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Do small businesses need a website?
Suggestions for small busineses planning a web presence.
mack

WebmasterWorld Administrator mack us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3044525 posted 10:37 am on Aug 13, 2006 (gmt 0)

There are many businesses that simple do not believe in the web as a business tool. A website does not have to sell your products, it can be used simply to let potential customers know you are there. For small businesses particularly those that rely on a local customer base this can be an invaluable source of additional customer enquiries.

For companies who are now considering gaining a web presence I would say go for it. You have nothing to loose and a lot to gain. You do not need to sell on the web to have a meaningful website. In many cases a business website can be used purely for lead generation.

Many businesses rely on customers from the local area. Typically these businesses would advertise locally and in doing so would receive a stream of local customers. In this situation I believe this business is loosing out on an additional extra stream of customers by not having a company website. Just imagine how many people go to Google or any other search engine and type in [townname service]. If a local company was to have a website and it was to rank for that term then they would be able to attract many new leads through the website.

A website like this does not need to sell the product or service, is is simply there to gain search traffic for the preferred search terms. On the actual website you would provide some basic information about the company. and contact details. This will allow users to establish
1 this is the sort of company I am looking
2 I can give them a call.

Because the business is aimed locally it is not entirely difficult to gain good search engine ranking for the exact phrases you are interested in. The business can promote it's website in a number of ways such as web address on company vehicles, stationary and leaflets ect. If the company is local many people may know the company name. It is however a lot harder to remember a phone number.

If people are exposed to marketing material with companyname.com printed on it then it will probably be easier for them to remember as opposed to a phone number. Another Pont to take into consideration is people who know of the company but don't know how to get in touch. They may know the company by name but have no idea where they are located or their phone number. These sort of potential customers may already be typing your company name into search engines and finding no results. By simple having a site on the web it is possible to capture these customers.

Choosing a domain name.
The domain name you chose for your company should ideally be companyname.com this makes sense. In some cases it may also be worth while buying a number of variations of this domain name to ensure you catch all typos. If companyname.com is not available then you may want to look into the legalities of the current owner.

Because of the international nature of the web there is very often not a lot that can be done about this but it is always a good idea to investigate this. If you are unable to secure your business domain try to find something as close as possible.

Developing a website
If you have experience of building a website then you may be able to achieve this part on your own. If not then you would be best to leave this to a web design company. Developing a website is not something you do half hearted. You do want to convert as many users as possible, an unprofessional looking website is not going to achieve this.

Homepage: An introduction to the potential customer. Very general information and a phone number

About us: Go into a lot of detail about the company. Give the customer a lot of information about the company.

Contact us: Let the user get in touch. Email, phone, postal address. It is also a good idea to use a feedback form so the user can contact you directly from the webpage. Another idea that can work well is a "call me" feature. The user supplies their phone number and a time. Someone then calls them back at the time specified.

Is is important to follow up on all leads that are generated. People do not want to be left hanging about. Act fast and secure leads.

Web hosting
A web hosting company is somewhere that allows you to host your website on their servers for a fee. Choose a web hosting company that has it's servers in your country. This can help greatly when you want to rank well for your own countries index. For example Google has country specific search indexes that allow users to search for results from a specific country. Do a comparison on a wide range of hosting companies before you decide. Don't just go with one because it is cheap. You get what you pay for. Shop around and compare the features and services.

Marketing your website
In simple terms you need to point people in the direction of your website. Get in touch with other local companies and ask them to link to you. Include your web address in any marketing material that you distribute. Get your website listed in as many web directories and local directories as possible.
Having a business website can work out very well for small companies who are looking to attract some extra customers. The web can be a great tool not only for selling but also for letting people know you are there.

Mack.

 

BeeDeeDubbleU

WebmasterWorld Senior Member beedeedubbleu us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3044525 posted 11:28 am on Aug 13, 2006 (gmt 0)

Good post Mack. I am sure that this will be of interest to anyone who is trying to decide if they need a website. AFAIC there is no choice. People are turning to the Internet the way they used to go to Yellow pages. It's quicker and easier and most people now have access to a computer at home or at work.

