A UK study found that 34% of British small business owners apparently suffer stress over online visibility. Mostly, they think that they’re not investing enough in the effort, and they’re probably right, since 41% have never made any efforts to optimize their websites or to improve their online presence at all.
However, 35% of the respondents had tried to work on their website’s rankings or visibility, and most of them didn’t have any idea whether it had been worth it or not. In fact, only 28% of the business owners were certain that they knew the number of visitors to their websites.
We did a survey of small businesses in our area a couple of years ago, and found a similar level of cluelessness among small business owners (they didn’t seem stressed, but we didn’t actually ask them that). In general, people weren’t happy with their website’s performance, but they also didn’t know how the sites were performing, hadn’t made any efforts to improve performance, and didn’t have any particular plans to do anything, beyond a vague feeling that something ought to be done.
This is not exactly a powerful position to work from.
Start with a few basics:
- Online marketing is not optional. While nearly half of U.S. small businesses don’t yet have websites, it’s the less successful half. If you’re in business, you must have business cards, a bank account, and a website. Most of your customers will visit your website before they visit your shop. The impression your website gives of your business is the impression the community has of your business. At this point, you have to have an online presence, so you might as well make enough of an effort with it to get a good return on your investment.
- Measuring your website’s performance is not difficult. There are uncertainties, it’s true. If, for example, your largest source of search traffic is searching for your company name, you can’t tell what made them think of looking for you. You can, however, very easily tell how many people visit your website, how they get there, and what they do once they arrive. Have your webmaster install an analytics program at your website today, if you don’t already have one. Get reports. If you can’t understand them or you want to be able to get more from them, get some training or hire someone to interpret them for you.
- Improving your online visibility is not difficult. That’s not to say that it doesn’t take work, time, and perhaps a financial investment. But it’s not a mysterious process over which you have no control. Just as you have quite a bit of control over your own health, assuming that you’re willing to make some efforts at healthy living, you also have quite a bit of control over the health of your online marketing, assuming you’re willing to make some effort.
Now, you can’t actually tell what’s going on in your customers’ minds. Conventional wisdom in marketing tells us that it takes somewhere in the neighborhood of 7 to 12 contacts with your brand before a typical customer takes action. That can mean that they’ll buy something on the twelfth visit to your store. But it can also mean that they’ll see you a couple of times on Twitter, notice a friend mentioning you at Facebook, visit your website, see your site again on the SERPs for a few queries but not click through, visit your site again, see a friend check in at your office on Foursquare, hear someone mention you in a meeting, and then call your practice. You can only measure the two visits to your website and the call.
This is real life. It’s slightly more measurable than this sort of thing was before the internet (after all, you can see visits to your office or impressions of your online ad, whereas you can’t tell how many people actually read your direct mail piece), but you don’t have access to the thoughts of your customers.
Then how can you tell what’s working for you and what isn’t? And what should you do with that information once you have it?
- Capture the data. Some people don’t feel that it’s worth keeping track at the beginning. If you have 3 visits a day and you bring the number up to 5 visits on a couple of days, you still don’t have enough information to work with to be able to tell what made the difference. Small variations in small numbers will usually look pretty random. However, if you don’t start collecting the data until you can already see the pattern, you will miss information that could help you make better decisions earlier on.
- Watch for patterns. If you see a rise in traffic and conversions after every newsletter you send out, then your newsletters are doing a good job and you should keep them up. If you see increased direct traffic when you advertise in the newspaper, but not when you advertise on radio, then you may not want to continue with radio. If you notice that you have more conversions from social media referrals than from search traffic, you can put more effort into social media. Notice that you can’t see patterns if you don’t capture the data first.
- Watch for surprises. If you see no response to your newsletters, then you’re doing something wrong. If you have a sudden influx of visitors from Louisiana, you should figure out what you did in Louisiana. We believe that it’s worth checking whenever you see a surprise in your website’s analytics, whether that surprise is more traffic than you would have expected or less. You may not catch all the surprises, because you might not have enough data to be able to notice when something is surprising. That’s another reason that it might be worth hiring someone with extensive SEO experience to have a look at your analytics from time to time.
Online marketing done right provides a higher ROI than other forms of marketing. Doing it right involves tracking the performance of your website and using that data to make decisions. I’m pretty sure that doing so will reduce stress.