For many small businesses, a website is the first impression that you make on a potential client, so it's important to make a good one. One commonly held misconception is that the most effective website has to be the most expensive one. While pricier websites can come with slick features and beautiful designs, more affordable options can be just as effective in reaching and engaging a small business’s prospective customers. It’s important to remember that while design is the most obvious part of a website, both the content of the site and the marketing strategy behind promoting it are just as important. There are several cheap or even free ways to get more out of your current website in terms of design, content, and web traffic. We hope these three small-budget web hacks will make your website a powerful marketing tool.
1. Mobile-Friendly Design
Web developer CommonPlaces reported in 2016 that mobile compatibility is now one of a website’s most important functions.1
Somewhere around 9 billion “things” are connected to the Internet today,2 and with 6.8 billion cell phones,3 you can bet a good number are smartphones.
Your website needs to be responsive and easy to use in a mobile browser, whether that be a phone or a tablet. Luckily, many free or affordable website services like WordPress, Wix, and Squarespace provide web templates created with this need in mind.
CommonPlaces has noticed that recent web design trends toward what is sometimes called “flat design,” which is minimal, uses bright colors, simple typography, and transparent fields and buttons to provide a sense of openness and ease of use to those using smaller screens. That doesn’t mean your business needs to follow all those trends, but a sleek website that reads clearly on a small screen is still a must.
2. Optimize Content and Page Titles
Changing up the language on your website is one of the cheapest, easiest, and most effective ways to improve its performance, especially when it comes to search engine ranking. Search engines like Google work by looking for keywords in the website’s written content as users enter search queries. In the early days of the Internet, that meant whoever could write certain keywords the most times on their website won the top search ranking for the most frequently searched terms. Today, winning the top search rankings is as much about writing content that audiences want to read as it is about using the right keyword, but keywords still represent an important part of how your website can be found by searchers online. At a basic level, make sure you use the most appropriate keywords in your website copy to connect with your target audience; including your business address in the footer of each page can help you reach local audiences, for example.
If you aren’t sure what terms your customers might be using to find your business, you can use free tools like SEMrush to look up the keywords most associated with your business or industry, or even scan your own website to see what keywords are already working for you. If you can use those keywords in a natural way on your site, your search ranking may improve over time, especially in your local market. Page titles or blog post tiles are some of the best places to try to work in keywords. Don’t overdo it; today’s web users usually see a red flag when someone’s site is clearly repeating keywords or seems too forced. The same applies to bad grammar or misspellings. It might be worth the small cost to hire a freelance writer or editor to spend an hour reviewing your web copy for accuracy and flow before it’s added to the site.
3. Social Media Integration
Social media offers small business owners the unique opportunity to target their audiences directly, but also with subtlety. Traditional forms of marketing are usually a hard sell through a print mailer, commercial, or print ad. Social media promotion is all about building the personality and following of your brand in a genuine, organic way. By sharing news, opinion articles, and original blog posts on topics relevant to target clients, you can make your small business a resource and stay front-of-mind with customers. When it comes to sharing content, the importance of your own blog cannot be overemphasized. Even if all you do in the blog is summarize news, you want the people clicking your social media links to come to your website, not another company’s site.
But getting the readers to your online store, contact form, or blog is just the first step. Since you're engaging your customers with great social media content, allow them to advocate on behalf of your brand. Make sure you have share buttons on your website so that people who come there can in turn share your content. These share buttons can be installed using a wide selection of free web applications (a.k.a. widgets). This makes it as easy as one click for your site’s visitors to share it with their followers and friends. That’s not only great word-of-mouth advertising, the increased traffic to your website improves its overall search ranking on Google.
However, blasting out the same piece of content across every social platform might not yield the best results. First, determine which channels make the most sense for your business—maybe Instagram if you have lots of visual products, Twitter if you want to connect one-on-one with your audience, or LinkedIn for those looking to become thought leaders in their industry. No matter what channels you use most or why you choose to use them, make sure you’re taking the time to develop a unique voice on each one. You can share the same blog post on all of them, but consider the way it’s presented.
The end goal is to get more traffic to your site, so whatever you say needs to inspire the user to click your link and follow along—and that inspiration looks different from one social media network to another.
To make social media integration easier and more transparent, try a subscription service like Hootsuite, where you can manage all your social profiles from one dashboard, spot real-time trends in which of your posts are performing best, and gauge which social media channels are providing the best return on both your time and any financial investment.
These three strategies to improve a website can be applied by any small business with any budget. While it might mean the investment of some time, the payoff will be a more legitimate web presence and a greater appeal to any customers searching you out online.