If your business does not have a website, you are invisible to a large portion of the marketplace. Not that you are alone in this in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Out of 2.2 million small businesses in Canada, more than one million do not have a website. The statistics are only marginally better in the United States.
Still, over half of small businesses do have some online visibility. There must be something to it.
Without an online presence, tourists, business travellers and even locals seeking a product or service may pass you by. Just try this simple test: load up your favourite search engine. My preference as a frequent business traveller is Google Maps. Searching here allows me to find the object of my search in relationship to where I am. It’s handy to map out my route to and from work in a strange city. I can find a coffee shop along the way, a few options for lunch and some choices for free Internet so I’m not stuck working from the hotel all evening.
Now, think of a word or phrase that describes your product or service. Enter that and your location and click search. Do not use the name of your business. If the searcher already knows the name of your business then it is not a blind test. They simply want directions or a contact number. Instead, use a word or phrase that relates to your product or service and the general location. For example, coffee Corner Brook.
Do you see your business in the list? If the answer is yes, congratulations, great start. It’s not? Why not? Are you too busy? Are you concerned it will be expensive? Perhaps you think you’ve done well enough without a site for the last X number of years. You may even think your customers are not online.
I wouldn’t presume to know your customer base better than you. However, I do know the Internet. I know that the demographics for those who use the Internet are widening every day. Even if your potential customers aren’t online now, they will be soon. Disregarding your present customer base, what about the next generation of consumers?
I did a small survey using people in my age group and younger. Seventy-five per cent of respondents said they look online first when looking to make a purchase.
The consistent rise of Internet usage on mobile phones also means consumers are searching the web while shopping. Your storefront and Yellow Pages aren’t going to help if your target customers are staring at their phones as they walk down the street past you to a competitor that is online.
It does not take a lot of effort or money to establish an online presence. In future articles I will show you how to get your business online for as little as $70 a year and even explore some free options.
Of course, getting a simple website online is only the beginning of establishing your online visibility. There are a great many additions you can undertake to increase the effectiveness.Then we will move on to registering your business with search providers, how to get near or on the first page of results and more.
At the very least make sure your business has a web presence. Be certain that if I want to call you, I don’t have to find my Yellow Pages.
I promise you, I don’t carry them with me.
Jon Reid is an IT professional working in Corner Brook. His column appears every other Tuesday in The Western Star.