5 Things Small Businesses Can Do to Improve Customers’ Online Experiences

I am blogging on behalf of Visa Business and received compensation for my time from Visa for sharing my views in this post, but the views expressed here are solely mine, not Visa’s. 

Visit http://facebook.com/visasmallbiz to take a look at the reinvented Facebook Page: Well Sourced by Visa Business. The Page serves as a space where small business owners can access educational resources, read success stories from other business owners, engage with peers, and find tips to help businesses run more efficiently. Every month, the Page will introduce a new theme that will focus on a topic important to a small business owner’s success. For additional tips and advice, and information about Visa’s small business solutions, follow @VisaSmallBiz and visit http://visa.com/business.

The small business world is increasingly told that online presence is essential to a person’s online experience. But a website is only as good as its usability and, if a site is too hard to use, a customer will leave and never come back.

As a business works hard to put together a website, there are a few things that can be done to improve the experience for its visitors. Today’s successful websites focus on accessibility across multiple platforms and ease-of use. To create an experience that makes your customers glad they came by, follow these five helpful tips.

  • Simplify. Resist the urge to add fancy graphics and unnecessary extras like Flash players. The key to keeping customers around is providing quick load times and straightforward menus. Ask yourself what the average customer would want when visiting your site and address those needs with navigation that easily helps them find it.
  • Update regularly. If your news section was last updated in early 2011, you may as well not have a news section at all. Set one section of your site aside for fresh content and make an effort to update it on a regular basis. Include online specials and new product announcements in this section, which will bring people back over and over again.
  • Keep it short. Just as useful, relevant, regularly-updated content is crucial, a little goes a long way. Online users grow bored easily, so your copy should be a few hundred words at most. Adding a picture can help enhance the visual appeal of mounds of text.
  • Include contact information. Believe it or not, this is a feature that seems to be overlooked far too often. If you rely on local business, include a local phone number and the hours that number is manned. Otherwise, a contact form and toll-free number will suffice. If you choose to take phone contact completely out as an option, be sure you respond promptly to any e-mails or request forms you receive. You’ll quickly lose business if customers find you hard to reach. Increasingly, businesses are finding live chat helpful for interacting with consumers on customer service matters.
  • Use analytics. Pay attention to what your visitors are doing. Which sections of your site are most popular? If you sell items, are customers abandoning the shopping cart at a certain point? This information can be priceless in helping you find out what parts of your site aren’t working.

Whether your website serves as an online storefront, taking orders and payments, or simply as an information resource, your website should reflect those goals. Instead of trying to dazzle customers with how great your site looks, redirect your efforts to providing great content. Give customers the information they seek and an easy, fun experience and, chances are, they’ll stick around to enjoy your site longer.

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