can pop in the term “interior design” to get a list of similar keywords with a wide variety of phrase length and competition. In this case, examples could include “interior design for living room” or “decorating ideas for living room.” Check out how the data compares for each term, targeted in Chicago:

Long-tail keywords have fewer monthly searches and are, therefore, make more affordable PPC ads

Long-tail keywords have fewer monthly searches and are, therefore, make more affordable PPC ads

So, while the most generic keyword phrase has about 260 monthly searches, you’d pay a whopping $6.22 for each click. You actually pack the potential for a higher ROI by going for those longer phrases on the right. And it’s not just because they have a lower bid price — they actually allow you to better understand the intent of the user conducting that search.

Someone searching “interior designer” may be looking to hire an interior designer. But they may also be considering a career in interior design, or they may simply be curious about what interior design entails. Meanwhile, someone searching for “decorating ideas for living room” is likely much more likely to pay for interior design services since they’re probably looking to redecorate their living room and are in need of guidance.

So, while the average monthly searches for long-tail keywords is dramatically lower, the quality of the leads generated from the ad can be dramatically better, all while the price per click is much lower. In this example, you could pay $28.50 to attract 50 high-quality leads to your site rather than paying $311 to bring 50 people (who may or may not even be looking for your services) to your site.

These long-tail keywords can also inform the decisions you make about your website structure and its content. Continuing our example, if you were an interior designer in Chicago who offered living room interior design, you could incorporate content with the keywords “interior designer for living room” and “decorating ideas for living room” into your website content. You could publish blogs about the topic as well, giving you a specific idea to fuel your blogging efforts as well as a variety of generic and specific keywords to include throughout your site content.

Succeeding in small business requires a strategic approach

You likely knew this when you took the leap to become a small business owner, but being successful doesn’t have to come down to who has the biggest budget. A little strategy can go a long way.

By improving your chances of appearing in local search results, maintaining a 4-star review average on Google, investing in a quality website, using your website as your most powerful marketing material, and using long-tail SEO, your small business has the potential to be just as competitive as the corporate chains.

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