There is a lot of confusion over how businesses should use the Internet today. Even though Internet technology evolves every day, many people still believe what they originally learned ten or more years ago. Today, I'll share a few of the most underutilized features that websites should have, along with consumer engagement strategies and the current state of SEO.
1. Mobile Websites In May 2015, Google reported that more than 50% of search traffic was taking place through smartphones. Then in May 2016, Hitwise reported their study showed mobile traffic had reached 60%. A peek into your own Google Analytics and you'll likely find mobile users to be more than 45% of your traffic.
Smartphone usage continues to grow every day and consumers expect you to have a mobile website so they can find information about you easily. If your website isn't easy to use on a smartphone, then talk to your web developer and implement a mobile strategy as soon as you can.
2. Website Abandonment & Freshness Website abandonment refers to websites that were set up then quickly forgotten. Sometimes abandonment happens because the business owner just wanted something online to represent the business and sometimes it happens because the cost and maintenance of the website was greater than initially expected.
Google Search Quality Guidelines (found here: bit.ly/qual2017) explain how important it is for your website to be updated often, especially updating your product information. Fresh content usually refers to new blog posts and changes to your home page, but for retail stores it also refers to regular updating and adding of new products in your catalog.
Websites are an important way for businesses to provide online credibility, even if you can't afford to maintain it. Just know that it will help your business more if you keep it fresh.
3. Internal Linking Internal linking refers to how you link from one page to another from within the body of the page. I'm not referring to top, side, or footer navigation, but the random links within your written paragraphs. This type of linking allows users to jump from page to page on your site in a way that makes sense while they read it. It's a better way of helping people discover information where and when it's needed, rather than having them systematically click through every page in your navigation.
Internal linking also helps search engines find information on your site. It's faster for search engines to discover fresh updates when you link to it in your body content. For example, a new product blog posts with internal links to the catalog will help Google discover your fresh content faster.
4. Online Catalog Product catalogs are paramount for physical retail stores. Smartphone users know they can save time by browsing online catalogs than visiting many stores in person. They save a lot of time making their selection before leaving their house. This is also why it's important to have an accurate representation of your store inventory online. I recommend that you tie your in-house product management system to your website inventory. Your website doesn't need e-commerce but it does need a mobile-friendly version of your entire catalog.
5. Online Engagement Google recently changed the way it manages information shared by consumers. More emphasis is being given to photos, reviews, and comments uploaded by consumers. There is a de-emphasis in what business owners say about themselves. Your business will grow in online popularity as more people mention you on social networks, in Google services, and in various review websites. Each of these activities is a different type of engagement that Google may use to help it understand who you are and what you do.
Paying a company to post to social media every day is not considered online engagement. Engagement only happens if you monitor and reply to customers who ask questions about what you post. Other than social networks, you can also improve your online engagement by asking your in-store customers to write reviews about you online. Make sure to reply to each review, even if it's just to say thank you.
Invite customers to take and share photos of the jewelry they try on in your store. Sharing photos to one of Google's services would be ideal, but sharing photos to any social network will help expand your online reach as Google and other people see a mention of your store name.
Lastly, allow customers to leave testimonials and product reviews right on your website. This is direct consumer engagement that will certainly help.
6. The New SEO Each of the above 5 items relates to search engine optimization (SEO) in one way or another. SEO is no longer a service that you can simply pay for without actively participating in it. Prior to 2012, SEO was all about keyword tweaking, article spinning, and several other scientific and mathematical methods of modifying a website to exploit ineficiencies in Google's ranking algorithm. That doesn't work anymore.
The Google Search Quality Guidelines I mentioned above explain that good content, new content, appropriate information, and good customer experience are important elements in ranking your website now. Keywords are not the focus anymore which means the SEO process is less mathematical and more related to how you interact with customers online.
You can improve your website and online engagement by reading online reviews about you and studying your website reports. Eventually you'll realize that improving customer experience and online engagement is the new version of SEO.
In retail, your storefront is like a smile. It greets people and invites everyone on the street or driving by to stop, come inside and shop.
A successful storefront achieves four things: • It communicates your store’s personality • It tells people what you sell • It provides a 24-hour brand icon—just like your smile • It provokes action, inviting people to come inside and shop
If you’re a destination location, you need a bolder, more dramatic storefront to encourage motorists to pull over and come in to see what you’re selling.
As a billboard, your storefront operates 24 hours a day, advertising your presence on the street.
