Virtually every small business now has its own website offering products and services to potential clients. But could your site be working harder for you? Georgina Fuller looks at how to maximise online sales.
There was a time in the digital dark ages when businesses selling products on the internet were regarded with suspicion, and buying online was a relatively unknown and novel concept. These days, any business worth its salt has an online presence or a website. But how can small firms ensure they are using the internet as an effective sales tool, maximise their search engine optimisation and help drive traffic from the online behemoths and main social media sites? Here’s our top 10 guide on how to make the most of it.
What’s in a name? Quite a lot, according to Martin Cutbill, Head of Commercial Services at FSB. He says it’s worth opting for an unusual or quirky business name if you want your business to be remembered. “It may sound obvious, but if you have a generic name, it can be difficult for anyone to find you online,” he notes. “If you want to stand out, make sure people can find you easily by using a memorable or unique name.
I often look for cycling gear from a company called Wiggle, for example, and I always remember it because of the quirky name.”
It’s no good having a great product or website if people can’t find it. Paul Hunter, Marketing Manager at digital marketing firm Liberty Marketing, says it’s vital for small firms to optimise their local listings so that they can be found by local customers. “Local information is becoming increasingly prominent on search engine result pages (SERPs) and Google continues to ‘localise’ keywords and show mapped results wherever possible,” he explains.
So, what should you do? First off, you should claim and verify your Google My Business listing, ensuring you get your NAP (name, address and phone number) correct. “Then you’ll be able to enhance your listing with useful information, such as opening times or reviews,” says Mr Hunter. “You should then optimise your on-site copy for local terms and ensure your contact details across the web are consistent.”
Many company websites now have blogs, news and other content to help attract new users and online traffic. Creating and uploading regular content is a ‘must-do’, according to Mr Hunter. “In short, new content means there will be more pages on your site, which will increase the possibilities of appearing on SERPs and other search engines for your carefully chosen keywords,” he says.
“This can also help attract links from relevant web pages, which act as a virtual pat on the back, telling Google you’re an authority in your area.” It’s a numbers game: getting more people who are interested in what you do to visit your site is likely to lead to more sales, and if your product and customer service is good enough it also gives you the chance to turn them into repeat customers.
Social media platforms can also be a great way to push potential customers to find your site in the first place, and even as a means of driving sales by offering carefully targeted promotions. By the end of 2017, it is predicted there will be 35.7 million social media users in the UK. “That’s more than half the population, and with the average worldwide internet user spending 118 minutes per day on social media, this provides ample opportunities to get your business seen and heard,” says Mr Hunter.
As with your local listing, you should ensure you have a presence on the largest social media platforms –Facebook, Twitter and Instagram – and that your profiles are up-to-date with your latest contact information, business offerings and opening times. “Once this is done, don’t forget about these accounts,” warns Mr Hunter. “Millennials are more likely to message a company than ring them, so it’s essential that you monitor your notifications.”
FSB offers a free online business profiling service which checks your digital presence and assesses how prominent your business name is on search engines to ensure you can optimise your website and get the best ranking. “It’s a bit like a health check rating but it’s online and delivers a diagnostic report,” Mr Cutbill explains.
The tool uses an online dashboard to assess your business website, social media, feedback, credit and finance. This should hopefully help you understand your digital presence, see how you compare with other businesses and flag up any areas that may need working on. The tool also shows if there has been any drop-off or changes in recent months. The first two reports are free to FSB members. For more information visit fsb.co.uk/benefits
Hands up if you’ve ever bought a product only to find it’s not quite what you expected? If you are selling a specific product, you need to be crystal clear about what your customer should expect, as any confusion could lead to them looking elsewhere.
“Sometimes it’s not obvious what people are actually selling so you need to be really concise about the details,” says Mr Cutbill. “If, for example, you’re buying some bread and it says it comes in 400g, you would want to know if that’s the equivalent of an average size loaf or what to expect in relative terms.” Failing to be clear about what products actually entail is a major cause of lost sales, so it’s worth getting someone outside the business to sense-check your site.
Offering a discount is a good way of turning potential customers into actual ones. But make sure you state when the discount will be applied and at what stage of the sale process. “Sometimes online retailers don’t offer a discount until after you’ve made the purchase, which should be made clear so the customer doesn’t think they are being duped,” Mr Cutbill explains. Many don’t apply the discount until right at the end of the online sale process, he adds, which has the potential for customers to give up before completing the transaction. You could also offer special discounts for regular customers, or reduced rates on multiple purchases.
In the digital age, it’s vital to ensure you respond promptly and politely to queries if you are to convert web visitors into sales and prevent them from heading off to competitors. With many conversations taking place on public sites such as Facebook or Twitter, failing to do this could negatively affect your brand, losing far more business than just that lost from the initial customer. If nothing else, it’s worth setting up an automatic response to let people know when you will reply to them, but handling this well could even win you new customers who are impressed with your customer service.
Having a mentor who has established an online business or become an expert in growing sales online is invaluable, says Nasir Kothia, Managing Director of UK digital agency eBusiness. “Mentors can help connect you to the right people and should be able to help you accelerate your online growth,” he notes. “They should also have been through the pain points before, which will be invaluable experience to learn from.” They should also be able to bring a different, fresh perspective to your online business and help you bounce ideas around.
But how can you find a decent mentor who would be willing to take you on? Networking events, conferences and events should all indicate who the key players and operators are in your field. “Don’t be afraid to approach people and ask for help,” Mr Kothia advises.
Steve Barker used to be a high-street retailer in Manchester and moved his business online in 1999. Today, he sells a range of goods from art to musical instruments on eBay. Mr Barker says moving his business online has made him huge savings on overheads such as rent and business rates, but warns that the online market is much tougher for small firms now. “eBay used to be much more about individuals selling unusual stuff but it’s now starting to be dominated by big names,” he notes.
eBay has also recently put its prices for e-business ‘shops’ up by 44 per cent, and the commission for items sold has risen from around 3 per cent to between 8 and 13 per cent. “Being an e-trader isn’t as easy or as profitable as it once was,” says Mr Barker. He still sells the majority of his products through eBay, however, and loves the 24/7 accessibility of it.