My family and I recently moved away from the GTA to an amazing town, or city, depending on whom you ask. To us, Stratford Ontario (located in Perth County in Southwestern Ontario) is a town, especially since the population is just over 16% of the suburban city we lived in previously.
While our new community has so much to offer, great dining, great culture, friendly people. There’s one thing that surprised me. Many of the small businesses in town have poor performing (or non-existing) websites.
As a new resident, I needed to do much online research. I needed to find service providers, research restaurants, check-out stores, and find fun activities for my kids. As a busy professional, I did most of it when I had time, usually late at night. The shorter operating hours typical of smaller towns did not bother me, but that coupled with a hindered ability to find the information I wanted online did.
I could not figure out why some businesses did not feel the need to have an easy to use website. To me as a digital marketing professional, it is the barest of minimums—a prerequisite of doing business of any kind.
After speaking with some vendors we engaged, I believe I figured it out. There seemed to be two common factors involved, changing demographics and fear.
As the housing market in the GTA and surrounding communities continue to be out of whack, working professionals are starting to get out of Dodge. Some cash in on the value of their home to buy up or reduce or eliminate their mortgage. Others may decide to move to find reasonable rents. Employers are also increasingly supportive of remote working, making it possible for these professionals to move farther away and not have a dreaded commute every day.
Towns and cities that may have previously experienced population growth as a retirement community are now seeing more and more working adults, with and without, children move in. These tech-savvy new community members prefer to do their research online before buying or committing to paying for services.
Don’t take my word for it. There is much research that shows differences in online behaviour by generation. Here are just a few.
- V12 Data: Retail for the Generations: How to Market to Baby Boomers, Gen X and the Millennials
- Big Commerce: Ecommerce Trends: 135 Stats Revealing How Modern Customers Shop in 2017
- Marketing Sherpa: Ecommerce Chart: Online shopping behaviors of Millennials versus Baby Boomers
In small towns, with typically older populations, small business websites may be seen by some as time-consuming, expensive, and not all that important—especially since the retired population may prefer to do research or business in person or over the phone, and during office hours. However, things have changed. A well functioning, responsive, visually appealing, and at least minimally search engine optimized website is essential.
The business owners I spoke with cited fear as a reason for not updating a poor functioning site. Or, for creating a website where one does not currently exist. They feared the cost, the technology, loss of time, and loss of control.
What a few of the business owner I spoke with were unaware of was the incredible selection of affordable and easy to use website builders available today for solopreneurs and small business like Wix, Squarespace, and Shopify, each with pros and cons. These companies take the risk out of creating a website and might even make it fun.
For more established growth-oriented businesses who understand a single platform that provides not only a website but a comprehensive and scalable system to help them attract new visitors, convert them to leads, close sales, and manage there's HubSpot.
There was a time when expensive uniquely designed websites were in demand. Today, what is important is website visitor experience (user experience or UX), responsive design (for tablet and mobile users), search engine optimization, and SSL. Most consumers are familiar with standard template layouts and are okay with them. Fortunately, most website builders have many different templates from which to choose. And, most of the templates will be responsive from the start. Many of these website builders also walk their users through the process of basic search engine optimization.
Businesses can add their unique brand elements and personality by easily changing colours, fonts, and adding their pictures.
For business owners who just do not have the time, or are afraid it is still too technically advanced—it is easy to find professionals to do the work for them. You just need to decide what you want in a marketing partner.
What ever solution you choose, be sure to add a way for website visitors to contact you (like a contact form) and check it frequently (at least daily). If you do, you might just get an email from a new potential customer. Someone like me; late at night of course.
Creating a website, or improving the user experience of your website, is a great start. Don’t forget you need to optimize your site for search engines. And, if your customers live in the same town or city as your business, use local search strategies to ensure they can find you online.