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Building a website for a local business

By Marc Bissonnette Internalysis

Since moving from the urban city of Toronto (pop: 4 million) , Ontario to the tiny, rural village of Beachburg (pop: 900), Ontario, I've had a few people ask me about building a business site for them.

What prompted me to write this article was a common thread amongst their queries: How can I get to the top of the Google rankings for my site ?

The answer might surprise you: Why bother ? Seriously: If you are a local artist who does commission work in person, why would you care, if your business was located in Tucson, Arizona, if someone in Brisbane, Australia found your website ? It's not like they are going to get on a plane, fly literally to the other side of the planet to commission you for a $400 portrait.

This is not to say that a small business in a small town can not benefit from a global audience. You do, however, have to ask yourself:

  • Can I reasonably fill orders that come from out-of-city, out-of-state/province or out-of-country ?
  • Will it cost me more to ship it than I would make in profit?

  • Do I have the resources to communicate and support customers in a language other than my own?

Chances are, if you are a small business in a small town, your goal is more than likely increasing your sales locally, or reducing your sales support costs locally. (If you are already servicing a global market, then this article simply isn't for you :) ). So, you need to achieve a few basic things with your web site:

  • Is it professionally laid out and designed? You don't have to spend thousands on a good, clean, informative and easy-to-navigate web site, but if it looks like it was a failed high school project, you're going to lose sales and never even know about them.
  • Is your contact information, especially telephone number, easy to find ? In a smaller community, many people will much prefer picking up the phone and asking you questions directly, once they've found you on the web.
  • Is your pricing appropriate to the local market? In my case, I could never charge the rates I would charge in Toronto, Ontario here in a rural farming town.
  • Do you have your site set up in a way that you will continue to add content in order to give people a reason to come back to the site? If a visitor reads all of your content and it is apparant that it never changes, there is no reason to come back and therefore a lost opportunity for business.

Those are the basics your web site needs to meet. Now, on to promoting it: It never ceases to amaze me the number of people who have a website, have their own domain, but their email address is either one of the freebies (Gmail, Yahoo, MSN, etc) or that of their local ISP. This is a big indicator of someone who just doesn't know what they're doing with regards to internet marketing, image and communication. If you've got a domain name for your web site, use it for your email as well! The beauty of using an alias from your domain to point to your 'real' email address is that if you ever need to change ISPs, you do not need to notify a massive list of contacts that your email address has changed!

Next, and I've mentioned this in other articles: Your web site address should be on _all_ of your materials: Invoices, bills of lading, business cards, bags, signage, etc. If it's not, how are people going to know that they can still find out about your business even after business hours ?

Talk to other local business owners: Many of them may well have a website themselves where you can swap links. I.e. if you are running the local movie rental store, why not talk to the local book store and agree to each create a "other shops in [your town here]" page and link to each other ?

Marc Bissonnette is the proprietor of CanadianISP, Canadas' largest Internet Service Provider search and comparison site.

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CanadianISP - Canadas' largest Internet Service Provider (ISP) list and comparison web site

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