SEO & Website Management for Small Businesses

Welcome back to the Evolve Small Advisor Series. This time, our topic is a huge one for all kinds of business—big and small. We’re joined by Lenovo Pro Community Manager Beth Kiernan, Evolve Small Ambassador Kaila Woodard, and our very special guest Bernel Westbrook. Bernel is a podcast host, marketing coach, travel enthusiast and the founder of Branded by Bernel, a marketing agency for the creative community. As a brand and web designer, she has a background deeply rooted in fine art and has worked with hundreds of entrepreneurs to build their brands and establish a foundation of trust.

Do You Need a Website?

One question Bernel says she gets asked often is whether a website is necessary for growing business. Her answer?

“Yes! If I walked into a room with a box and told you to stick your hand in the box and see what you get, most people would be very hesitant. Why? Because you don’t know me, and you don’t know what’s in there and you don’t know what to expect. But if I walked in and said, ‘I help breed puppies and inside this box are tiny, cute little puppies and if you stick your hand in, you can get a puppy today.’ Then more people would crowd around the box to stick their hand in because you know who I am.”

This shows the importance of generating credibility as a small business. “That’s what your website does for you,” she adds. In fact, 48% of people cited a website’s design as the number one factor in deciding the credibility of a business according to Blue Corona.

What Do You Need to Get Started?

Think about where you are now on your small business journey. She asks, “Are you just now developing a website for the first time? Maybe you don’t have a website, maybe you have one and you feel like it is not supporting your business the way that you would like it to.”

There are main three things Bernel suggests focusing on when you’re just getting your website started:

  1. Setting your goals
  2. Having the right technology in place
  3. Making sure you can commit the time necessary to have a successful website

The first question to ask yourself is what the ultimate goal of your website is. It could be a place to inform your audience, or it could be a platform to sell your products. Once you establish your goal, then you can move onto the development stage.

Start your development stage by first thinking of your website as your online home. Now what would give your home a solid foundation? Look at these key elements:

  • Domain: Your domain name, a.k.a. your URL, is like your home’s address.
  • Hosting: Your hosting software is where your website is parked. Think of this as the land your home sits on. Without a host, there’s no website.
  • Website builder: This is the company you use to build your online home. Some companies sell templates that are basically blueprints.
  • SSL/HTTPS: An SSL certificate is your home’s security system. It’s a digital file that verifies the legitimacy of a website, enabling secure communication and data transfer. If you’re collecting any information at all, this is a must.

Choosing a Platform

When it comes to platforms, you have a ton of options. Bernel broke down her top four based on what needs people typically have when running a small business.

  • ShowIt: Best for its design capabilities and the creative freedom it offers. Its fluid design allows for more flexibility and takes your mobile responsiveness to a new level.
  • Squarespace: Best for first timers because it doesn’t have as steep of a learning curve. Its all-in-one service offers a lot of native features as far as calendars and booking software.
  • WordPress: Best for complex systems and unlimited functionalities, especially if you're trying to do something very advanced with a lot of custom code.
  • Shopify: Best if your business is primarily e-commerce. It integrates with Instagram and Pinterest so that people can shop directly through social media.

DIY or Hire a Designer?

After you pick a platform, you may ask yourself whether you want to develop it yourself or hire a designer. “The good news is neither one is right or wrong,” Bernel clarifies. “You can have a very successful website either way. The bad news is they're both going cost you something. So, either they're going to cost you time or they're going to cost you more money.”

Let’s start with the pros of DIY:

  • If you’re motivated and familiar with your website platform, you can launch your site in just a few days.
  • You’re not paying for labor, so it’s the cheaper route.
  • You can have full creative freedom to make it look any way you want.

Now for the concerns:

  • DIY is more time intensive.
  • There can be a learning curve with using new software—even the most user-friendly platform takes time to learn.
  • If you DIY, there is always a chance it will look You run the risk of elements of your site not looking cohesive and that’s a big part of building credibility.

Bernel mentions she usually suggests hiring a designer. She suggests this route especially for those who have been in business somewhere between three to five years, already have a current website, and are looking to level up.

The pros of hiring a designer:

  • You have a professional curating every piece of your design.
  • A designer will put strategy behind your layout.
  • Your site is custom-made. If you can dream it, they can execute it. And you can leave the coding to a professional!
  • You can save a lot of time.

The concerns:

  • Professional website design isn’t cheap. Working with an experienced website designer can cost anywhere from 8-20k.
  • You usually have to wait for a designer to be available to start the project.

Designing and launching a website is one thing, but a big question Bernel recommends asking when hiring a designer is whether their site maintenance services fit into your budget or if it makes more sense for you and your team to maintain yourself. “I like to always present that option to clients that you can maintain this yourself. We can come in, train your team on how to maintain it and make sure that you don't have any high monthly costs,” she explains.

What is SEO?

By now, you’ve probably heard of the term “SEO,” which stands for Search Engine Optimization. It’s the marketing concept of driving your website to the top of search results for certain phrases entered into search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing. Good SEO practices will ensure your website content gets correctly indexed to show up when people type in relevant search terms. Paying for ads can help, but good SEO practices are all you really need.

Here are Bernel’s SEO checklists for different stages of your business:

If you’re starting from scratch:

  • Optimize your meta titles, descriptions and header tags.
  • Once you’ve labeled everything on your new website, focus on using keywords organically. You want to make sure you’re not overloading your site with keywords because Google is very intuitive.
  • Optimize images to load quickly. Using really large image files can slow things down.
  • Ensure the mobile version is optimized and functions well.

If you’re moving website platforms:

  • Preserve the current URLs and link structure. If you have an existing web page called “Our Services” with the URL extension “example.com/our-services,” it’s recommended you recreate that web page inside your new website design in order to preserve the URL.
  • The more changes you make when updating your website, the more intial impact on SEO you may see.
  • Take some time to go through the platform’s help docs and learn how to access the page title.

If you recently launched your site:

  • Submit your site for Google to re-index. This is so useful for checking for errors.
  • Put out consistent relevant content that links back to pages on your site.
  • Check for crawl errors, broken links and redirects.
  • Optimize Google Business Profile for local searches.

As for figuring out the right keywords for your business, Bertel shared a few resources to help you do research. The first one she recommends is Ubersuggest. It’s great for getting data on what people are searching for and competitor analysis of what keywords similar businesses are using. It also can analyze your existing website. If you feel like you’re not ranking as high as you need to be, it is a free tool worth checking out. The next resource is Answer the Public. It organizes Google questions so you can see what people are searching for. It also checks for broken links, which can be damaging to your business results. And last but not least, ChatGPT, which helps you be very specific with your prompts.

Creating a Website That Converts

Think of your homepage as the movie trailer for your small business. “The first element is having an engaging homepage that tells people who you are, where you’re based and how you serve them,” Bernel explains. The goal is to provide free, valuable content for people to engage with. Maintaining a friendly, conversational tone using words like “you” and “yours” can go a long way, too. Bernel also stresses the importance of utilizing white space to engage with users. It allows things to breathe on your site, so people aren’t overwhelmed visually. Bernel advises, “Having clear call to actions are another really good element.” You should make sure anytime people are giving you their information, you are redirecting them to a thank you page.

Conclusion

Having an optimized, intentionally designed website can be a game-changer for any kind of business. As long as you follow these tips and have the right tools, you’ll set yourself up for success.

Bernel shared her branding fundamentals guide as a resource for small business owners who want to learn more about building a profitable brand.

If you found this content useful, tune-into the on-demand library or look out for the next Evolve Small webinar to hear more valuable insights from our experts.

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