Martine Rolls: Businesses need to be web-savvy

By Martine Rolls

Tauranga has been named one of New Zealand's top five eTowns, Google has announced. Our city is in the top five along with Auckland, Nelson, Queenstown and Wellington.

I'm really glad to hear that Tauranga has been recognised as a stand-out town that is embracing the web to grow business. I already knew that the culture of our business community is dynamic, evolving and well-connected. Being recognised for this by Google is something to be proud of.

The eTowns awards ranks those communities that are outpacing the rest of the country in having its small businesses use the web to connect with customers and grow.

In my opinion, small businesses need to be web-savvy. It doesn't matter if you have a toy shop, a dog grooming business, an accountancy firm or a hair salon. Having an online presence and being active on social media is essential nowadays.

A report by Deloitte Access Economics in Australia published on Monday found small businesses with high digital engagement are twice as likely to be growing revenue, and earn twice as much per employee. I'm a firm believer business owners who don't bother exploring the potential of the web will be left behind.

If you are selling a product, it can open up your doors to a new national and, if you like, international client base. If you are a service provider, it is crucial to show the public what you are all about and where you can be found. This can be done with a good online presence.

An e-store for most retailers and an optimised and professionally designed website for other businesses is an absolute must.

But that's not all. A business' website also needs to be easy to navigate and optimised for Google and the likes. Only then, will your business be found in organic searches. If you are happy to use pay-per-click advertising like AdWords, then those hits can bring you extra revenue, too.

The places picked by Google eTown are based on the growth in small businesses using AdWords over the past year.

AdWords, you say?

Simply said, organic search results are the listings that pop up on search engine results pages because of their relevance to the search terms. Paid search engine results, like AdWords, are a form of online advertising. It is also based on the right keywords but this way you pay to appear on top of the list.

The point is that no matter what the focus is on; having a smart online presence should be part of any business' marketing, customer service, and brand management plan.

People like me just don't use the phone book anymore to find someone. We use the internet, either while sitting behind our computer screens or while on the go using mobile devices.

A website does not have to cost the Earth, but it has to look good. If I come across a site that looks messy, cheap, cluttered or if it's one that gives a poor user experience because information is hard to find, it will be quickly closed as I'd rather look elsewhere.

Skipping the basics and spending all your time and money on fancy stuff is not going to work either. Basic search engine optimisation is vital. It helps position your website so it can be properly found at the critical points in the buying or selection process.

There's quite a lot to it to get things right. Eye-catching design, user friendliness, basic SEO plus correct and frequent use of social media; it's all essential.

But how much time can a small business owner realistically allocate to work on a website and social media updates? Business owners, especially those who run a small business, should be able to focus primarily on running their business.

Not many small businesses have the means to hire a full time web content and social media manager either. Those who don't have the time or expertise themselves can quite cost-effectively outsource their web management and social media to a third party, and this is where I've noticed another form of entrepreneurship.

Have you noticed the rise of small businesses locally that focus on getting other small businesses up to speed on everything web related?

There are quite a few locals who know well how to use all the tools that are available to maximise the web's potential and they have found a niche in the market.

That's business creating business, right here in Tauranga, and I think that's just great.

Martine Rolls is the Bay of Plenty Times online editor.


- Bay of Plenty Times

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