For retailers and small businesses, the holiday shopping season is the most wonderful time of year to connect and engage with customers--but that's not to say it doesn't have its challenges.

This year has been uniquely difficult for holiday planning, especially in light of global supply chain disruptions that continue to hamper inventory and have caused major retailers to hold back on holiday ad campaigns out of fear of shortages. As shoppers look down every possible avenue to fulfill their wish lists, small-business owners have an opportunity to capture more of the action--so long as their web presence is ready.

Here are some essential tips for small businesses to achieve their goals this holiday season.

1. Make sure your website is ready.

Every business needs a website to call home. First and foremost, make sure you have a user-friendly and high-quality website showcasing all your business and product information.

A website is central to marketing efforts; it provides a landing page and ensures business continuity under any circumstance. Relying entirely on social media or a Google My Business listing can make it hard to navigate unforeseen interruptions--such as the recent Facebook outages, which can lead to loss of sales in the moment. Even if your social media is down, as long as you have your website, you know you can always communicate and engage with your customers.

But it's not enough to simply have a website these days--it needs to be shoppable. Adding an e-commerce platform to your site grants greater control and removes the need for third-party sites and marketplaces, such as Amazon or Etsy, to sell goods. Third-party sites often charge a variety of payment and transaction fees, whereas running your own store preserves your hard-earned commission. With website builder tools on the market, it's easier than ever for you to create and customize your own online storefront--no coding knowledge required. Simply look for one that comes with e-commerce functionality, so you can create a seamless shopping experience, for the holidays and year-round.

2. Good tidings are in the details.

For a business to be successful, it must stand out among the crowd--offering customers a shopping experience superior to one they'll find elsewhere. Find the way to your customer's heart through small gestures that have big results.

Having an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate--a digital certificate that authenticates your website's identity--is one such gesture that can be key to attracting and growing customer trust. It shows online shoppers that your website is safe, private, and secure. SSL uses encryption to prevent hackers from obtaining customer information and data, such as addresses and credit card numbers, giving your customers that peace of mind that it's safe to shop with you.

Another way to make this year's holiday shopping experience extra special is by adding options in checkout, such as gifting. Allowing customers to "purchase as a gift" provides a more thoughtful and positive checkout experience. Simply by providing a return receipt and not disclosing the price of a gift to the person receiving it, you're helping to remove stress from the giver while ensuring the purchase still feels personal.

A major stressor of shopping online during the holidays is wondering if your gift will arrive in time. Offering flexible shipping options puts shoppers at ease, as they can choose shipping fees and speeds at their discretion. In a recent survey, 94 percent of consumers said free shipping is the most crucial incentive for seasonal shopping, followed by fast shipping (60 percent), so providing different levels of shipping speeds and costs, during what many deem to be the most stressful time of the year, is a definite value-add. With people pressed for time to find white elephant gifts and stocking stuffers, retailers who offer free or overnight shipping are the true bearers of good tidings.

3. Make it festive and deck the digital halls.

Your website shouldn't look the same 365 days of the year. You should maximize the holiday spirit by updating your pages to reflect the season. After all, decorating isn't just for show, it's a way to improve the online shopping experience and signal to customers that they should consider your business for their gift-giving endeavors.

Additionally, gift guides are an excellent tool for showcasing your favorite products or products you need to sell in a new light. Gift guides curate great ideas and provide helpful suggestions to browsing customers, making their lives easier as they shop. Amid the seasonal frenzy, sometimes customers just want to be told what to buy and feel confident in their choices.

4. Believe in the power of SEO

If there's one prevailing habit among web users when they don't know where to start, it's going straight to a search engine to ask questions. By paying special attention to search engine optimization (SEO), you'll get your site in front of the people most likely to support your business. In a survey, 60 percent of companies said that inbound practices like SEO provided the highest-quality leads. And although SEO is considered a long-term process, there are immediate actions retailers can take to help increase rankings and visibility.

Reviewing keywords is a great place to start, and consistently updating those keywords on your website will keep you relevant. Be sure to leverage keywords that relate to conveniences and services shoppers are currently searching for, like "curbside pickup" or "gift guide."

Practicing SEO and having engaging content go hand-in-hand--and visuals are especially attention-grabbing, helping you rank higher in search results. Consider adding photos of your employees, business location, and goods and services to your website. This helps search engines index the images, instilling greater consumer awareness and interest in what you have to offer.

Additionally, flexible or elastic search plugins provide suggestions and auto-fills for what customers might be looking for--or not even know they need. Elastic search analyzes text and data to bring consumers to the right product information, improving and simplifying their journey.

Challenges of the past year have unveiled the importance of efficient e-commerce for businesses big and small. Following these website tips will equip business owners and independent retailers for success, empowering them to create compelling online stores and see success in yet another unusual holiday season.