If you are one of the 60% of small businesses yet to launch a website, you may be missing out.
Only 40% of small businesses have their own website, according to figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), in contrast to 94% of large businesses.
Ken Phillips, chairman of the Council of Small Businesses, said: "In this day and age, a website of some sort is essential for most small businesses.
"I come from a retail background and I consider a website, even a basic one, like a retail shop window. Just getting that basic site up is going to be important.
"You have to remember not to get obsessed by it," Mr Phillips adds.
"The business you are in will determine how much you use the internet. But having a shop window makes huge common sense.
"It's almost like asking yourself, do I have a phone or don't I have a phone, when the answer is of course I need a phone! The internet almost falls into that category."
Research from MYOB has found small businesses with an online presence attract more sales and had higher expectations of success when compared to SMEs without. The MYOB survey found 46% of online SMEs reported their website had increased customer leads and 37% said it enabled them to compete more effectively.
Creating and maintaining a web presence does not have to be expensive or time consuming, although it will involve some investment at the start.
Of course, you will need a reliable internet connection before you build a website, and that is something Compare Broadband can help you with. Call us on 1300 106 571 to speak with an advisor, or check out our best broadband and phone plans here.
Here are five easy ways any small business can start using the internet to communicate with current customers and bring in new ones.
1. Decide what type of web presence your business requires
Do you need a website or will a blog or Facebook page work just as well? A web presence does not necessarily mean require a professionally designed website. Simply set up a Facebook page and share all your news, special offers, photos and videos from here. Facebook works well for retailers, who can use social media to generate buzz about a new product, reward loyal customers with special offers and find new ones by spreading the word.
2. Setting up a website
If you believe your business requires more of a presence than Facebook alone, you will need a website. First of all, you will need a domain name and a host for your site.
There are many companies offering web hosting services, including Internet Service Providers (ISPs). Internode, for example, offers several hosting plans suitable for a range of websites, from the basic to the complex.
3. Hiring a designer
It's important to get the design of your website right from the start. Businesses on the web compete on a global stage and if your website is not engaging, trustworthy and easy to navigate, your customer will find a rival site delivering a better experience. Take a closer look at websites you like, as the name of the designer and a link to their website is often in the footer. When working with the designer, make sure the website strongly conveys your brand and your values, and there is a clear call to action for your customer, whether that is a contact form, a sale, or an address to visit.
4. Getting customers to your website
Once you have your website, you need to do some work to help customers find you easily. If your website has been designed to convert visitors to sales, putting some work in to attract more visitors will be worthwhile. Many businesses hire SEO (search engine optimisation) professionals to help drive potential customers to your site but it's also worth learning about what works and what doesn't yourself.
Essentially, most visitors will find your site through Google or through social media, so you need to make sure your site is optimised to meet Google's guidelines. You can read the entire document here but in summary, you need to:
• Ensure every page has an accurate, descriptive page title and metadescription
• Make your site easy to navigate, every page should have an easy root back to the homepage
• Create useful, interesting content for your website that users will want to read
• Think about the keywords customers might use when searching for a site like yours and use these phrases within your articles
• Regularly update your site with interesting content that people will want to link to and share
• Promote your website within your own network: ask other websites similar to your own for a link to your website, tell your customers about your new website, and include a link in any press releases you create
Google also has a list of behaviours it wants to discourage, which relate to website owners who attempt to 'cheat' the system. Websites that duplicate content (ie, steal) from other websites in attempt to lure visitors, or post useless and irrelevant articles with the occasional relevant keyword in a bid to trick Google into believing the website is authentic, will be penalised. If you aim to create a unique website with content geared at providing useful information for your customers, not for search engines, you should stay on the right side of Google.
5. Measure your success
It's a business website, so once you start getting visitors you will want to know what they are doing. Are they finding the information about your business interesting and is this interest converting to sales? The best way to answer this question is to sign up for Google Analytics, Google's measurement tool for website owners. Within Google Analytics, you can find out which pages are attracting visitors, where the visitors go after finding your site, what they do while they are there and how long they are staying. This information will help you make the adjustments to your website required to convert visitors into customers.