Michael Dell of Dell computers was quoted as saying, "Show me a business that's not on the Internet, and I'll show you a business that's out of touch with the future." He is correct in this assertion.

Because the business is aimed locally it is not entirely difficult to gain good search engine ranking for the exact phrases you are interested in.

The local aspect is also worth stressing. I have a client who provides a service. His website has been incredibly successful because I got lucky when promoting it and it is now probably the most high vis site in his market. He called me to ask if there was any way that I could generate enquiries from some of the more affluent areas near where he is based. I simply added a paragraph of text to his home page that mentioned, "Richtown", "Wealthyville", etc. and within a few days he was ranking at number one on searches for "widget service Richtown".

Don't think about! Get a website now ;)

idolw

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3044525 posted 12:14 pm on Aug 13, 2006 (gmt 0)

Don't think about! Get a website now ;)

BeeDeeDubbleU, didn't you forget to leave your e-mail address under that? ;)

stapel

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3044525 posted 3:12 pm on Aug 13, 2006 (gmt 0)

Are people really relying on the Internet, rather than the Yellow Pages, for their strictly-local needs? Personally, I go the other way. Is there any data on this?

Eliz.

mack

WebmasterWorld Administrator mack us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3044525 posted 3:44 pm on Aug 13, 2006 (gmt 0)

I can only account for a small number of sites that I have had dealings with, but in terms of ROI a site that ranked well for it's local term in Google generated more enquires than a site listed in many local directories. The findings where derived from when the site was ranking as opposed to before it was launched.

Although the local directories IMO are still an important part of advertising.

Mack.

vincevincevince

WebmasterWorld Senior Member vincevincevince us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3044525 posted 4:00 pm on Aug 13, 2006 (gmt 0)

That's a good overview of why almost every business needs a website. It doesn't mention the importance of quality.

A two-cent website which could have been created in Microsoft Word and exported as HTML will bring very little benefit compared to a professionally and artistically designed presence. You might have a shabby shop-front but nobody will forget your professional online presence.

Are people really relying on the Internet, rather than the Yellow Pages, for their strictly-local needs?

Not picked up a yellow pages for a long time. I do sometimes use the internet version if I can't find something through mainstream search engines. The problem with the Yellow Pages is that many firms in there have websites (and hence the information I need) but don't have them listed in Yellow Pages. That means you need to take the firm name, then search the internet for the website...

BeeDeeDubbleU

WebmasterWorld Senior Member beedeedubbleu us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3044525 posted 4:48 pm on Aug 13, 2006 (gmt 0)

BeeDeeDubbleU, didn't you forget to leave your e-mail address under that?

No I didn't. My SEO skills (or luck!) ensures that I am generating enough work from my own website to keep me going. :)

ken_b

WebmasterWorld Senior Member ken_b us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3044525 posted 5:16 pm on Aug 13, 2006 (gmt 0)

Do small businesses need a website?

I can't think of a small business that couldn't benefit from having a website. The problem is in the small business getting a site that is a good fit for their business.

It seems to me that small businesses are too often written off as unprofitable by qualified web developers, or qualified developers are written off by the small business as being too expensive.

The result is a ton of less than great websites that don't meet the needs of the small business or their customers and frustration on the part of both with the small business oriented web experience.

tedster

WebmasterWorld Senior Member tedster us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3044525 posted 5:38 pm on Aug 13, 2006 (gmt 0)

Are people really relying on the Internet, rather than the Yellow Pages, for their strictly-local needs?

More and more every day.

Local search is booming -- note all the local search features that Google and other engines have been adding. Just include a postal zip code with a common "localy needed" keyword like "movies" or "pizza" or "framing" and see what comes up at the top of the SERP. I know I get frustrated when a local search tells me that a local business exists but they don't have a website with full information.

henry0

WebmasterWorld Senior Member henry0 us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3044525 posted 11:09 am on Aug 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

All of the above are very good points

As a web dev I can't agree more

The toughest part for a future web owner is to understand that its web will not be a "Temple to its glory" but a mktg tool based on its user profile.

trillianjedi

WebmasterWorld Senior Member trillianjedi us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3044525 posted 11:16 am on Aug 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

Another Pont to take into consideration is people who know of the company but don't know how to get in touch. They may know the company by name but have no idea where they are located or their phone number. These sort of potential customers may already be typing your company name into search engines and finding no results. By simple having a site on the web it is possible to capture these customers.

