Not long ago, I posted a piece of unconventional advice: that you shouldn't necessarily assume every small or local business needs search engine optimization. Despite what a lot of "experts" will tell you, there are some times when it just doesn't make sense to devote your attention, energy, and resources to achieving a higher Google ranking.
But, that's not the same as saying small and local businesses don't need websites at all. In fact, even the tiniest company should probably have some kind of professional web presence.
It's just good old common sense - potential buyers do everything on the web these days, and you want them to be able to find you there. That was reinforced in a recent survey conducted by BrightLocal, a business directory and review site in the UK.
You can see the whole post with key survey results on their site, but we want to highlight a few things that stand out right away with regards to attracting local customers over the web...
Having a Great Website is Important
Within the survey, more than a third of respondents said they were more likely to contact a local business that had a website, while an almost identical number acknowledged that a strong web presence was important for building credibility.
Although not many respondents highlighted a desire for mobile compatibility, it's likely that it showed up in other statements, namely that they wanted a "clear and smart" layout to work with. If customers are on smartphones or tablets, the only cost-effective way to meet those guidelines is to use a responsive site design.
Unless you feel safe in writing off more than a third of your customers, it's probably a good idea to have and maintain a website that enhances your image and helps people to feel confident about working with you.
Conversely, Having a Bad Website Can Hurt Your Small Business
Perhaps even more interesting than the preference survey takers had for local businesses with websites was the admission that customers would avoid companies with what they considered to be bad or sub-standard web pages. Specifically, men and women in the survey said they would stay away from businesses with layouts that were "ugly," or pages with typos and misspellings.
The lesson is pretty clear: it's not enough to simply have a website. In fact, having the wrong website can hurt your company. If you really want to make the right kind of impression, your pages have to be up to the standards customers expect. Otherwise, your website could actually hurt sales by making your business look inferior to your competitors.
It's Important to Know What Your Customers Want from You Online
Survey respondents also pointed out they were annoyed when the information they were looking for - and especially contact information or pricing details - couldn't be found online. On the other hand, they weren't exactly excited about having a callback option, and weren't in love with completing forms.
This insight shouldn't be too surprising. People generally turn to the web when they are researching solutions to problems - when they find half of the answer, or otherwise incomplete data, it can be very frustrating. So, know what your customers want from you, and then make it easy for them to find the information they really need.
You probably didn't need to hear about BrightLocal's survey to realize your prospects and customers do a lot of research over the web, and pay attention to what they discover on your pages. Still, seeing the actual numbers drives home the important point of just how much of an effect the right (or wrong) web presence can have on your public image and profitability.
Even if the majority of your revenue comes from people who live and work just down the street, your website is a first and critical point of contact. Make sure yours is well-designed and search-optimized. Otherwise, you'll be missing out on your most important sales opportunities.
This post was originally published on the Kayak Online Marketing blog