7/29/2020

Small Business Advice

How to Improve Your Online Presence

As more people rely on digital connections, it's never been a better time to get a business website, or ensure yours is in peak shape. Here's some tips for making your online presence stunning

Eliza Washington

Business Writer

In today’s world (especially during a pandemic) more consumers are going online to fulfill their needs, whether they’re looking for digital services, home goods, local restaurant offerings, or a handyman. Since people tend to find well designed websites to be more trustworthy, you will want a clean, engaging web presence so you can put your best foot forward, no matter your industry. Designing your website can be daunting, especially if hiring a web designer may not be in your budget. Luckily, do-it-yourself (DIY) websites are easier and more accessible than ever. Here are some things to consider to make building your website easier.

Pick a reliable website builder and template

If you are short on time and want a truly unique website that stands you out from your peers, the best thing to do is hire a web designer. However, if that’s simply not in your budget, there are a few places you can go online to build your website where you can use either a blank template or one customizable theme. Some of the most popular are:

If you only need a simple, one page website and are on a tight budget, you can also consider Carrd.co. The more robust platforms of Wix, Weebly and Squarespace all have the ability to help you build a multi-page website, including (for a slightly higher price) an online store that accepts payments. Wix is partnered with Square for easy eCommerce integration, Weebly is now part of Square as their ecommerce platform, and Squarespace has free webinars so you can have an educational resource handy while you build or upgrade your website. Play around with a few of them, and pick the one that feels the most intuitive to you to use. 

No matter where you build your website, you’ll need a domain (that is, a website URL, like www.jimmysflowers.com). If you don’t have a domain yet many of the sites mentioned above can help you register on the spot. If you already have a domain that you’ve registered elsewhere (like at iwantmyname, GoDaddy, Namecheap, etc.), all website builders offer steps on how to simply connect your domain to the website you’ve built.

Before you build, be sure to take a long look at different templates that appeal to you. There are a lot of ways to customize your website so you can have the most streamlined online experience for your customers without it looking too cookie cutter.

What template should you pick? That really comes down to your taste, and also...

Know your customer and build for them

If you’ve been in business for a little while, you probably have a good idea of who your customers are. This is some of the most valuable information you can have. Knowing your customer also means knowing their needs, and how your business can deliver. Are your customers largely using their phones to find your site? Do they travel to your location or do you deliver/ship to them?

Asking these questions will help you decide how to cater your site needs to your customers. For example, maybe you’ll have your address prominently featured, or some version of an event calendar, or your website might need to be more mobile friendly (various stats indicate mobile usage ranges around 50-52% as opposed to 50-48% for desktop computers/laptops). All websites should be optimized for mobile, but some should be built with them in mind if you know this is where your customers are finding you, first.

Check out your peers -- both for aesthetics and content

Additionally, you want to consider your competitors and not-quite competitors. You’ve probably already thought about how to stand out from your competitors by offering something extra, like a more diverse catalog or different operational hours. The same applies to your website. Check out someone else in your field, and see how they are presenting themselves online. Do they have a signature image people remember? Is their social media well put together? Naturally, you shouldn’t copy whatever they’re doing, but consider if you were a customer, what things would stick out to you in a positive way? How can you create that effect for your own website and brand?

Beyond competitors, there’s a lot you can learn from not-quite competitors, that is, businesses in industries that are adjacent to yours that attract your customers. For example, if you have your own cosmetics line, think about the fashion brands your customers enjoy. What kind of lifestyle aesthetics are they promoting? If it’s organic textiles and clothing, consider highlighting organic ingredients in your skin care line and botanically themed backgrounds and packaging.

Consider the shapes and colors that represent your business

Now we get into design. “Shapes and colors” sounds simple, but can affect how your customers think about your site and your business.  You want your website to be clean but engaging, with some consideration into your color story. 

A “Color Story” (also known as a “colorway”) is a design-specific term for the group of colors you use for a project. You want your color story to be consistent with your brand so it’s not jarring for your customers and so they can easily recognize your business without having to struggle to connect the dots.

For example, Tiffany and Co. has been around since 1837 (1837!) and has used their signature teal so consistently since its introduction in 1845 it’s now known as “Tiffany Blue.” This has made it very easy for their customers to connect new pieces with the brand heritage for almost 200 years.

If you look at the templates at Wix, you can tell a bit about the intended audience and use of the layout without having to read the description.

