5 Must-Haves For Every Small Business Website

Friday, April 8, 2011

Whether you're building a website yourself, or have a web designer to do it for you, work through this check list and you won't go wrong.

1. Contact details
It might seem a bit obvious this one, but you'd be surprised how many people forget to add their contact details. Not only must you have your contact details--at a minimum your address, phone number and email address--but you must make those details easy to find. Don't hide them away in the footer. Make the "contact us" page one of the most obvious ones. Because having a website boils down to just one thing: making more sales. And if your website visitors have a hard time getting in touch, then they're not going to buy from you.

2. Map
This is a must-have if you have a store front or office, that can make a real difference to the number of leads your website generates. The nature of the Internet is anonymous--we're all dealing with companies and individuals through a computer screen. And because of this, the Internet is a scammer's paradise--it only takes a few minutes to build a website and pretend to be a company. So having a map of where you are adds a real reassurance to your website visitors. It turns a virtual interaction into something more solid, and gives your website visitors the peace of mind that you're real people living in the real world

3. A Lead Capture Form
This is the next step on from adding your contact details. Many website visitors want to know more about your products and services, but are disinclined to give you a call or drop you a line. But they're quite happy for you to get in touch with them. And in order to make that possible, you need a lead capture form. Think of this as a sales assistant approaching a shopper, rather than a shopper going out of their way to approach a sales assistant. A lead capture form allows your website visitors to leave their details and express an interest in you, without going the whole hog of picking up the phone. And since many people surf the web out of office hours, the chances are that the time that they're actually on your website is a time when you don't have anyone to answer the phone. Having a lead capture form allows you to give them more information when it's convenient for you, and lets them express and interest when there's no one around to talk to.

4. Photos of You and Your Staff
This is one of my favorites - it's yet another great way of reassuring your customers about who they're dealing with. In the same way that having a map gives your web visitors the confidence that you exist, having your photos on the website creates a personal connection between them and you. It's so much harder to turn away from a face than a computer screen. Having a photo kick-starts a personal relationship with your website visitors, and it makes it much more likely that the visitor will then get in touch. The added advantage is that not many websites include personal photos, so get this right and your site will start to get head and shoulders over the faceless ones around it.

5. Newsletter Sign-Up Form
This option is a good opportunity to warm up future customers. Many people surfing the web for products and services will be in a "research" phase of the buying cycle. They're not ready to get in touch or start buying just yet, but they are interested in finding out more information. Having a newsletter allows you to start to interact with them before they're ready to buy. They get the opportunity to "'taste" your service and personality, without having to commit to buying from you. You can start having a conversation with them, so that when they do decide to buy, that relationship already exists. And as anyone running a successful weekly or monthly newsletter will tell you, it can be the biggest source of new leads for your website. So add a newsletter sign-up form, and start emailing news about your company and industry to those signing up, and the customers will surely come.

Marketing Must-Haves
These aren't absolutely necessary for all types small business websites, but are very important if you want to push your marketing power.

6. Blog
This is a half way house between your website and a newsletter to your customers. A blog gives you the opportunity to add personality to your website and start an open conversation with your website visitors. It adds a human element to a company site, and gives you the opportunity to showcase your knowledge, products and industry. And because visiting a blog is anonymous, many more will read your blog than will sign up for a newsletter. Not only that, most blogging platforms allow visitors to comment and add to the author post. This means that having a blog allows web visitors to see that there are other people spending time on your website and interacting with your business. We all prefer to eat in a busy restaurant than an empty one!

The other real advantage of a blog is that it allows you to add fresh, relevant content to your website, which is one thing that Google really likes to see. If Google likes it, then the chances are you will be boosted up the Search Engine Results page for searches relevant to your products.

7. Customer Reviews and Testimonials
What's the most convincing way to sell your products? By having other customers recommend them. Its one thing for you to go on and on about how great you, your company and your services are. But at the end of the day, any website visitor is going to take all that with a grain of salt. Of course you'd say that you were great! But if other customers give recommendations or reviews of your product and service, then that adds real weight to what you are saying. Of course, you're hardly likely to publish reviews and testimonials that show you in a bad light. But if it is a genuine comment from a real person--and that person doesn't mind you publishing their contact details, so that other web visitors can check they're real--then that comment can go a long way to reassure people that buying from you is a good decision.

8. Email to a Friend
This is one of the oldest and most basic website features, and one that is sadly overlooked these days. As mentioned above, the most effective way to convince someone to buy from you is to have someone else recommend your products. An email to a friend feature on your website does exactly that --it allows a website visitor to send details of your products to someone they know, which is, of course, an implicit endorsement. Include an "email to a friend" link with each product you sell, and you will really see the benefits of the personal recommendations.

9. Social Bookmarking
Have you ever wondered what that strip of icons on web articles actually does? The icons are often accompanied with a message like "share this," or "add this." The icons all represent--and link to--social book marking services. Social bookmarks are a public web page where you place all the links to all your favourite websites. They're a way of you creating a simple web page and saying to everyone "I recommend these websites." When you place social bookmarking links on your website, you allow your website visitors to quickly add your website to their list of social bookmarks. It is yet another way of them endorsing your product.

The other added benefit is that when people link to your website using a social bookmarking service, it can also help boost you up the Search Engine Results Page for searches that are relevant to your product or service.

10. Twitter and Twitter Feed
In short, Twitter is a micro-blogging platform that allows you to send and receive short messages. I'm not here to discuss the ins and outs of Twitter, but it can effectively achieve lots of different things. First of all, it allows you to communicate and have a conversation with your customers or visitors to your website. Second, it allows other people to sit in on these conversations, and find out what you're saying. Both these help add a human element to your website--turning a computer screen into a real person again. And as stated before, its so much harder for a web visitor to walk away from a real person than their computer screen. It means they will be much more likely to get in touch.