It should come as no surprise that the internet is mind-bogglingly enormous. As far back as July 2008 – which is ancient history in internet years – Google discovered that the internet was growing at more than a billion pages per day.
The truth is that no one really knows how big the web is, which is a scary thought when you consider that your small business website will be a tiny speck of information in a vast universe of online bits and bytes.
But don’t let that put you off. Having a website is one of the most important aspects of marketing, sales, and communication in the digital age. Which is why choosing how you get your business online is a crucial decision for any small business owner.
So, what kind of website do you need? That all depends on the kind of business you’re running. You could be a bricks-and-mortar service provider, or an online entrepreneur – and both of these options present a need for different content, functionality and varying degrees of complexity as well.
Nett spoke to three small business owners, who all recently built their current websites. We then sent Dennis Ng-Kwing-Cheung, art director, and Sam Shetty, general manager, from Netregistry, one of Australia’s largest web development and hosting companies, to look over the websites of those business owners and give their feedback on them.
Salon Seeker – www.salonseeker.com.au
When Caroline Balinska envisaged a website that had a directory and promotions listing for Australian hair and beauty businesses, she figured she was onto a winner. However, with more than $50,000 invested into the building of the site so far, Caroline’s still far from happy with the results.
“I wanted something different from the ‘daily deal’ sites, which are killing the industry,” she says. “I don’t believe salons need to offer 500 vouchers to reach new clients.
“Customers are also hating the mass sales of vouchers,” adds Caroline. “When they try to redeem the voucher, they often have to wait up to six months, because of the volume being sold.”
Caroline developed the idea and, with the help of a graphic designer, drafted up a 10-page brief and went looking for a web developer to help her build the site. The first agency, from the United Kingdom, built a site that didn’t meet the brief at all, so she moved on to another developer.
“I chose a company from Queensland because they said they were adaptable,” recalls Caroline. “After a lot of talking, I believed the quote for $30,000 was reasonable. They gave me a timeframe of 12 weeks.”
Two months, and many emails and phone calls after that deadline had passed, Caroline received a bill for another $15,000, for work that she says she hadn’t authorised or asked for. When she refused to pay, the company stopped work.
Eventually, Caroline purchased a template from GBS.com, and has gone through three different developers trying to get it working correctly for her needs. She is now working with the seventh developer to get the site running properly.
“Some things keep crashing,” she says. “The template is not stable and I have no more money to keep working on it.” It’s not a total disaster, Caroline says. “Sales have been solid, but I’m scared to drive too much traffic to the site because I’m worried it will crash the site entirely.”
The team from Netregistry agree – the site does still have a few issues.
“The homepage is selling from page one, but there is no unique selling point on there to engage customers,” says Dennis Ng-Kwing-Cheung, art director at Netregistry. “Before you can sell a product, you need to gain a customer’s trust. The look of the site is just like
any other group buying site, and consumers are rapidly losing trust with those sites.”
Aside from needing to position the site away from the bigger daily deal sites, Dennis says that the ‘join tab’ is not visible enough, and there doesn’t seem to be a solid call to action (like ‘join our mailing list’) for consumers or members on the homepage.
“The owners of this business need to spend more on search engine marketing to drive potential customers to their offers,” says Sam Shetty, general manager at Netregistry. “They will also need to invest in on-page optimisation. The minimum budget for online marketing for a business like this will be around $3,000 per month, to increase email subscription rates, and significantly increase revenue.”
Peak Performance Psychology – www.peakpp.com
Dr. Joann Lukins owns and operates Peak Performance Psychology in Townsville, Queensland – a bricks-and-mortar operation that needed a website to help promote the business to the local community.
“We wanted a site that clearly tells our existing and potential clients where we are, and what it is that we do,” she says. “We also wanted the site to be a source of information for our clients, by using a login section, and we are working on sharing information on important topics such as business, health and success through our various media links.
“Down the track, I would like to add an e-commerce section to the site, as I am mid-way through writing my first book and we could market that, and other products we are in the process of developing as well,” she adds.
This is the second time Joann has paid for a website for the business. “It is so much better than the old site, which was flat, and a little sad,” she explains. “I didn’t have access to any of the analytics we have with the new site. I love being able to tinker with the site and see the changes, and also the spikes in traffic when we put up a new blog post.”
Joann is now far more engaged with the online aspect of her business, and is seeing the results from the first month, alone.
“Last week, we were contacted by a national health service provider interested in using our service,” Joann says. “The reason they contacted us was because our website stood out from other businesses in our local area.”