  • The top center example “Drive-In Movie Theater” is a great example of a night life website. The light text is easy to read through the dark background, which is a fun purple with some pink highlights instead of a starker, sometimes jarring white on black combination.
  • The pairing of yellow and red has long been used in advertising to sell food. This color story is said to make people hungry. If you think about fast food logos, most of them heavily feature these colors. Consider these color schemes for classic eateries, comfort food, etc. However, if your focus is green smoothies and acai bowls, think about garden colors that remind you of your ingredients (grass green, blueberry, wheat, etc). 
  • Black and white has a classic, upscale look, reminiscent of film photography and the early days of cinema. This is a great choice for a more deliberately understated, yet impactful look. Adding a single, soft color to a black and white backdrop makes your website “pop.” This is a perfect example of “less is more.”
  • The top right and bottom left examples use aspirational images (almost like motivational posters) that immediately communicate achieving lofty goals. 
  • The middle right image advertising a construction service overtly features an image of what the customer will be getting (a construction scene), but also a largely blue and orange color story with highlights from multiple light sources. Orange and blue are complementary colors (colors on the opposite site of the color wheel), which tend to draw the eye more. If you don’t have a very visually focused business (ie, you don’t have a lot of photos), consider using contrast colors to keep your website interesting and engaging.

If you are interested in building your own brand color palette beyond the website template, check out the free generator at coolors.co. Having a brand set of colors helps keep your brand consistent across websites, labels, card and packaging, for a delightful customer experience.

Use AMAZING images

A picture is worth a thousand words, and subpar images can translate into people’s opinion about your products or service, too..Anything pixelated, poorly lit, or even good images that conflict with the text and/or menu on your site are things to avoid.

If you are selling physical goods, taking great photos of them is a must. You can invest in a digital camera or hire a photographer for anywhere between $100-$2,000

If you are offering a service instead of tangible goods, consider splurging on a high quality headshot, so people can see the fantastic person they’re about to work with. Beyond that, try to include an image on every page where appropriate. For example, a product info page that explains that services you provide make sense to have a photo, but not a terms and conditions page. If you have the budget, stock images may be the easiest option for you and can be affordable at $1 and $15 each. If you’re budget conscious, you can use generic images at Pexels.com and Unsplash.com, but be careful as many of these images are frequently reused across the web.

If neither of those are an option for you, you can rely on the images provided in a template or, if your phone has a high quality camera, try your hand at phone photography. If you’re taking your own photos, pay special attention to the subject of your images, as well as negative space (the space between subjects in your image) because you will likely put important text on top of the image. You can work around this by using a semi-translucent shape as a backdrop to your text.

If you look at this before and after analysis of the Art Institute of Chicago, you can see how the contrast and complexity of the image in the “before” example makes it difficult to read the text.

Make sure your site is mobile friendly

With mobile devices making up about half the world’s web traffic, it’s important to make sure you’re making the most of those opportunities to introduce your business to potential customers. This means simply things, like avoiding flash animation, using a large clear font, minimizing the use of drop down menus and making navigation buttons bigger. Weebly/Square and Squarespace both boast a mobile friendly site building experience, while Wix has a mobile site editor if you want to be a little more hands on. When building your site, make sure to toggle to the mobile view setting and review: is your site content more legible or are you squinting at the screen like you’re reading the bottom line of an eye exam? If you want an more in depth perspective on site optimization, this guide has got you covered. Once you’re  done building your website, and you’ve published, don’t forget to review it on your own phone.

Keep your social media presence in line with your website

Make sure people can find your website on social, and vice versa! While not technically part of your website, your social media presence is as much of a marketing platform as your own site. If you want to grow on social media, check out this deep dive for beginners that walks you through developing customer personas around your target audience’s interests, needs and habits. But even if you’re not interested in being a “super social” brand, or don’t think your business needs an Instagram account, there’s still a lot of value in having a social media presence. Social media is an easy way for new customers to discover you, and provides regular, free reminders for customers to come visit you again. You can also leverage social media to get feedback on new products. Polls, contests, and social-only promotions encourage customers to follow you and stay connected.

Of course, managing social media for your business can be time consuming, especially when you consider the idea of daily posts. Luckily, there are “social media calendars” like Hootsuite, Buffer and Loomly, where you can upload several days’ worth of content at once and schedule them to be automatically posted at specific times, freeing up your schedule.

Like with all marketing channels, before you decide to put resources into social media, you need to be very clear on the end goals to justify the effort (and potential costs involved). Are your goals to drive traffic, get sign ups and leads, build your brand locally, etc.? That way, you can measure success, or know when it’s time to change strategies.

If you have an online store, make sure you have a few different payment options available

Have you ever gone to a cash only store when you only have cards in your wallet or couldn’t get to an ATM? Keep this in mind for your online customers! Limiting your payment options can restrict the number of transactions your business runs, even if customers need your products or services. However, enabling additional options like Square, Google/Apple/Microsoft Pay, ACH transfers or PayPal doesn’t have to mean extra work for you. Payment  companies like Square specifically integrate with website building platforms like Wix to make everything easier for you so you can focus on other parts of your business.

Keeping up with technological innovations can seem daunting, but with all the tools and resources available, it doesn’t have to be. When you make it easy and pleasant for customers to find you and learn about what you do, your business will only improve!


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