Absolutely. I use a "companyname" search all the time when I can't remember someone's telephone number or postcode etc. Every business should have some form of companyname.com web presence just for that alone.

I'm also noticing myself doing research on the web as a means of "checking out" a company. Even where that company does not do business online. If a friend recommends me to XYZ Widgets Limited, then the first thing I'll do is look them up on a search engine. Lack of a company website, for me anyway (although this does depend on the nature of the business) can be a negative factor and may influence whether or not I use them.

TJ

oneguy

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3044525 posted 11:32 am on Aug 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

I'm also noticing myself doing research on the web as a means of "checking out" a company. Even where that company does not do business online.

Yeah, I'll use a company name search as well.

A two-cent website which could have been created in Microsoft Word and exported as HTML will bring very little benefit compared to a professionally and artistically designed presence. You might have a shabby shop-front but nobody will forget your professional online presence.

I'll also go to a specific website if it's mentioned in some other media. I think it should be metioned. I'll remember your website url faster than I'll remember your radio directions. Usually, I'm looking for location information, so that should be easy to find. I might also be looking for product information.

I've seen some websites that were so poor, I decided not to trust the company with anything.

piatkow

WebmasterWorld Senior Member piatkow us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3044525 posted 12:19 pm on Aug 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

It is amazing how many people forget to mention locality on their home page, especially if the business involves travelling to the client.

I might be prepared to pay a consultant's air fare but I want the nearest plumber in an emergency.

rogerd

WebmasterWorld Administrator rogerd us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3044525 posted 12:19 pm on Aug 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

Today, people are almost always near a computer that's connected to the Web. Is it faster to type the company name into Google to look up their phone (often, it's not even necessary to click on the link to see the number) or hunt for the phone book, page through the book trying to figure out whether "BZQ Widgets" will be at the front of the "B" listings with initials listings or at the end because of the Z, figure out where you buried your reading glasses (if you are of a certain age), and finally locate the number? I rarely use the paper phone book these days...

Of course, there are many people who still don't search by computer. But that number is shrinking and any business owner with half a brain needs to be focused on the part of the market that's growing.

karmov

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3044525 posted 12:22 pm on Aug 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

Do small businesses need a website?

Depends what you mean by "need". Also depends on what you mean by "website" : )

While I agree with those who look online for contact info for small businesses, I also only find it to be a mild annoyance when I can't find it. I'll just look elsewhere. I highly suspect that this is fairly common of most people. The reasoning being that if you've already expressed interest in some way shape or form in a particular company, you'll invest a bit more effort into finding them than you would if you were just browsing around.

If the website is only made for contact info and broad product/services descriptions then it will likely only serve those visitors who would have pulled out the phone book anyways.

All that Devil's Advocate stuff aside, it can't hurt to put yourself out there. I've got a blog and link out to the people who's services and products I use and like. I find it unfortunate when I find a local company that has no website and therefore can't give them a nice juicy backlink as my way of thanking them.

Being a small business is hard though. Finding money for things that won't directly bring customers into your dooor is hard. Ignoring all those stories about people who spent way too much on a website that does nothing for them is hard. Seeing long term, big picture development when you've got a supplier who can't deliver on time for you to make your deadline is hard. These are all items to remember when we wonder why a small business hasn't gotten with it yet.

Namaste

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3044525 posted 12:54 pm on Aug 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

Can folks here please suggest easy to use services where I can buy and set-up such a website by myself

hannamyluv

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3044525 posted 12:59 pm on Aug 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

Are people really relying on the Internet, rather than the Yellow Pages

I have not seen any studies about this specific topic, but there are plenty out there that show that Gen X, Gen Y and the Millenials use the internet significantly more as you get through each generation. Particularly Gen Y and the Millenials who have lived with the internet their entire life.

To them, if it is not on the internet, it does not exist. (which in a way, may explain the overwhelming popularity of My Space.)

Any business that doesn't have a website, even a Word designed one, is tossing away money.

