5 Key Tips for Surviving Online as a Small Business

For the better part of two decades since e-commerce became a major economic force, small businesses have shifted focus and padded their bottom lines through a visible web presence. Even if your business is a local operation that doesn’t conduct online sales, potential customers still expect you to readily appear in web searches, and most consumers discover companies online regardless.

Having a website that demonstrates a deep understanding of your company’s customer base and how they make purchasing decisions is indispensable. Creating a website is only the first step – ensuring it demonstrates your value and draws your customers in is something else altogether. Here are some key tips for small businesses making the leap to online.

Create meaningful connections

Most small businesses have a firm idea of their brand identity, but appropriately translating this brand identity online can be challenging. Customers have multiple options at their fingertips online, so it is crucial to forge meaningful connections with your potential customers.

It’s a good idea to present a familiar face, whether it be an owner or company mascot, so local customers immediately recognize your business even while online. Using friendly language and showing your appreciation for homegrown support are further strategies to enhance a sense of communal connection. This connection can also be fostered through online loyalty programs and coupons, which are added to a website using WordPress plugins. These features reward repeat customers in your community and keep them coming back. Customers love efficient service, but friendliness makes them loyal for life.

That personality should start with a unique aesthetic for your webpage. Far too many businesses use the same generic templates for their site design. Your audience will recognize if you have used the same exact layout as other sites in your market, and it reads as low-effort. Work with a web designer to stand out from the crowd with a website that is uniquely yours and instantly recognizable to customers.

Keep your content clean and concise

Simplicity reigns supreme when it comes to the presentation of your website. Customers are easily overwhelmed by pages cluttered with too much text, and they’ll click away to avoid dealing with it – the opposite of what you want. Small businesses may want to showcase absolutely everything they’ve got through their website, but they should resist this temptation to do it all at once on the same page. Overusing images and graphics result in an amateurish look and longer loading times. It will pay dividends to carefully craft a neat aesthetic that doesn’t leave your customers struggling with information overload.

Customers are turned off by large blocks of text, so make sure that any information on your webpage is both concise and direct, trimming out all unnecessary content so the reader is left with just the essential information. Distilling your website copy down to essential information aligns with current models of buyer decision making. More content is not necessarily better, and in many cases, can actually negatively impact your customers’ feeling about your product or service. 

The content you choose to display and in what order you choose to display it is also of vital importance. Avoid dry material, such as lists of facts about your business, as this content will fail to engage and sustain the attention of your audience. You can have a list of statistics or FAQs, but keep it off the homepage. While many small businesses talk about what they do, it’s crucial to describe what problem you are solving for your customers and why you are the expert on the topic.

Prioritize website performance and relevance

There’s nothing more frustrating for an online customer than a website that fails to load. Even customers intent on purchasing your product will quickly change their minds when faced with slow or broken websites. A recent study by Portent found that a site that loads in one second has an e-commerce conversion rate 2.5 times higher than a site that loads in five seconds. These studies continually reveal that both the loading speeds and functionality of web pages can make or break a business online.

Additionally, make sure your website is consistently up-to-date, as customers are liable to assume your business no longer exists or doubt your credibility if the website is obviously out of date. Pay attention to digital marketing trends and SEO tactics to achieve the best visibility online. It doesn’t matter how terrific your website is if no one can find it.

Make your website work for everyone

Your website needs to be accessible for a variety of customers. Improve readability by using colors and textures to provide a sufficient amount of contrast for your audience. Enable dark mode and create alt text for photos. It is also worthwhile to implement helpful features like manual font size adjustment for the visually impaired and keyboard commands for those with motor impairments. Certain regions enforce both accessibility and data privacy, so be sure that your website strives for both the highest standard of usability and adheres to the strictest data protection regulations that may exist in order to be truly global.

When shopping online, customers are increasingly using their mobile devices rather than computers. Consequently, having a mobile-accessible website is a must for your small business. Think about the display of your website and how easily it translates to a phone screen. Your “call to action” – a punchy prompt that encourages customers to take some kind of action, such as “Shop the sale” – should be plainly visible on a mobile device. The home page is the best area for the call to action. The less clicks a visitor has to make, the better.

Manage your online reputation

Small businesses need to be especially diligent in managing their online reputation. It is valuable and vital to engage with and respond to reviews from a variety of websites, like Tripadvisor, Google reviews, and Yelp. Follow up with reviewers, whether it is to provide context for an unhappy customer and let them know steps you are taking to improve the customer experience, or simply to thank a satisfied customer for their business.

Make sure that visitors on your website have an easy way to contact your business and provide feedback. Information like shipment tracking and return policies should not be a chore for your customer to find. Readily displaying those customer-focused features demonstrates a commitment to user experience that will establish and solidify a positive online reputation.

Your small business can succeed online

It’s no secret that the online environment presents unique challenges for small and local-oriented businesses. Keeping these tips in mind will result in a website that not only serves your customers’ needs, but also highlights and strengthens your brand identity. An effective website directly supports customer retention, because when customers feel enthusiastic about their interactions with a business – even from behind a screen – it generates a sense of loyalty that translates to long-term sustainability for a company.

Guest Author: Robert Jacobi

Robert Jacobi is the Director of WordPress at Cloudways, a multi-cloud managed application as a service platform that lets users choose where they want their website to be hosted from a variety of options, including Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud, DigitalOcean, Vultr, and Linode. Robert leads the WordPress business unit at Cloudways in community engagement, strategic partnerships, and product. Prior to joining Cloudways, Robert served as President of the open-source project Joomla and Executive Vice President for Perfect Dashboard, where he partnered with major web hosting providers to offer websites automated security and performance updates. In 2000, Robert also founded Arc Technology Group, the lead Joomla consultancy in North America, whose clients include Fortune 500 firms Microsoft, Abbott Laboratories, and Eli Lilly. He is a frequent speaker at WordPress and open-source conferences and resides in Chicago, Illinois.