IF you run an SME you know that the Internet is an important tool for generating customer leads and new business. This is because the Internet puts you in front of your target audience for much less money than it would take to advertise on TV, in print ads or billboards, making digital channels more cost-efficient and often more effective.
Despite these advantages, digital channels are still underused and are often perceived by SMEs as cost-centres rather than an opportunity to grow their business.
With that in mind, here are our top tips for ensuring that your website is not only visible to the right people but also properly set up so that they stick around. The longer visitors stay on your website, the more likely it is that they will become customers.
Five ways to get more visitors through your digital door:
Search is one of the biggest traffic sources for SME websites, and more and more of it comes from mobile devices. Search engines rank mobile-friendly websites higher when someone searches on a mobile device as they provide a better user experience.
This means your website needs to be mobile friendly, regardless of whether you hire someone to build it for you or if you use an out-of-the-box tool kit. If you don't take this critical step, you run the real danger of losing out on a large amount of valuable traffic.
Apply the basic principles of SEO
SME websites should follow the basic principles of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). This is an expert field, so SMEs should make sure that whoever builds their website and then maintains it on an ongoing basis provides SEO consultancy and execution.
The volume of unpaid - or organic search traffic - should be monitored on a monthly basis to measure the impact. Organic search traffic is usually the source of the best converting traffic, so getting this right is crucial.
Targeted online advertising for more business
In addition to the organic or unpaid traffic that your website receives, it is recommended to test paid-for online advertising. Try Google AdWords for example. It allows SMEs to show short text ads in the Google search results whenever someone searches for a relevant keyword. You only pay when someone clicks on your ad and visits your website, so it's guaranteed traffic, and you have full control over how much you spend per day - whether it's $10 or $1,000.
When measuring return on investment, there are two important things to note: your website should have a simple contact form that allows prospects to turn into leads - and track these to monitor performance. This allows you to calculate the ROI which should guide how much you invest in future.
The more you understand about what visitors do on your website, the better you can use it as a sales tool. Free web analytics tools such as Google Analytics provide insights into where visitors came from, how long they stayed, which pages they read and pinpoint where they exit your site.
It can highlight popular content areas and areas of improvement, and you might learn a thing or two about your audience at the same time: do people visit from other countries? Which products are more sought after in one market compared to another? This valuable customer insight can be at your fingertips - for free.
Be social and encourage reviews
Expand your digital visibility by being active on social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. These allow you to interact directly with your target audience and help to strengthen your ties with your brand advocates. Linking your social media profiles to your website and vice versa will enable sharing, which further increases your digital visibility.
This is important as SMEs are typically less well known to the broader public. For this reason a high percentage of SME customers will turn to review sites to obtain reassurance on their services and products. SMEs should encourage and embrace reviews and not shy away from them even if some are unfavourable. It is important to celebrate the positive and address the negative in equal measure.
Five ways to make them stay
The better an SME site is tailored to its target audience, the lower the drop-off once they reach your website. Getting visitors to your site is a difficult task, so it's important that once they get there they find what they are looking for and are able to engage with your content and brand.
Provide deeper, more detailed content
Too many SME websites are still one-dimensional online namecards. One of the factors influencing the ranking of a website in the search results is content depth. A good website should include detailed descriptions of the services and products you offer and explain them in the same way that you would if a customer was sitting in front of you. The content should answer why this product or service is valuable, why visitors should buy it and what sets your offering apart from the competition.
Keep it fresh
Visitors prefer fresh content and are more likely to return later if they know that your site is updated regularly. "Content freshness", as it is sometimes referred to, can be achieved by adding new content on completed projects, new staff, updates to products or services, or frequently asked questions. Ideally, you should update your site at least once every month or two.
An additional advantage of refreshing website content is that search engines value this as well and are more likely to rank your website higher in the search results. It signals to them that the website is being maintained and offers updates to repeat searchers. This in turn means more visibility, more traffic and more business for you.
Make your site interactive
Where possible, your website should include interactive elements to engage with the audience. Whether it is a product gallery, a product configurator, cost calculators, or simply contact/registration forms. Adding useful tools like these help to increase "stickiness" and entice visitors to come back later. It also provides more information about your product or service, which increases the likelihood of converting visitors to customers.
Provide clear website navigation and keep it simple
Complex navigation around a website is a nuisance for visitors. You should make it as easy as possible for them to find the content they need. The website navigation, mostly found at the top or the left side of the site, should serve as easily understandable signposts to what they will see on the next page. The navigation should be grouped by product or service categories and kept in the language of the audience. This is again where the input of your front-line sales force helps to inform which words are most commonly used by your customers. Try to keep the number of navigation points low as they may appear small on mobile devices and not be "thumb-friendly".
Encourage newsletter sign-ups
SMEs should aim to share updates regarding fresh website content, the company, projects, services, products or the team via a regular newsletter. Free or low-cost newsletter solutions are widely available online and can be used to continue the interaction with your customers or prospects.
Keep in mind that there needs to be a clear benefit to the customer for signing up for your newsletter so do make it clear what they will receive and what the value is. Newsletters can summarise content updates and entice subscribers to visit the site to read the full update and engage with the fresh content.
The writer is performance director, Ogilvy & Mather Singapore.