Since COVID-19 was officially declared a pandemic in March 2020, the number of new websites being created has reached new heights. That makes obvious sense. Physical stores were impeded by lockdowns and businesses had to turn to the digital world to sell their products and services. So, now must be the right time to kick your digital presence into high gear, right?
True, but let’s leave all of that aside for the moment. I think there are more fundamental reasons to seriously consider focusing on your online presence.
Why? Because having a strong online presence is more accessible than ever.
The Challenges Facing a Small Business Looking to Find Their Place on the Web
“It’s too complicated!”
I imagine that the notion of growing your web presence on your own would elicit such a response from many local business owners.
I get it.
Creating a website is no small matter. There’s design and development and SEO and content creation (and beyond) to consider. And even if you get the site up and running, Google’s algorithm is ever-changing and increasingly complex. Heck, most SEOs are lost with the algorithm—how am I, the local business owner, going to have a chance in hell of competing?
Those are all legitimate concerns.
However, I am here to tell you that the cards are stacked in your favor. Now, more than ever, is the perfect time to start thinking about growing your online presence. From start to finish, everything you need to succeed online is more accessible than it ever has been.
The Value a Website Can Bring to Your Business
Your online presence begins with your website. There are two main reasons why you should absolutely invest in a website. A website brings both:
2. Added value to your customers
Discoverability is pretty straightforward. By having a website with content that is relevant to your audience, search engines will show your URLs among their search results. Of course, the process of making that happen has its challenges (I’ll touch on this in a bit). However, a website that’s discoverable on search engines is a powerful way to bring in new customers.
Beyond being “findable”, having a website is a powerful ally in serving the needs of customers–whether they currently visit your brick-and-mortar location or have found your site on social media, Google, etc.
Fundamentally, a website enables you to communicate with your customers and offer them relevant information that supports their purchase.
This can be information around:
- Buying tips and product/service education
- How to schedule appointments
- Company updates & changes
- Product or service updates
- Temporary interruptions in service
- Buying options
- Shipping and pickup
- Returns and exchanges
The list could really go on as it all depends on your circumstances. The point is, having a website gives you the power to support & encourage sales with relevant and timely information.
At no time was having timely information up on your site more relevant than during COVID-19, which makes it a perfect example. The pandemic forces business to make quick and ever-changing adjustments. Having a website where you could present the customer with highly relevant information is a powerful ally in such a scenario.
By having a site during the pandemic a business could:
- Quickly update their hours when lockdowns went into effect
- Inform consumers of changes in shipping options
- Let consumers know curbside pickup is available
- Present information around mask policies and the like
Today’s site builders help you to align your site to current user needs. In the above image, the Wix dashboard gives you the option to present curbside pickup to users and then inform them when their order is ready.
The truth is, there is so much information that someone who is familiar with their own business might take for granted.
Including even the simplest information on your site could pay huge dividends. Think about someone who comes to your site, sees the products you offer, but wants to come to one of your stores to check it out in person.
You want to help them find your locations as quickly as possible. Including a Google Map on the page would help drive that sale.
Adding what might seem to be “simple” information to your site can impact your bottom line. Here, the Wix Editor helps site visitors find your location(s) via a Google Maps integration.
Think of your site as a device customers can use to find you. Use your website as a gateway that enables users to interact with you by having a site that includes (when applicable):
- Maps with your location(s)
- Chat boxes
- Links to social media
- Sign-ups to newsletters
Offering avenues of connection makes your business feel more accessible and removes some of the apprehension that comes with making a purchase. After all, if your business is not accessible, how comfortable and likely would a customer be to open their wallets and buy something from you?
The Value of Google My Business
Since we’re on the topic of driving consumer confidence by using your website to provide information we have to talk about Google My Business (GMB).
Having a Google My Business profile is a great way to control your own narrative on the SERP (Search Engine Results Page). Even if you have a great website, people will often search for your business by name on Google instead of heading directly to your site. When this happens, having a GMB profile is essential for presenting the user with relevant information about your business.
Unlike other “Google properties” your GMB profile can put calls in your log and feet in your store—which is all money in your pocket.
Your GMB listing can help potential customers quickly discover your:
- Hours of operation
- Contact information
- Product inventory and/or menu
- Business description
- Store attributes such as curbside delivery, take-out dining, etc.
It’s even possible to set up reservation making and booking directly from your GMB profile as well as showcasing your business with posts and pictures.
To make a long story short, your GMB profile is essentially your online business card on Google and is a vital way to get information about your business to consumers.
Creating Your Online Presence Is Becoming Increasingly Accessible
The value proposition of having your own website and GMB listing is one thing, being able to actualize it is another. Feeling like creating an online presence for your business is out of reach is entirely understandable. There are so many aspects that go into it. From designing it to creating the content to getting to rank to promoting the site—it can all feel like a lot. Throw in creating a GMB listing and it can all feel daunting.
But it’s not.
