Before You Launch that Local Small Business Website

I was approached to do a speaking gig to a group of local small business owners who owned brick and mortar businesses and wanted to launch websites to use for local and online marketing purposes. I figured since I was writing a presentation up for that, I would condense it into a shorter version and throw it up here.

This post is not for experienced search marketers or professional webmasters. This is aimed at the small mom and pop that doesn’t make their living online, but rather would like to gain a few leads here and there from generally non-competitive geographical + keyword combo terms by putting up a website consisting of a handful of pages – in addition to providing useful information to all visitors to their sites – whether they come from search engines or local offline marketing efforts.

Believe it or not, not everyone who reads my blog is big into search engine optimization – I get a lot of emails from small business owners asking about what may seem like “remedial topics” to those of us who make our living in the industry. So, this post is for them. ;-)

Getting started:

1. Get your own domain name and register it for several years. With a successful business, spending 50 dollars to register your domain for the next five years is a no-brainer.

2. Get a decent host – for a local small business website that doesn’t envision mounds of traffic or a complicated website setup, you can find a ton of affordable and reliable hosting options for less than 10 dollars per month. Pay the 1-2 dollars extra per month for a unique IP address (your host will know what that means).

3. Set up an email address using your domain. Your hosting plan will come with a minimum of one free email address and your host should have instructions on how to setup and configure your mail client to check that email. me@mybusiness.com looks much more professional than me432@yourisp.net.

4. If you don’t know how to make a “great website” either hire a web designer (for a small site spanning only a few pages, the cost should be quite nominal) or keep it simple with a basic background color, fonts and real life pictures (if applicable). I’d recommend the web designer for a nominal fee. Remember, the website will be the first impression of your business to online users.

What to put on your homepage:

1. Make sure your business name, what you do, where you do it, who you do it for and why you’re the best at it all appear on the homepage in text. Be short and sweet (they can visit other pages of the site for in depth information on those topics) but also be descriptive.

2. Your address, phone number and email address should appear on every page in text. Be sure to list this information in full, including street address, city, state and zip code. List the phone number with area code.

3. Hours of operation.

4. Cities you serve in your local area.

Other pages you should have at a minimum:

1. About page – This is where you go in depth on your company. Give a detailed, but not too long (think essay, not thesis), explanation on what you do, how long you’ve been doing it, what makes you the best at it and why customers should choose you above the competition.

2. Services or Products page(s) – Tell them what you do and what you can provide to them. Add pricing information if you feel it is appropriate. If you do something that has a “finished result” such as landscaping, pool construction, paint jobs, room additions, etc. consider adding pictures of past work – as they say, pictures (that are resized properly using a graphics or photo editing program) can be worth 1000 words (but be sure to add descriptions of what the pictures show in text).

3. Contact page – Tell visitors how to get a hold of you. This includes your full address, phone number, email address, fax number, additional locations (if applicable with all of their pertinent information as well), hours of operation, a map (you can easily get one online via major mapping sites) and directions from one or two major roads in the vicinity. Be sure you list a privacy policy on the site if you have any forms for users to fill out telling them what you will and won’t do with their information. Make sure you check emails often and are timely in responses to inquiries.

4. Coupon page (optional) – If you want to know when new referrals are coming from your website, tell people to mention that they found you via your website for a nominal discount.

Making your new website search engine friendly:

1. Make sure the titles tags on each page are unique and include some keywords you think people would type into a search engine while trying to find your site. I.e. if you do landscaping in Clearwater, Florida your homepage title tag might be: be: “Professional Landscaping Services in Clearwater, Florida – Your Company” (no quotes). Every page on your site should have a title tag that reflects the content specific to that page.

2. Make sure the meta description tag on each page contains a sentence that serves as a mini-advertisement for your company that makes people want to find out more as it may appear at times under the title of your website in Google and other search engines. Be sure the description is not only promotional, but informational about your company and website.

3. Make sure the designer doesn’t use flash (for the entire website) or JavaScript links to navigate your site. For a myriad of reasons you don’t care about, I assure you this is very bad if you have any hopes of people finding your website in the search engines.

4. Add some links to your website that are useful to people looking for information about your services. I.e. if you belong to an association (like an attorney would to the bar), if you have a partnership with a related business (you build pools, so you list a few recommended pool maintenance companies), if you can refer people to sources of additional information (such as an accountant pointing to various documents on the IRS website that may be helpful to consumers) – these are all great links to add to your site. You can work these links into your regular pages or create an additional page for resource links.

Online promotion of your new website:

1. Get your business listed with Google maps (free):
https://www.google.com/local/add/login

2. Get your business listed with SuperPages.com (free and fee options):
https://my.superpages.com/spweb/products/business-listing

3. Update your business listings with infoUSA.com and Acxiom (find out why you should here):
http://list.infousa.com/dbupdate.htm
and
http://bcb.acxiom.com/start.pl

4. Get a listing in Best of the Web in their regional section (fee):
http://botw.org/top/Regional/United_States/ (click submit site at the top right of the page once you find your proper category)

5. Get a listing with Yahoo Local (free and fee options):
http://searchmarketing.yahoo.com/local/business.php

6. Find the category that matches your business and get listed with Dmoz.org (free):
http://www.dmoz.org

7. Get listed in MSN local via localeze.com:
http://www.localeze.com/manage/

8. Get listed with citysearch.com (also powers the Ask local search) for a fee:

https://selfenroll.citysearch.com/

9. Get listed with local.com (free and fee options):
http://www.local.com/advertise.aspx

10. Get listed with yellowpages.com (free and fee options):
http://www.yellowpages.com/sp/advertise/

11. You might be able to save yourself some time with RegisterLocal.com:
http://www.registerlocal.com which offers to keep your business profile information up to date with various yellow page, local search providers and data companies who provide information to various local outlets.

12. Register yourself with the local search engine over at BOTW: http://local.botw.org (free for basic profile, upgrade enhancements available for a fee)

13. Talk with friends, family, businesses you have partnerships with that have websites and any associations you may belong to (such as a chamber of commerce) to see if they would be willing to link to your website to help promote your business.

Remember to promote your site offline as well by mentioning it on all your marketing materials and to current customers. And then get back to doing business. Your website should be positioned well in the coming weeks on specific search terms to your local market and service as well as being visited from local people following your offline marketing efforts and finding the information they’re looking for on your website.

Note: This post has been edited to add RegisterLocal.com, a service offered by LocalLaunch, as I stumbled upon it after this post was published and it seems like a great way to save some time.

Second Note: Post was edited again to add in the information for the new BOTW Local Search.

About Rae Hoffman

Rae Hoffman aka "Sugarrae" is an affiliate marketing veteran and the CEO of PushFire, a search marketing agency specializing in SEO audits and link building strategies. She is also the author of the often controversial Sugarrae blog. You can connect with Rae via Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

Sugarrae runs on the Genesis Framework

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