By Beth Borrego / Published July 2020
Marketing a small service business has evolved in recent years as technology has advanced. According to an independent analyst firm, Canalys, one in six personal computers (PCs) shipped in the fourth quarter of 2012 was an iPad. By 2019 there were more than two billion computers in the world, including servers, laptops, and desktops. More immersive PCs with features like touch screens became more widely used. Creating public workspaces in places like coffee shops and other public venues became normal. Not only do many people today have PCs, but many also have smartphones and tablets of one kind or another. All of them connect to the internet, and many consumers turn to these devices to search for products and services while they are on the go, away from their mailbox or inbox. The purpose of this chapter will be to focus on the importance of the internet to attract new business via a company website as well as to keep your existing customers coming back.
Having a website for your business these days is every bit as important as having a business card, a brochure, or signage on trucks. Your company image online should complement all print media, remaining consistent with your brand. Perhaps the most critical component of your website is its content. The structure and content of the website will either keep people there busily reading or turn them away from it to go look for something better. If you have a website, it’s worth reviewing your site occasionally to see if there are ways it can be improved upon. If you don’t have a website, you’ll need to take plenty of notes and plan it carefully, regardless of if you plan to build it yourself or have a professional webmaster do it.
Let’s start with the overall look of the site. As I mentioned, you’ll want to make sure the appearance of the website complements your print media, your truck signage, uniforms, and so on. The site should be clean and easy to read, with a consistent font throughout the site displayed at an average size of about 12 points. The font should be a standard style accepted by all browsers and easily displayed; and bold, all capitalized, or underscored text should be avoided except for occasional use. And, of course, it is critically important to optimize your website to display well on PCs, laptops, tablets, iPads, and smartphones.
There are some don’ts, too. Don’t play music on your website. While you might think it is nice, most potential customers will not, and many will become irritated and leave your website. Don’t use flashing text, which can be hard to read as well as annoying for visitors. Don’t color the background of your web page black or use an overly busy pattern with text on top of it. Keep your site clean, professional, and easy to read so that users will find it visually appealing and continue reading the pages. At all costs, do not display pop-ups on your website. Many users have pop-up or ad blockers, so doing so could cause your site to be overlooked.
Now let’s look at specific elements you’ll need to consider when building a website. There are several navigation styles that may be incorporated into your website. The most common are horizontal navigation and vertical navigation on either the left- or right-hand side of the screen. This makes sense because in our culture, we read and write from left to right and from the top to the bottom. It’s logical for the navigation to be placed horizontally close to the top of the page or vertically on the left-hand side of each page for ease of use. Depending on the size of the site, you may need one or both of these kinds of navigation.
You should also consider linking other pages on your site to portions of relevant organic text in the body of the pages so that users can easily find additional pages that you wish to encourage them to read. For example, you might have a sentence on a page that says, “Contact our office to schedule an estimate,” and you might link the word ‘contact’ to a contact form page on your site designed for the user to fill out providing specific information regarding their request. The completed form page is submitted by the prospect and then emailed to a specified company email address for follow-up. The standard hyper-link color is typically blue, and the link will appear as a blue underlined word. Links typically change to another color once they have been visited so that the user knows they have already viewed that page.
It’s important to note that search engines pay attention to what is known as click depth, and this has been the case for years. According to Google’s John Mueller in 2018, more weight is given to pages in the search results based on how many clicks it takes to get to them from a site’s home pages versus the URL structure.
If your home page, also known as the root page, has a value of zero, then your first click to navigation is on level one, and the navigation off of that would be level two, and so on. There are several important points to glean from this. People do not want to click five pages deep from your home page to find what they want. Your navigation should be laid out so that users are able to locate the desired page in ideally no more than two clicks.
While the search engine spiders that index websites are not human, the complex algorithms they use have been programmed to give more validity to pages located within the first two levels below the home page or root page. Navigation should be constructed in a logical order so that when users are looking for a page, it will appear in a place they logically expect to find it. Therefore, it is important to group like services together and like news or information together. Consider grouping certain products or services in logical groupings within a two click depth.
A site map page is always advised as well. An XML site map is helpful to search engines like Google, so that they will find and index all of your pages. HTML site maps are what your potential or returning customers will turn to in the event they cannot locate information through your navigation but wish to continue reading about a specific topic. Giving visitors a site map is like providing them with a virtual cheat sheet. However, it is not a standard practice to make the site map your only means of navigation.
The content on your site is critical to your potential customers finding you. The composition of your site’s pages is comprised of what is known as organic text and is extremely important when it comes to page rank. Each page should adequately describe the service that the page is written to advertise. The most important key words that pertain to that service should appear several times on that page because the search engines will view the page as having greater relevance and will rank the page accordingly, and higher rank is the goal.
When a word appears multiple times on a page, it’s known as key word density. The search engines will analyze the site for the number of occurrences of a word or words to determine key word density, potentially deem the site more important than another site with fewer occurrences of the same key word, and rank the pages accordingly. Now that doesn’t mean that you should write a page so that the same word appears over and over again (say, 50 times within three paragraphs). Even if that doesn’t flag your site as spam, it will certainly send your users elsewhere to read something that makes better sense, answers their questions, and addresses their needs without sounding overwhelmingly redundant and useless. Ease of reading is extremely important. Well written, easy-to-read websites rank better because the search engines look for this, too. Before you publish a page, read it aloud and see if it flows and sounds natural.
Perhaps one of the most important things to remember about key words is that the words you might use to search with may not be the same words your customers use to search with. Layman’s terms are not always accurate, and consumers often describe their needs using words you may not consider to be important. Make sure to include page content that not only addresses common questions but also incorporates both professional and layman’s terms as well. For example, if you are talking about “washing,” it would make sense to also use the word “cleaning” within the page content.
Once the reader is sufficiently informed about your services and how the reader would benefit from them, he or she will begin to look for ways to contact your office. Your telephone number should always be placed prominently on the site, appearing on each page, preferably in the same location throughout the site.
Contact forms are also frequently used, providing visitors a way to send you a message with additional information at any time, including outside of normal business hours. The completed form is sent to a designated email address to be retrieved and responded to accordingly.
Show off your work! When a potential customer visits your website, it is your opportunity to display examples of the services that your company provides and also to demonstrate the quality of the work. Before and after shots of your work provide real life examples that consumers can relate to, and one or two carefully placed photographs on each page demonstrate your company’s ability to perform the desired services, plus they support the subject matter on that page.