Business Technology

Why an online presence is critical for a small business – explained by small businesses

13 min read

14 January 2016

It’s absolutely critical that a company's website functions well and engages with users to provide an enjoyable user experience. To gain insight as to how startup companies have managed to convert online visitors to paying consumers, we have spoken to various successful business owners who have first-hand experience in this.

For businesses today, an online presence now holds more significance for potential customers as an offline presence.

A website is often the first port-of-call when somebody has a query about a company. This is the moment where a user decides if they will be a returning and active consumer in the future.

First we spoke with Chiara Pensato, the marketing director of Moveguides, which provides users with a mobility management support service in a simple technology platform.

What impact does your website have on your business?

Your website is the number one resource that people use when looking for information about your business. As your company “business card”, it is critical that your website stays true to your brand and vision, and clearly delineates your core value proposition and leading messages.

A website is also critical for establishing credibility in the market. A bad website can make your business look sloppy and could potentially deter people from working with you. 

Your website should also go beyond being just a tool to sell the product, so that your audience can leverage it as a key platform to access industry knowledge and stay up to date with the latest trends and hot topics.

A website is impactful when it is engaging and offers more than just company information: things like a blog, customer stories and calls to action directing to relevant content help with that immensely.

What aspects of your site are most important to your customers?

We want to ensure that we deliver an outstanding user experience, so that visitors enjoy spending time on it researching information – and will be more compelled to return and recommend it to others.

Our blog is an integral aspect of this. We use our blog as a key tool to encourage dialogue on a wide-range of topics that our customers and prospects find educational and interesting.

Other channels that we see are generating the highest response rate are our customer case studies, industry white papers, fact sheets and use cases that bring our story to life for our community.

Are you planning to develop any areas of your website? 

Like a startup, the website should constantly be in motion and updated to reflect a rapidly growing business. This means that we make sure visitors always get access to the most up to date information and are diligent about keeping the web pages relevant to our community.

We are also improving ways for visitors to engage with our website and our team. For example, we have recently added new tabs that make it easy to connect with our team and calls to action like registering for events, viewing webinars or requesting a demo.

Data is very helpful for understanding what works or what we need to develop. We look at how the content and pages perform through analytics tools, as well as gather direct feedback from our community to learn what they want to read about and what appeals to them.

What advice do you have for new startups who are building their businesses website?

Before creating a website, make sure you are clear about who your audience is and what you want to communicate to them. From there really dedicate the time and resources necessary to establish your company’s vision and core messaging in a crisp and clear way. Once you have this nailed down, the design will be a lot easier to create.

Also, leverage third party validation as much as possible. It’s essential to establish credibility as a business and earn trust at the early stages of engagement – think customers, press, partnerships, vendors, investors, and more. 

It’s also important to drive a creative vision that makes the website engaging and human, as opposed to being very formal, impersonal and hard to navigate.

Continue reading to find out how Jacquelyn Guderley, an entrepreneur encouraging women to join the STEM sector, uses the power of online.

Following on from Moveguides is Jacquelyn Guderley, the co-founder of Stemettes. The business focuses on volunteers from the STEM industry who conduct panel events, hackathons, exhibitions and mentoring schemes to show that women have the ability to do science, technology, engineering and maths too.

What impact does your website have on your business?

Our website can be our first point of engagement with our potential beneficiaries (girls that come to our events or their parents) as well as funding organisations and volunteers. 

Thanks to some pretty great SEO, we come up first for a number of Google searches relating to our field e.g. “girls in STEM”. This then drives business, be that through companies proposing sponsorship or girls finding out about our events and coming along, or women and volunteers signing up to our monthly mailing list.

The website also acts as a second point of engagement for many. Team Stemettes is always out and about, at events and industry initiatives and we’re forever handing out business cards. Those we mix with can then find out more about us on our website, if they’re interested.

Girls and parents at our events are also encouraged to check out our events listings on our website to see what other events they might want to come to. In this way, the website acts as a tool for continued engagement for us.

We have a number of subsidiary websites for our larger programmes to promote the brand and provide more detailed information, e.g. Outbox Incubator and Student to Stemette.

What aspects of your site are most important to your customers?

An explanation of who we are, what we do and why. Events listings so people can sign up and know where to come and when. Details of our long-term programmes that they can apply for, such as our mentoring scheme and incubator.

Are you planning to develop any areas of your website?

We want to make what events we run even clearer and how people can get involved a lot easier to find too.

What advice do you have for new startups who are building their businesses website?

We did our first ever website extremely quickly, as well as the following ones to some degree. We have never taken a long time to plan. I would recommend that startups do the same, following the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) sort of model.

We haven’t redesigned our website since, just added bits to it as the company grew, and it has always been fit for purpose. Of course it could be better, but we needed somewhere to direct people to when they first heard about us and it also needed to be more than a landing page. So – don’t worry about it being perfect; ours still isn’t and it does the job just fine.

Continue reading on the next page as we hear from James Rice, who works on graduate schemes and jobs in finance.

Finally, it’s James Rice we speak with. Rice is the head of digital marketing at WikiJob, which makes it easy to discover and apply for graduate schemes and jobs in finance.

What impact does your website have on your business?

As a digital business, we would be nothing without our website. All of our revenue comes from it, and it is the means by which we provide information to people and grow our customer base.

What aspects of your site are most important to your customers?

There are three aspects of our site that provide most value to our customers. The first (and the original function of WikiJob) is the forum, which allows students and graduates to discuss application schemes and employer interviews, or read what’s been said before.

The second aspect is the articles we’ve written about interview questions, assessment centres, aptitude tests and so on, which educate our audience. And the third is the actual graduate vacancies we advertise.

Are you planning to develop any areas of your website?

We’re planning to improve the navigability of our site, to make it easier to find all the content we have. As such we’re building category pages that we can link to from the header; all of our content will live under those in a logical fashion. 

We’re also planning the transition to a single-page application, which will make the website much faster but is creating some SEO headaches we need to resolve first!

What advice do you have for new startups who are building their businesses website?

Invest in content early. Your SEO success will grow from this, so focus on producing some best-in-class content, distributing it widely to get attention (and hopefully links). Organic traffic should in time be your most effective channel, though it will take time to grow, so don’t be impatient if you’re not seeing any immediate results.

Also, prioritise making your website mobile-friendly, and keep an eye on your page load speed, as users (especially on mobile) are increasingly impatient.

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So, if you’re a new company who is setting out to get recognised, it’s important to understand the power and impact that a website alone can have on the portrayal of your company. A fully engaging and professional working website will have an incredible effect on your websites traffic. If you stick to the first hand facts above, your company has no excuses not to thrive and be successful!

Robert Elding is the MD of UX agency USIO, which specialises in digital strategy and planning, customer insights, UX/UI design, as well as testing and evaluation.