You can't make any business work if your customers can't find you, or don't even know what you offer. Thus I was surprised to read recently that 30 percent of small businesses don't even have a web site.
As an advisor to new entrepreneurs, I'm also surprised at how many potential business owners tell me that they don't know where to start in putting together an effective web presence.
You don't have to be a Google expert to find a wealth of basic website creation tools, and many are free, or available for a low cost. Of course, there are also dozens of experts out there who are anxious to do the work for you, for a more formidable price.
The real challenge, in all cases, is not basic site creation. It's the content that sets you apart from the crowd of potential competitors.
I can speak from experience that content makes all the difference. Here are some modern approaches that have worked for me, and for many other small businesses I know that continually stay ahead of the crowd:
1. Add a blog to highlight your product or service expertise.
You don't have to be a trained writer to add case studies, personal experiences and recommendations to your website. A blog makes your offering stand out over the marketing hype on other sites--and it provides real "Google juice" through inbound links, updated content, and mobile access.
2. Link to or create relevant industry forums and participate.
A forum is a two-way user discussion on the subject of your business. Your hosting or visible contribution adds authority, content, and traffic to your website and your business. Plus, owning such a forum can give you a valuable and highly targeted contact list of potential customers.
For example, Dharmesh Shah, one of the co-founders of Hubspot, created and manages the popular LinkedIn discussion group, On Startups. This activity gives tremendous credibility and links to his website as well as himself.
3. Define your website as the hub of your social media reach.
Everyone now has accounts on multiple social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter. But finding your various accounts is often a haphazard and frustrating effort for interested visitors. Make your website the coordination point for both you and them.
4. Keep site visitors updated by posting e-newsletters.
A newsletter is nothing more than a regular activity and change summary, usually monthly. You can post it on your website and send it out to an email list of subscribers.
Newsletters help with customer retention, and remind your customers that you're the expert in your industry. When you post them on your website, you can also supplement the text with video and audio--creating a more engaging multimedia experience that'll keep readers coming back.
5. Escalate the engagement with customer contests.
Websites are ideal vehicles to deliver creative contests and entice new prospect traffic. People love to submit stories, vote on entries, and receive the recognition of even small prizes or product rewards. These contests should be extended and connected through your social media.
For example, if you run a photography services website, you could offer prizes and publicity for the best pet photograph submitted in the next week. Readers would win by getting visibility for their favorite pet, and your site would win thanks to the traffic and new customers.
6. Supplement text content with video and audio.
Simple videos that highlight your services and customers, less than five minutes in length, are ideal for today's "show and tell" customer mentality and short attention spans. You can do these yourself and upload to YouTube for display on your website. Keep the atmosphere relaxed and fun to increase traffic--and, depending on how creative you are, maybe even go viral.
7. Add creative elements, such as widgets and badges.
A widget is a mini-app that displays or updates data on the web to share something of value and interest, such as your daily special deal or a promotional opportunity. A badge is a simple graphic designed for fun, to show support, or promote certain standards online. Both of them highlight you, and extend your reach to other sites.
There are many more items of effective content that could be on this list. But don't let the number overwhelm you. You don't need to tackle them all--just pick a few that you think you can do well, and consistently.
The key is new and relevant content on a regular basis to attract the attention of search engines and new customers. Don't be in stealth mode or invisible to your customers.