Wlauzon

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3044525 posted 1:16 pm on Aug 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

Are people really relying on the Internet, rather than the Yellow Pages, for their strictly-local needs? Personally, I go the other way. Is there any data on this?

We have had a B&M store for about 30 years.

We have had a website for about 10.

We get about 2/3 of our LOCAL walkin traffic from the website.

Yellow pages is about #4 on the local referral list, at best.

However, we are a niche product specialty store, if you are selling generic products, it is not likely your ratio will be anywhere near this high.

[edited by: Wlauzon at 1:17 pm (utc) on Aug. 14, 2006]

yulia

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3044525 posted 1:17 pm on Aug 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

Not long ago, I have received a brochure in a mail about local windows washing company. The brochure was a true piece of art – colorful, tactful, super professional work. The company listed their website – I decided to visit. Well... the website was made by an amateur person, probably the owner himself. I contacted the owner and offer him a professional website free of charge. He declined. He said, he has a website already and he is very proud of his work.

In our local community, small business owners still invest in print advertising, Yellow Pages, local newspapers, TV and radio ads, but not in a professional website or any web site at all. The majority of small business owners are convinced, that running a website is expensive, additional headache and will not do a thing for the business.

Wlauzon

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3044525 posted 1:25 pm on Aug 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

small business owners still invest in print advertising, Yellow Pages, local newspapers, TV and radio ads, but not in a professional website or any web site at all.

IMO, even the smallest company should have a basic website for local users. Yet I have seen (in a couple cases our would-be competitors..) people spend thousands on Yellow Page and other ads, and nothing or pennies on a website.

And far too many of those nicely printed brochures end up with all the other tons of junk mail in the trash. Those can cost 10 to 30 cents each to print, yet those same people will balk at spending 10 cents a click for a local Google ad that works 24/7/365.

Beagle

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3044525 posted 1:35 pm on Aug 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

Another aspect to consider is that people other than "locals" will use a search for businesses in a locality. I've searched for "florist town name" and so did a number of people who sent flowers to my mother's funeral last year. The funeral home we used, BTW, has a service on their website where people can send emails to the family and the funeral home passes them on - this got used, too. When I travel anywhere other than to visit relatives, before I go I've checked out websites in the other city for everything from museums to shuttle services.

If a small business wants a very simple website just to show they exist, I think a "do it yourself" job is possible. A simple site without mistakes can look businesslike.

[edited by: Beagle at 1:41 pm (utc) on Aug. 14, 2006]

rohitj

5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3044525 posted 2:18 pm on Aug 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

A good number of clients for which we provide hosting, are small businesses. The thing that's really shaped the need in the past year especially, is the evolution of local search. You'll be surprised at how effective google adwords is, among other PPCs, for very specific local searches. The keywords can be cheap if they are very specific and the traffic is targetted.

Kufu

5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3044525 posted 3:23 pm on Aug 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

Having a website nowadays is the equivalent of having business cards; it just sounds odd if you tell someone that you don't have a website (even if it is just a single page with contact information).

Oliver Henniges

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3044525 posted 3:40 pm on Aug 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

The key issue is ROI, ROI and once again ROI. I remember the days around 2000, when it was normal to pay several hundreds if not thousands of dollars/Euros for the three-paged website mack suggested the owner to do himself. That was quite absurd.

I also recall that woman in my neighbourhood, who paid 1000 Euros for a small advertisement on a website providing local maps. The probability to attract a single visitor with that was quite close to zero, I guess. Besides: she was running a shoe-repair-store.

Thanks to the decline of the Internet-hype, tarifs have gone down tremendously, so that I'd always agree to mack: Yes, build a website or let someone build it for you. But the tasks of a company offering such a service have also changed: If you claim to build successful websites for smaller companies, you have a much broader consulting-responsibility nowadays. Show your potential customers how many shoes they will have to repair, until they will break even your bills.

SilverLining

5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3044525 posted 3:58 pm on Aug 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

I have a question re hosting. Currently I have a companyname.co.*, but it's not hosted locally. Would it be better to host comanyname.co.* locally and then create a townname-service.com site for international customers, hosted internationally? Does the content of these two sites have to be different so that Google does not pick it up as duplicate content?

randle

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3044525 posted 4:19 pm on Aug 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

The key issue is ROI, ROI and once again ROI.

