Small businesses have limited time and resources and are often stretched thin in multiple departments. Business owners need to be sure that they’re investing in valuable strategies and not getting caught up with the latest fad. Concerns over cost and the true necessity of an online presence top the list of reasons why almost half of small businesses haven’t set up a website. Does a small operation really need to go digital?
The short answer is yes. The internet and social media are here to stay, and ignoring them means walking away from significant marketing power. Here are the most compelling reasons why brick-and-mortar businesses need a strong online presence.
Back in the day, people talked about “hanging out a shingle” to announce they were open for business. The modern-day equivalent might be “setting up a website.” Establishing visibility and credibility are essential to building consumer trust in your business. A study by Verisign found that 84 percent of consumers rated a business as more credible when it had a website, as opposed to only a social media page.
A website doesn’t have to break the bank. Various options exist for business owners to select a customizable, mobile-friendly website template and a domain name for a low cost. Linking social media pages to your website invites customers to take a deeper look.
If your business relies primarily on local, pedestrian traffic, you may wonder why you’d need a strong online presence. After all, you’re not aiming for global or even out-of-state customers.
In fact, the overwhelming majority (97 percent) of internet users search online to find local businesses, according to a Vistaprint report. Even longtime residents may not be aware of every hidden gem in their town. Your online presence helps customers “happen upon” your business at the right time when they’re eager to make a purchase.
Small business owners are understandably concerned with ROI. The same Vistaprint report found that 90 percent of mobile searches led to action, such as a store visit or a sale. Meanwhile, eMarketer found that 41 percent of local businesses depend on social media to drive revenue. One important benefit of online marketing is that many consumers are within arm’s reach of a computer or smart device almost all the time. If your business is well-established online, you may be ideally positioned to get their attention — and the sale.
You’re likely to see the best results by using both a website and social media pages. The website provides a virtual storefront and essential information, while social media engagement acts as a digital “employee,” communicating brand values and building rapport with customers.
Social media provides an unparalleled opportunity to build a personal connection with customers. Companies can communicate directly with customers and show the personality behind the brand. (For a particularly strong example of social media branding, check out the breakfast-themed humor on Denny’s Twitter account.)
When it comes to social media platforms, consider audience first. You don’t need to sell flowers, fashion or other eye-catching products to stand out on Instagram. Hardware stores and shipping companies can find creative ways to make their products aesthetically appealing. The question is whether your target market is there to appreciate your posts. Almost 60 percent of millennials use Instagram, but less than 18 percent of the over-50 crowd do. Check your demographics, and then get active on your customers’ favorite platforms.
Small businesses struggle to compete with major corporations, except when it comes to savvy online marketing. The prevalence of local business searches should alleviate fears that online shoppers are only turning to giants like Amazon.
Take your online presence seriously, and you may be surprised at how competitive your business can be, even against larger competitors. Focus on search engine optimization (SEO) and social media marketing best practices to see best results. This can be as simple as using search-friendly keywords in website copy (e.g., “award-winning Austin cupcake shop”), and posting to social media on a consistent schedule.
Has a mobile-friendly website and social media profile helped your business? What’s your next online marketing goal? Share your successes and next steps in the comments!