Last year, 93% of people used the internet to find local businesses. While there are many actions small business owners can take to drive more visitors to their websites and improve user experience, without a consistent online strategy, a business can cause significant damage to their brand and online relevance.
OPPORTUNITY: Site design and accessibility
Think of the last time you Googled something: in addition to websites, the search results included lots of images, too. And the reason those images appeared in your search results is the invisible text used to describe images on the internet. The official term for it is “alt text” (short for “alternative text”), and it serves a few purposes:
- Search result visibility: If your images have thorough, descriptive alt text, that makes it easier for search engines to crawl the content on your site, increasing the amount of content that can appear (and rank) on search engine results pages (SERPs).
- Accessibility: When visually impaired users access your site with a screen-reading tool, that tool will read an image’s alt text out loud to describe that image. Without alt text, their reading tool will only be able to tell them an image is there, not what the image is.
- Troubleshooting: If an image on your site can’t load for any reason, the alt text will display in its place. This provides extra assurance that even if something goes wrong, a user will still experience the original intent of a page.
Having complete alt text tags on all images on your website can help improve your search engine ranking, in turn increasing organic traffic to your business’s website. While there are many factors that contribute to overall site design and accessibility, our research show that a whopping 91% of small business websites are missing alt text on images—which means that investing the time to address alt text on your site could be what sets your business apart from the rest online.
The pandemic caused a quick shift towards digital tactics like ecommerce for small businesses in 2020. In one recent survey, 35% of small business owners said that without ecommerce, the pandemic would have forced their businesses to close. However, in our own review of 60,000 SMB websites, we found that only 12% were using ecommerce.
Many people hear “ecommerce” and think of retail—a store shipping goods to customers. That’s certainly one definition, but ecommerce ultimately means making at least part of your customer journey available online. These are just a few examples of the many forms that could take across different types of businesses:
- A local spa or boutique could offer gift cards—perfect for drumming up extra revenue around gift-giving occasions.
- A restaurant could accept orders online as opposed to over the phone.
- Skilled professionals like mechanics or landscapers could allow customers to schedule appointments online.
- A gym could offer detailed video tours for prospective members who can’t visit in-person.
If you have an established business, and offer goods/services that could potentially be sold online, don’t waste any time in adding those capabilities. New businesses have adopted ecommerce at higher rates than established ones, so adding ecommerce functionality will be key to keeping your business competitive in 2021 and beyond.
OPPORTUNITY: Local SEO marketing
If your business isn’t being found in online directories or local search results (e.g., “clothing store/restaurant/plumber/etc. near me”), it can have a devastating effect on whether new customers find you or choose your business over another. Many small businesses know they should be taking action to get found online, but don’t know where to start. Here are three simple, immediate steps you can take, starting today:
- Get listed locally. For most potential customers, Google is their first stop for information about local goods and services, which is why setting up Google My Business profile is a top priority. It’s free, and it helps you get found in local search results as well as in related tools like Google Search and Maps. But in our research, we were not able to detect a Google My Business account for 29% of small businesses we analyzed.
- Don’t assume Google is right. Even Google gets it wrong sometimes, so make sure to click through every part of your Google My Business profile to confirm the information is correct. When we reviewed small businesses’ profiles, we found that 26% of them contained errors, or were missing vital information such as business hours or even a link to their website.
- Fix mistakes ASAP. If you spot any inaccurate or incomplete information, log in and fix it right away. Someone could be trying to find your business this very second!
OPPORTUNITY: Reputation and reviews
Customers are online looking for businesses like yours, and one of the main ways they form an impression of your business during their decision-making process is through online reviews. The average consumer reads 10 reviews before feeling able to trust a business. We analyzed businesses with Google My Business listings and were unable to find reviews on Google and Facebook for 37% of businesses. And of the businesses with online reviews, nearly half (48%) had 10 reviews or fewer.
Did you know that 90% of people claim positive reviews influence their purchase decisions? Or that 88% trust online reviews as much as they would trust a personal recommendation? It’s vital that you know what is being said about your business online. (After all, you can’t share or respond to a review you don’t know exists.)
With consumers spending more time online than ever before and expecting more options to engage and buy from their local business online, your website and online presence needs to meet their expectations. If not, it might be time for a re-design.