The real reasons small business websites fail

I’m not going to sugar coat this- I just went through my old local area’s paper looking at the ads featuring small business websites. Tradies, local medical practitioners of the human and fur kid kind, retail, cafes and professional services with beautiful ads all hoping for local customers. Out of 50 businesses I looked at, only 2 passed a proper SEO audit.

That’s 4% of all websites belonging to local small businesses that are actually Google friendly. Guys, that’s scary.

Even if your traffic comes from walk-ins, local advertising and word of mouth, the problem is those ads you are dutifully putting in the paper may not be working the way you want. We live in a digital society. The first thing we do to research a business we haven’t tried before is Google them!

So your beautiful ad is (most likely) leading someone to your less than attractive online presence. And I am not talking about your website design, either.

Sending mixed signals from your website

Google and other search engines don’t know you or your business. Instead, they interpret a series of signals and bits of code that any (decent) developer will put in your website. If your website doesn’t have these standard bells and whistles, it impairs how well small business websites fare.

Put simply, the wrong signals, weak signals and confusing code to Google is pretty much the same as you trying to work out what someone is saying when they have a mouth full of food, calling you from a bad mobile reception area. Things become pretty mixed up and garbled pretty quickly.

Even on a basic level, you need to ask your website developer if they have included:

  • A sitemap- this is the map Google and other search engines reads so that the appropriate search result can be sent.
  • Robots.txt – this is like a translation guide from the geek underbelly of your website to the crawling robots at a search engine. It tells them which parts of your site should and shouldn’t be crawled and helps with search engine indexing.
  • Page titles – a page title acts like a label for the content of your website. So if you don’t have a page title or if you have the same page title for each page of your website, the search engine won’t have the right information in order to file your page appropriately.
  • Meta descriptions- while meta descriptions don’t influence your search, they do influence your customers as they are the snippets of information shown when we search for something in a search engine. So by not using a meta description, you don’t give any clue to what a person can expect on your web page. They’ll pass you by because they won’t know what your page contains



Before every proper developer and SEO copywriter starts yelling at me, yes, I would like to acknowledge that there are some 200 SEO signals of varying degrees of strength that can influence both the ranking ability and the actual performance of a website. My point is, when a minimum of these four things absent from a development, things aren’t looking good for your website.


And unfortunately, I see it a lot in Australian small business websites.

The weird part is, with WordPress freely available and local freelance designers doing a pretty great job at fairly reasonable prices, nobody has to make do with an ugly, under-performing website.


Keeping up small business websites appearance

Beyond the technical side of things, there is a lot to consider in terms of copy, design and image optimisation that will make or break your ability to be within the search range of a new customer.

From labeling images with keywords (as opposed to ‘banner left’ or ‘photo right’), readability considerations (lay off the grey small font people. It’s like reading porridge), highlighting keywords in such as way as to help your ranking without turning off your customers, these super simple things are often being missed.

Simple things matter in the back end and front end.

For example, there is no point in blogging your fingers to the bone if you aren’t thinking about keywords, including your business name and have a strategy behind what you are doing. You need to deliver content both Google and your customers care about.

The trick is being able to balance these customer needs with what Google needs in terms of search keywords. It means using what you want to rank for in your content on a regular basis so it doesn’t get lost. And it also means creating a blog that is useful to your customers, let’s them get up close and personal with your business, and answers their purchase questions.

Any SEO copywriter or content creator who says one is more important than the other should be sent to the naughty corner to dwell on their misbehaviour.


Maintaining the Google friendship

Dear plumbers, electricians, roofers, local law firms and small retailers,

We’re already asking our friends to recommend you on social media. The fact you choose not to make an effort on social media or set up a Google Places listing means when we look at your website, you lose appeal.

We can’t help it. If you haven’t worked out how to use social media and market yourself outside the local paper, it makes you look dated. You look old hat.

The other problem is using muddy photographs you took with a cheap digital camera or pre-smartphone mobile. Your low light photos with the lack of clarity are not appealing. They are definitely not appealing if you are trying to sell me haircuts, interiors, the quality of your building workmanship or food. These are visually motivated purchases and your photo quality counts.

And we want to know you are pro-active. We don’t want to see “latest promotions” that ended about the same time Windows 98 was replaced. And we get frustrated when we finally find what we need and click through only to find the link is broken.

Nobody expects you to constantly updating your social media and blogging about the wonders of the latest slate tiles. But we’ll warm to you a hell of a lot quicker if we can research your company on your website, see the kinds of jobs you do on a regular basis on your social media, and see that you have a semi-regular approach to sharing your promotions online.

Plus, the fact you are making an effort makes you seem ten thousand times more progressive than the guy who puts an ad in the paper linked to a Gmail account.

Small business isn’t hard to put online

With the right web developer, some strong copy and a little bit of basic training in social media or blogging, you can easily save money in your newspaper and leaflet spending.

So what are you waiting for? Stop failing at small business websites and drop me a line.



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