All up, Joann says she’s spent just $1,500 getting the site developed, and used friends and local contacts for the rest. “Down the track, I’d like to add some video content as well,” she says.
Joann’s advice for a small business owner having a website developed, is to pick your battles in terms of what you want.
“I found that I needed to be assertive about a few key things,” she says. “There were some factors where the designer and I had very different opinions on how things should be done – but I quickly learned that there are times when you need to follow the recommendations of the IT people and designers. However, when it is a matter of personal preference, make sure you pursue with them what you want.”
The good news for Joann is that the guys from Netregistry gave her site a pretty good scorecard. “The website loads quickly and is mobile friendly,” says Dennis from the web design team. “Plus the colour scheme used on the website is perfect, and the message is clear.”
There is room for improvement, though – but this is mostly in the tweaking category, rather than a major overhaul of the site. The only major problem is that the new site is using elements of Joann’s old site, and will redirect to the old URL.
“The URL redirect on some of the inner pages of the site isn’t very good from a search engine point of view,” Dennis says.
Other minor tweaks from Dennis include subtle things, such as making sure the business telephone number is clearly displayed on every page, and adding content that is of more interest to the clients. Dennis also suggests adding some form of client testimonials, which will help to build trust for new clients coming to the business.
From a marketing point of view, Sam suggests a few simple options. “Peak Performance should test the market a little, in terms of marketing,” he says. “I suggest trying Google Adwords, and using analytics to see what sort of conversion rates you get. Other than that, just try to grow organically.”
Toy Universe – www.toyuniverse.com.au
Toy Universe owner Magda de Berg set out to provide a website for her customers that was as easy to use as possible. Considering the site is used to sell toys for children aged from birth to 14 years old, it needed to be user-friendly, but still have a sense of fun.
Magda did a fair bit of research before settling on a web solution, based on the needs she identified for an online e-commerce business.
“We started by researching e-commerce hosted services, and initially built the website within Volusion,” she says. Volusion is an online website builder, which offers an out-of-the-box solution with minimal outlay, and minimal coding experience requirements for a basic site. However, Magda’s needs were a little more complex than the basic package offered, so she brought in a contractor.
“We hired a freelance programmer to do the HTML coding, and this was reasonably straight forward,” she says. “About six months into the website being up and running, we realised that Volusion really didn’t give us the back-end technical features that we needed and also lacked proper SEO functionality.”
Magda went in search of a new solution, and finally settled on Big Commerce because she claims it has “a significant number of technical features which we required as well as being much more flexible in terms of design, so we have been able to add functionality to the website.”
Overall, Magda says, she is happy with the site as it is – mostly.
“We’ve spent around $5,000 so far getting the site developed,” she says. “But the change in package to Big Commerce means that we now have a $150 per month fee to cover the hosting.”
Looking back, Magda acknowledges that they did make a few mistakes in the beginning. “The site took about five months to complete,” she says, “and we really didn’t take into account the SEO factors, which meant we had to hire an SEO firm to get assistance.”
Web design tips
Be clear about what you and your clients need: Do your research before you start. What specific elements do you need, and what will your customers want? Look into other similar sites for inspiration.
Set a budget, and stick to it.
As with a lot of business expenses, a website can become a money pit if you’re not careful: Content is crucial. Clear, fresh content that keeps users coming back to your site, even when they don’t need to buy something, is a great, low-cost way to grow traffic to your site organically.
SEO is critical: Search engine optimisation (SEO) can mean the difference between your site being in the top ten in its category, or languishing on page 20 of the results. Research shows that more than 95% of search engine traffic comes from the first page of Google results.
Keep it simple, keep it clear: User experience is incredibly important. Think of ‘user experience’ as the customer service of the online world – if people in your shop can’t find the cashier, or the product they want, they will go somewhere else very quickly.
Tools attached to the back-end that will help you to assess what pages are popular, and what pages are not.
This is the nuts-and-bolts operational aspect of the website that the public don’t get to see. The back-end typically holds the website’s database, and other operational aspects of the site. Sometimes this will be a CMS.
Content management system (CMS). This is where you, the website
owner, do most of the work uploading text and images, and formatting them for display on the actual website.
Advertising space sold by Google, which appears alongside search results for keywords similar to those that customers would use to search for your business online.
Specific words or phrases that users are most likely to use when searching for your company or products.
Search engine optimisation, the strategic placement of keywords throughout the text on your website, which allows search engines like Google to recognise that your site is important, and boosts your placement in the search results.
Image credit: Thinkstock