You can’t avoid spending money when you redo your storefront but there’s no reason you must break the bank.
Here’s how to start the process. Assess what you’ve got by asking yourself: • What do you like about it? • What would you like to change? • When was the last time it was refreshed and changed? • What does it tell you about your store andmerchandise? • Is it surprising? Exciting? Eye-catching? • Does it bring in fresh air and daylight?
The answer to the last question will tell you something about how up-to-date your storefront is. Downtown stores built in the fifties and sixties tend to have three- or four- foot windows, with a closed base, like two eyes in a face. In other words, they have a minimum of glass and they let in little, if any light.
This has two disadvantages: • It’s not friendly. Larger windows let the staff see out; they let passersby see in. This helps overcome the threshold barrier, which often keeps people from entering a store. • It doesn’t let in any daylight. Studies have shown that daylight invigorates and cheers us up naturally. It makes us more productive, always good for the bottom line.
Dan Levinson at Ellis Jewelers says, “The extension of our windows has lifted staff morale. We all like it because we can see a lot more on the street and it’s opened-up the store. Light comes in and it’s a lot more open feeling. Customers notice it too.”
“By pushing drywall and windows around a bit, we have gained more space and the openness is great. I’ve really noticed it at our guys’ night and ladies’ night, when we need the room for the crowds of people who come to our events. Plus, on either side of the foyer and entrance, we have beautiful glass boxes on pedestals up against each window pane which allows us to tell four merchandising stories, one in each window.”
That’s another benefit to giving your storefront such a facelift: it creates good community feeling. Dan Levinson can vouch for that advantage. “When we redid the front of our store, GRID/3 suggested something small and surprising—a rich purple awning. It’s made all the difference to us. When people stop to say hello and thanks, they always comment on the purple awning. We stand out as distinctive, even though we fit right into the community.”
Own the look that you create. When you’re bringing attention to your store with an updated storefront, make sure that your store logo is large enough and well enough lit to be clearly seen as part of your new look.
One of the considerations in changing the storefront is your budget. This will help you choose the materials. Materials like stucco, stacked stone and large ceramic tiles are popular these days. By repeating the use of the material inside your store in a fireplace or an accent wall, you develop your store’s distinct branding.
Another trend is toward recycled surfaces like reclaimed barn boards or weathered copper. A word of advice: buy quality materials. Once you make the decision to change your storefront, have it done properly. Don’t let poor quality materials or workmanship compromise your renovations.
Painting the exterior and/or interior of your store is another way to update and refresh the look of your store without breaking the bank. When choosing new colours to repaint your store, do research. Learn about the upcoming color trends at www.swstir.com - Sherwin William’s website has many ideas and pictures to show you some of the newly developed hues and types of paint. Online research is interesting and packed with information. Check out www.benjaminmoore.com for color stories and ideas. The deep purple grey called Shadow is their 2017 color.
Check out fashion magazines, automobile publications and TV shows to see what’s happening in the visual world. What colors are people wearing and choosing as part of their daily lives to inspire and create their personality?
The technology of paint manufacture has changed radically to keep apace with the environmental movement. Today, you can paint your store in the evening and open the next day without worrying about off-gassing.
The key: use low VOC paints. These paints contain a low or non-existent percentage of volatile organic compounds and don’t give off an odor as they dry. Nor is durability an issue. Environmentalism has gone beyond hype to provide green solutions that don’t compromise durability, expense or color palette.
Benjamin Moore’s AURA and Sherwin Williams’ EMERALD paints are two low VOC brand names. We used AURA in our offices and I can vouch for their lack of odor. The morning after the walls were done, we moved in with no problems. Because these paints are stronger, they require fewer coats to give you the finish you want.
The relationships between the colors you use make a place beautiful. It’s not just the color of the walls but the way the color or colors relate to your flooring, showcases and your merchandise display and signage.
If you choose to repaint your store, consider the store in its entirety; every color chosen should relate to every other color in the store. When colors sit side by side in a space, you want them to create a sense of harmony. Attention to detail, including the relationships of color, is the essence of good design.
As paint technology has changed and become more available don’t forget some of the more interesting accent paint types, like chalkboard paint, metallic glazes or Scuffmaster.
Despite the proliferation of online shopping, bricks and mortar continue to offer a fantastic experience, which many of us find invigorating, a wonderful way to spend time with family and friends. Refresh your store with a new storefront or a new coat of paint. Those who have taken the plunge, benefited when they moved from drab to fab.