Agreed; but where so many people make the big mistake when thinking about an online presence is that you need years when calculating ROI. Right now, for almost any business, I don’t think you could spend enough on your web presence (within reason of course). If you sold widgets, even locally, and had the foresight 7 years ago to purchase the domain name widgets.com (in addition to companyname.com) you would be swimming in business, so much so you could be making money by referring business out of the area you sell in, for a fee.

Every day a business puts off working on their on-line presence is another day of falling behind. One of the biggest assets you can have in ranking well in Google today is age, and I’m not talking about the sandbox. Older, well established sites always rank strongly in Google. So, if you want an older, well established site three years from now, you better get going.

The other thing is functionality. In so many business lines a little bit of functionality on the site goes a long way. Give people as much as they want from the ability to create an account, to getting some news updates via e-mail on new products, to being able to log in an check the status of their order. I know not all of this applies to everyone, but I see so many companies that either do not have sites, or have one they threw up a few years ago and do nothing with it.

When thinking about web sites for small businesses, the barrier IMHO opinion is owners don’t understand you need to look a few years down the road to see the return you will get.

yulia

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3044525 posted 5:10 pm on Aug 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

Business owners (small or big) who don’t invest in web site or never updates the existing outdated website are loosing business – may be not today – by definitely tomorrow.

We have 5 people in our family – we use a lot of local business services. I am not sure our family members know where the Yellow Pages are stored in our house. We never use it. I search for local business on the Internet. If they do not have a website – they loose my business. If they do not think about us, the Internet customers, we are not going to take time to look for them in the Yellow Pages.

Pico_Train

5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3044525 posted 5:28 pm on Aug 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

The yellow pages will go the way of the typewriter, the film camera and other antiquated inventions.

A small business SHOULD not have a website, it NEEDS a website. We are the first generation to start on this concept with our kids and younger siblings literally living off the web. The usage will only accelerate and those who do not use the marketing power of an online presence will lose out to those who do.

My 2 cents, I am not an ID 10 T.

farmboy

WebmasterWorld Senior Member farmboy us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 5+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month



 
Msg#: 3044525 posted 8:39 pm on Aug 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

Are people really relying on the Internet, rather than the Yellow Pages, for their strictly-local needs?

I have a somewhat different perspective on this question than some of the other responses.

Recently I had a need to locate businesses in surrounding towns that engaged in a particular type of commerce. I went to Google to search and I went to some online "yellow pages" sites to search.

What I encountered was a very frustrating experience. I didn't find sites that really wanted to help me find widget dealers in town 1, town 2, etc. What I found were sites that offered me basically useless information but seemed to want me to click on their ads.

Some were sites where only businesses that had paid to advertise were listed. Others seemed to be computer generated pages obviously clueless about the local area.

Google's computers, as opposed to Google's humans, put these useless sites at the top of the search results - in some cases the first few pages of results.

The local business owner has just begun if he puts up a website. Getting to the top of the search results for searches where people don't know his business name is the real challenge. If Google values keyword loaded pages, lots of inbound links, lots of outbound links, etc., how is the local business owner, with limited time available for SEO, to compete against these large generic computer generated sites?

By the way, to find the local widget dealers I was looking for, I turned off my computer and went to my local library. There I pulled out the telephone book yellow pages for surrounding towns and used pencil & paper to write down the names, addresses & telephone numbers of businesses I needed to call or visit.

FarmBoy

egurr

5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3044525 posted 8:49 pm on Aug 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

Every business should have a website. It's cheap marketing. But it is in fact marketing for most small business. Meaning it helps to put you at Top of Mind when the customer is ready to buy.
The local search market is huge. I think that's what MSN's new algo is helping to target. There are only so many sponsored search spots available for auto insurance. There are literally thousands of spots available for auto insurance and the top 150 cities in the USA alone.
The problem I run in to is small businesses use their websites as a brochure (not customized to the customer) or the put such a minimal effort in to the design and marketing it makes the company look small.

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