Still without a website? Offline means you're off the radar of customers
Tram Nguyen, owner of Four Seasons Oriental Grocery in Virginia Beach, insists her store doesn’t need an official website. After all, she says, the store has been in the same location for nearly 30 years.
“A lot of people know about us,” she said. “If you Google ‘Oriental grocery,’ we pop up. They give us five stars. At the Navy commissary, everybody talks about us. They say, ‘If you can’t find it at the commissary, go to Four Seasons – they always have it.’ ”
In practically the same breath, however, she admits the store has struggled in the post-recession years. “Before, we had a lot of money,” she said, “but now we don’t.”
Maybe a website would help. It certainly couldn’t hurt. But many small business owners don’t see it that way. A surprising number of them still don’t have official websites, according to recent studies. Like Nguyen, many say they don’t need one or can’t afford it. Others are intimidated by technology, assuming it’s too hard to create and maintain a website.
Big mistake, experts say. Ninety-seven percent of consumers now look online for local products and services, according to Google’s “Get Your Business Online” program. Launched last year, the program also found that 45 percent of Virginia’s small businesses don’t have websites. The numbers weren’t quite as dramatic in a 2010 technology survey by the National Small Business Association, which found that only 16 percent of U.S. small businesses lacked websites.
But regardless of percentages, those online holdouts face “uphill challenges,” the NSBA said.
Through Google’s initiative, business owners can create their own website in roughly an hour. They receive one free year of domain name and web hosting, provided by Intuit. Monthly fees for those services are normally $2 for a domain name and $4.99 for web hosting.
And Google isn’t the only one offering online freebies to small businesses. In May Yahoo! Small Business unveiled its Marketing Dashboard to help business owners boost their online marketing efforts.
“If you’re not online, you are invisible to a lot of consumers,” said Jamie Hill, spokesperson for the Google initiative. “What we’re hearing from people is that it’s really opening up their reach all across the country and the world. It’s also helped increase their legitimacy.”
One of those people is Shatriece Lewis, owner of Sabor Express, a New Mexican eatery in Virginia Beach. She says business has more than doubled since getting online.
“I started my business without a website and quickly realized that was to my detriment,” she said in a video posted on her site. “I found the Get Your Business Online with Google program, and the rest is history. I had no idea there were so many people from New Mexico in Virginia Beach.
“They’ll come in and say, ‘Hey, I saw your website!’,” she said. “And I could not have reached them any other way.”
Here are some other tips once your website is up and running:
• Include a phone number on your home page. Surprisingly, six out of 10 small business websites in the U.S. fail to do this, according to SMB DigitalScape, which analyzes more than 1 million such websites around the world.
• Post an email link so customers can contact you. Again, nearly 75 percent of small business websites overlook this simple step, says DigitalScape, which was developed by vSplash, a provider of digital media and commerce solutions for small and midsized businesses.
• Is your site mobile compatible? It should be. Otherwise, it won’t render properly on smartphones and other mobile devices. Google’s GoMo service helps businesses mobilize their sites. Its “GoMoMeter” even offers a peek at how your site looks on a mobile phone.
• Link to your Facebook and Twitter pages. Less than 20 percent of small or midsized businesses actually do this, according to DigitalScape.
• Provide a form-fill page that lets customers request information.
To its credit, Four Seasons Oriental Grocery does have a Facebook page, created in May 2011. But aside from some photos, the page has little activity. And in this day and age, a small company’s online presence must cover all the bases – from a traditional website to social media strategies like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Pinterest.
Hill compares it to the days when businesses couldn’t survive without a Yellow Pages listing. Now, their survival depends on Internet visibility.
“We’re hoping that we can get thousands of businesses online,” Hill said. “It’s exciting to see a business owner walk in offline and walk out online and see what it can do for their business.”