Google My Business Is More Accessible Than Ever
Setting up a Google My Business listing can feel a bit overwhelming. There’s the verification process, programs like Reserve with Google, creating Google Posts, and a host of other options to consider.
The good news is, Google gets it. While in the past Google My Business was a place to “list” your business on the Google SERP, it’s a lot more than that now. Google has transitioned GMB from being a “listing” to being a place where a business can showcase itself.
That’s a very significant shift.
It’s a shift away from GMB being about the local SEO to GMB being about the local business. This isn’t just a change in outlook—there are real implications and they all make it easier for you to create and manage your GMB listing.
As a result, Google understood that it has to make creating and managing a listing more equitable.
It did so in two ways:
1. By making it possible to make comprehensive edits to your listing from the search results
2. By centralizing the creation and management of a listing through partnerships with website builders
Editing Your GMB Listing from the Google Search Results
In 2020, Google made it possible to do things like creating Google Posts and replying to reviews from the search results themselves (assuming you’re logged into your Google account). Then, just recently, Google expanded these abilities to include updating your business hours, location, etc. via an editor accessed from the search results.
In fact, Google called this a “really useful simplification for the small business owner and/or non-expert GMB user.”
It’s kind of the whole point. Google is purposefully trying to simplify the process for you.
In specific, on-the-SERP editing of your GMB listing includes:
- Updating your hour and location
- Adding photos
- Creating Google Posts
- Reply to reviews
In other words, you don’t need to feel like you have to be extensively familiar with the Google My Business platform in order to manage your listing.
Google My Business within Your CMS
As I mentioned, Google understands that it has to make GMB accessible to the average business owner and has made itself available to website builders as a result. This can range from platforms such as Squarespace integrating GMB via an API to official partnerships with GMB such as the one that exists with Wix.
The idea of Google creating an official partnership with a CMS like Wix is to eliminate the need to manage multiple platforms. So, while editing your listing from the SERP is great, it doesn’t remove the need for a business owner to extensively know the GMB platform as you still need to be able to create your listing.
However, when using Wix you can:
- Create a new listing
- Import current listings
- Set the listing location and business type
- Select the business category
- Add business attributes
- Determine the hours of operation
- Reply to reviews
- Add pictures
- View GMB analytics
Meaning, you don’t need to leave the CMS in order to create as well as to manage your GMB listing(s). That, of course, means you only need to familiarize yourself with one platform, the CMS itself. It’s far less overwhelming.
By partnering with site-building platforms, Google makes it easier on businesses by giving them the ability to manage their GMB listing and their site in one central location
It’s the same reason why Google is working with us at Wix to create direct verification. The verification process can feel complicated and with a postcard that takes 20 days to arrive, it’s definitely not expedient. Google wants to simplify the process for you by partnering with providers to streamline and simplify the verification process.
The point is, Google has done a lot to make creating and managing your GMB listing feel less overwhelming. Making now the perfect time to take control of your branded SERP.
Getting Your Site Running and Running Well Is within Reach
The simplification of Google My Business is one thing, creating a website and growing your presence is something else entirely. If creating your GMB listing is overwhelming, then building a site and increasing your organic visibility is downright daunting.
Don’t let that feeling stop you.
Building a site is more accessible than ever in three fundamental ways:
3. Site Promotion
I will be 100% upfront with you, when it comes to site creation I am completely biased as I work for a CMS. Bias aside, it also means I also have a front-row seat to what considerations and technologies go into a website builder. I’m also an SEO, so I’m biased towards seeing a website from an SEO perspective. To that, I also have a front-row seat to the evolution of SEO for CMSes.
With that being said, I want to tell you that if you are a business owner looking to create a site that’s “SEO sound” it’s relatively easy to do so these days.
There is a lot that the CMSes do to make it possible for you to independently create a website that is ready to perform well among the search results. While I can’t speak for every CMS I have noticed there is a renewed focus among some of them to provide a strong SEO foundation. It’s certainly a major focus for me here at Wix.
While the SEO abilities of one CMS to the next vary, the good CMSes (and there are bad ones) fundamentally take care of the SEO side of things and do so rather well these days.
Again, this can mean a variety of different things depending on the CMS. For example, Wix creates a lot of structured data markup for you out-of-the-box. That means for pages like products, courses, etc. you don’t need to add markup code and if Google should change its requirements the CMS will take care of that for you.
The point is, there is a lot that a CMS can do for you out-of-the-box so as to take care of the SEO fundamentals. There are also tools the CMSes can often offer that make doing a bit of SEO on your site much easier than it might have been just a few years ago.
Some things to consider when looking at a CMS for SEO are:
- Does the CMS let you edit your meta-data (i.e., title tags, meta descriptions, etc.)
- Can you add schema markup and is it added for you in certain instances?
- Will the CMS protect you from making errors such as adding multiple canonical tags or implementing redirect loops?
