Karl is the Founder of Great Dwellings, a tech-hospitality startup, and NetAesthetics, a web and app development company.
If you’re a small business owner, the pandemic has caused all sorts of worries. You’ve been worrying about your health. You’ve been worrying about employees who depend on a paycheck from your business. Small business workers have been hardest hit from Covid-related job insecurity. A cruel double-whammy.
But some small businesses have been thriving. If your business is in cleaning products or fresh food delivery, you’ve got more business than you can handle. Maybe your business pivoted to produce a new high-demand product, like hand sanitizer or face masks.
For most brick-and-mortar small businesses, the road’s been tough. The small businesses that have performed best during lockdowns are those that shifted their operations. They expanded their business models to include digital services and sales. Hair salons sold customized at-home hair dye kits. Restaurants switched to online ordering and curbside pickup.
If you want to turn that spigot back on, you can’t just go back to pre-pandemic operations. It’s time to pivot, and part of that means reimagining your website. Now is your opportunity to re-work your services so you, your employees, and your business are never that vulnerable again. This means your website has a lot more work to do than it did pre-pandemic.
Who Will Find You Online And How?
You have two big changes to think about for getting found online.
First is to expand your reach. Don’t stop thinking locally, but don’t only think locally. Local search engine optimization (SEO) is still crucial, given that more people are going out and feeling confident about their discretionary spending. You want to be the local shop they visit.
But it’s time to also think about providing services and goods outside your local area. If you want to protect your business for the long haul, build a market outside your community.
The second change is to rely less on digital paid advertising and keywords. Google is making big changes because of greater consumer interest in online privacy. The death of tracking cookies and changes to how Google handles keywords means the power of online ads is on the downswing. So what can you do instead?
Worry less about specific keywords. Instead, share content on your website that your market legitimately cares about. Your website shouldn’t be only about selling. With topics that attract readers, you increase your odds of other websites linking back to you. These backlinks improve your SEO because they tell Google people read and value your website.
You should also start working your Google My Business listing. Google has probably already created your basic listing. If you want it to move up the search results page, you need to claim it and look after it. Google provides a lot of different ways you can use your listing. Tools like online scheduling, photo uploads, and responding to reviews. The more you engage with your listing, the more Google likes it. The more Google likes it… the better your chances of moving up the search results page.
The higher you land on Google’s search results, the more attention you’ll get. Rightly or wrongly, people connect high search result positions with credibility.
Transform Your Website Into An E-Commerce Site
You probably already use some cloud-based services, maybe for accounting or marketing. Now it’s time to really leverage the suite of e-commerce tools available to you.
If you sell goods, start selling online. There are many third-party tools that make online selling easy and affordable. The three types you’ll need are an online shopping platform, payment processor and fulfillment service. A fulfillment service simplifies the logistics, but it should also help with shipping costs. People will buy $15 soap, but they won’t pay $10 to have it shipped. When picking a shipping service, work out the numbers to figure out what it means for the shipping costs you’ll bill customers.
If you don’t sell goods, think about how you can deliver your services remotely. Secure conferencing technology and online billing to make it possible. If telehealth services can take off, you can provide your services online too.
If you really can only provide your service in-person (I’m thinking of you photographers and home improvement pros), then add the digital services that make working with you easy: scheduling, 3D tours, virtual mock-ups and portfolios. The cloud-based tools are out there, and you need to take advantage of them.
As you upgrade your website from a brochure to a business tool, you’ll need to upgrade its tech capacity. Start thinking about the following:
• How quickly does your site load? The slower your site loads, the less likely people are to wait. Nearly half of users say they won’t revisit a website with poor performance.
• Does it rock on mobile? A good chunk of your market will visit your website on their phone. If it looks bad or performs poorly, they’ll move on.
• Is it secure? At a minimum, you need a digital security certificate to protect data, like credit card numbers, that people enter on your website.
Your website hosting services can help you with this. If not, you’re using the wrong host. You’re not on your own here.
It’s About Future-Proofing Your Small Business
You don’t want to go through pandemic stress twice. Now is the time to prepare. Expanding your small business to include a digital market now will help get you through future challenges we can’t predict. If you build a broader online market today, you’ll have more options when that next disaster does come.