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Connect with Consumers and Create More Conversions (Part One)

I got a chance to sit down with LSA’s Greg Sterling to chat about tips and tactics for taking an integrated approach to mobile, websites, business profiles, local search, and print marketing. Here’s the first part of our conversation. Be on the lookout for part two, coming soon.

JN: Let’s talk websites. It was recently reported that nearly half of all small businesses in the U.S. did not have a website. As someone who speaks with a lot of small business owners, what is your take on their reasons why?

GS: Despite the fact that websites have been around for awhile, it’s still very complicated to get a new site up and running. That’s an obstacle for business owners. It’s not that there aren’t solutions out there to help them build a website. There most certainly are. The problem, though, is that there are so many choices that it becomes a paradox of sorts: too many options creates paralysis, and business owners find themselves unable to make a decision.

On the other hand, many business owners have the misconception that “ready-made” platforms, like social media and online directories, can replace the need for a website altogether. Those platforms do the heavy lifting to help business owners create an online presence that’s essentially plug-and-play. And once they feel like their information is available across the web through those sites, a website, in their minds, becomes unnecessary. After all, these platforms tend to be where consumers go first to search for local businesses. But herein lies yet another paradox: just because a business website may not be the first stop in a local consumer’s journey, it’s typically next stop after they’ve found your business via social media or other online directories. And the information you provide on your website is what helps consumers eventually make a purchase decision.

Not to mention, a website is the only part of a business’s online presence that they can truly own and control. You don’t own your social media page. You “rent” that space. At any moment, the service provider (or publisher) can change how you interact with customers, limit your reach, or simply dictate what you can and can’t do. Your website is something you own; you can do pretty much whatever you want with it to reach and engage your target consumers.

JN: We learned through “The Why Before the Buy” research study that 30 percent of consumers won’t consider a business without a website. For those businesses that do have websites, how do consumers find them and what information are they looking for when they get there?

GS: People use websites to find in-depth information on whatever it is they’re searching. They turn to a business’s website to get answers. It’s also a good way to better evaluate the credibility or quality of a business’s products or services. Other sources, like review sites, for example, only provide a partial picture because much of the content on those sites tends to be user-generated (especially pictures). And you can’t expect consumers to capture the “ambiance” or image you would ordinarily want to convey via a snapshot from their smartphones. That’s why they rely on your website; it paints a more complete picture of what your business is all about. Let’s take a landscaper as another example. While reviews, pricing information, and other high-level details will always be the first things a consumer searches for, they’ll likely want to take the next step and check out a portfolio that showcases incredible “before and after” garden makeovers. A review site can’t even begin to provide that can of detail.

JN: Websites are a necessary part of a business’s overall online presence, but they are not enough just on their own. Business profiles are another important way consumers discover local businesses. What can business owners do to enhance their business profiles?

GS: At a minimum, you need high-quality photos of your storefront, your products, and/or services you offer (if those are photographable). Again, you need to paint the fullest picture possible to put your business in a consumer’s consideration set. That’s a surefire way to cut through all the online noise. Plus, photos can humanize your business in a meaningful way.

Let’s take this tale of two veterinary clinics: one has a lot of photos of happy pets on its business profile page; the other does not. Where do you think consumers will go? (If you guessed the clinic with photos, you’re right!) Photos give consumers a clear idea of what to expect and can go a long way to instill a certain level of confidence. Profiles without photos simply leave consumers wanting (and needing) more. More information is generally better; that’s where the human connection emerges, shifting from the digital world into the real world.

Let’s underscore that point about confidence. Consumers want to feel confident in the purchase decisions they make. They want to know your business is competent and trustworthy. Adding more of a human element to your profiles plays into the more emotional or intuitive side of decision-making. And while accreditations and the like are important, they are merely rational indicators of a business’s qualifications. Ultimately, purchase decisions made in today’s digital-first culture oftentimes strike a balance between the rational and the emotional. It’s just human nature. As more people rely on digital sources for information, it’s up to business owners to make sure the information provided fulfills both sides of the coin.

JN: Even with all of the advances in technology and communication, are you saying that trust can’t be manufactured or bought? It still comes down to creating that human connection?

GS: Yes, absolutely. Everything comes down to building relationships. From a consumer’s perspective it goes something like this: “I have confidence in your business, and I trust you’ll do great work to meet my specific needs.” This is the very essence of that human connection we’ve been talking about. In spite of all the layers, channels, platforms, and digital tools that make connections immediate, they can also make those connections feel a lot less personal. Finding the sweet spot between “timely” and “personal” is a constant challenge for business owners.

And that concludes part one of my chat with Greg. Come back soon to see how the conversation takes shape in part two. In the meantime, if you’d like to learn more about how you can make your online even stronger, join our “What Makes A Great Website?” webinar on April 19 from 2-3pm ET,  hosted by LSA’s Greg Sterling and YP’s Erin Thompson. In this hour, you’ll learn everything from tips for creating a mobile-friendly website to advice on what kind of design elements really matter most to attract and engage consumers.

Save your spot and register for our webinar today!

Julie leads the content strategy and events for YP Marketing Solutions, directed at local businesses. She is also a published songwriter and avid runner who enjoys traveling and spending time with her family. You can connect with her on Twitter (@julieneumark) and on LinkedIn

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