It’s worth reiterating that various CMSes handle SEO differently and that doing a bit of research as to what works best for your needs is prudent.
Creating a professional looking website can be the difference between a consumer trusting you with their money or heading to a competitor.
However, designing a site and the elements that go on it can seem like a non-starter for many.
However, you don’t need to be Michaelangelo to paint something beautiful.
I’d like to think I have an eye for “good design”. Whether or not I am flattering myself is irrelevant since I am certainly not a web designer. But I don’t have to be one either.
I have a dinky little SEO podcast I run for kicks. Here’s how the top of my homepage looks:
Is it utterly magnificent? Nope. Is it pretty decent – I like to think so.
Did I pay a designer to create it? Nope.
I did it with a free account on Canva in about 20 minutes.
You could probably do way better than this in not much more time yourself.
Even designing a logo is very accessible these days. It’s not beyond you, even if you don’t want to spend a ton of money on a graphic designer. In fact, the CMS you already use probably has some sort of option to generate a logo and they’re not bad at all.
Here’s a logo I created inside of Wix in about 2 minutes:
By the way, you can add logos to your GMB profile as seen below:
There’s no reason you can’t take a logo you created inside of your CMS or by using Canva or any other similar tool and throw it into your GMB listing. None.
I’m not even going to go into the design of your site itself. There are so many really great themes and templates provided by the good CMSes that implementing a solid design for your site is really easy.
Some things worth creating design assets for include:
- Your homepage images
- Social media profiles (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc).
- Social media posts
- The Google My Business logo
In doing so you want to consider:
- The image file types on your site (PNGs and GIFs can slow a webpage down)
- Google can’t read the words you put inside an image
- Always add alt text to your images
3. Site Promotion
Whether it’s via Google My Business or through your own website, or better yet, both—having a web presence is great but it’s not enough. You really need to think about promoting it across multiple channels.
(Side note, here’s a great resource from Rand Fishkin on choosing the right marketing channels.)
It’s easy to feel that promoting your site and its assets in a visually striking and professional way is the job of an expert. While I’m not saying that expert marketing advice is a bad thing, the tools you need to get started and gain some nice traction are there for you.
If we’re talking about designing promotional assets, I already mentioned Canva but I will mention it again because it’s so valuable. There are so many things you can do with the tool and without spending a dime. With it, you can create banners, social media images, TikTok videos, YouTube ad videos, and a lot more. And, again, you don’t have to purchase a pro plan in order to take advantage of the tool.
Even if you want to create a specialty item, there are tools that are extremely accessible. Just by way of example, if you want to promote your podcast or blog site on social via an audiogram, Headliner gives you five free uses per month.
The truth is, you should explore the options that may already exist within your website builder. Depending on the CMS there may be all sorts of apps, plugins, or in-built tools that you can use to do anything from creating and scheduling social media posts to drafting newsletters to managing lists of email subscribers.
Dig into your CMS to see what promotion tools are available, such as the built-in email marketing tool seen above
The SERP Is Moving Towards Being More Accessible
Thus far, we’ve talked about what’s in your control, be it site-building or promotion. Now let’s talk about what’s not in your control—Google. While other channels are important to your site, there is no greater nor more intrinsic relationship than that which exists between Google and your domain.
The current environment on Google’s SERP is increasingly moving to be more equitable. Google, via the adoption of machine learning and natural language processing, can better understand the content found on a page. That’s really important for you because it means that Google is in a position to better match users with relevant content, the kind of content that you as a business owner are in a position to create.
Remember, when it comes to the topics your business deals with, no one is a bigger expert than you are. You have the power to create some amazing content that Google is better able to understand and reward.
I’ll give you a great example of this, it’s called Passage Ranking. Without getting into the complexities of Passage Ranking, it basically means that Google can better understand content despite it being less structured. Google can really drill down into the very “passages” of a page and construct an understanding of that page without over-relying on the page’s structure.
For you, that means, all things being equal, you don’t need to be an expert at optimizing your headings and overall page structure. You just need to write really good and relevant content. Note, I am not advocating for abandoning page structure. You should certainly do your best to set your page up for easy understanding by creating sound page structure (it’s good for search engines and more so for your own readers.).
The point is, Google is focusing more and more on the content and less on “peripheral” or “secondary” elements.
What to Focus on When Creating Content For Your Site:
- Find your space: what can you write about that offers unique value?
- Be substantial: offer the right amount of depth for your target audience
- Create something relevant: be empathetic, understand what your consumers need and create content that aligns with those needs.
If Not Now, Then When?
If you own a local business (or any other kind of business) and want to either create or grow your online presence but keep putting it off—don’t! I understand that it all feels daunting but the timing could not be better. The technology is there to support you and in many ways. Google and its ecosystem are there to support you in many ways.
I’ll put it this way. There has never been so much available to you that can help you create and then grow your online presence. As a result, leveraging what having an online presence means for your bottom line has never been as accessible as it is right now.