Most businesses don’t have websites…
Seriously, it’s true. More than half of all small businesses have no dedicated web space, and those make up the vast majority of all actual enterprises. Despite the talented companies offering affordable services for businesses. Despite every high-traffic business blog and magazine haranguing, cajoling, or gawping in dismay at how stupid this looks to anyone who knows anything about the modern customer. Despite it all, adoption still remains staggeringly low.
I could link you to lots of statistics on this but I won’t. I don’t need to – you already know. We’ve all been there. Where’s the nearest fishmonger? Is the florist open after five? Maybe you need a dohicky to make the washing machine connect to the whatsit. So you take a 45 minute round trip to the big hardware store. Later you find out that there was a Google-dodging shop selling the whatsit-dohickies two minutes away from your house. (Go on, ask me how I spent my weekend.) Why is there still such a huge disparity between how customers and businesses behave?
Well, let’s look at it from the other side. What can you – yes, you, person with techy acumen – do to help local businesses in a global and virtual world?
I’m beginning to think we could change the world in a lunch break simply by being lazier.
First, think small – really small
There are a lot of fantastic sites out there offering hassle-free website solutions for medium and large businesses. But chances are the store or service you’re going out of your mind trying to track down is really tiny. One man with a van kind of tiny. The number of employees in your average small business in America? Probably three. They’re busy. They have a full workflow already. So why aren’t we offering them the bare-bones solutions they need?
Lose the backend
A lot of boxed solutions offer a simple CMS even in their most basic standard sites. And I’ll own up to it myself – when my sister needed a website for her start-up and turned to me because I “know e-mail stuff” I groused, complained, and did my sisterly duty with a quick WordPress setup.
But here’s the thing – to somebody already out of their element, a CMS is effort to learn and work to maintain. It becomes a hassle and then a point of guilt and resentment. Very quickly it’s a bug, not a feature, as the site’s year-round Christmas greeting remains trapped in a mire of forgotten logins.
A lot of businesses know they need a website. What we forget to tell them is that securing their own domain with a basic single page is better than nothing. At least until they’re ready to level up.
Embrace the human database
E-commerce software offers fantastic options for stock control and listing services. Seriously – it’d make you weep with pride how awesome the things developers have created for business websites are. Carousels, lightboxes, stock-tracking, integration with ordering systems: web developers are so damn clever.
Be proud, be inspired. Now put that all aside and embrace the fact that small businesses are more likely to succeed running “LoisDB”. “Lois” is the woman who has worked there since the start. She answers the phones. She knows where they put that stock that they had to move because it was blocking the door. Lois doesn’t scale and has terrible latency issues around lunchtime. But on the other hand, she’s ahead of the game on natural-language recognition and ad-hoc querying. Ditch the database and make Lois part of your design plan.
Which takes us to:
The single most important element of any tiny business website
When you cut through it all, there’s really only one indispensable element of a tiny business website:
It’s the work of a minute to make a responsive button that will ring a business from your mobile device, and yet it is the simplest way to gain all the information you need without fiddling around with any clunky UI or anachronistic Christmas greetings. If you’ve got an extra thirty seconds to spare you could even add a “callto” option for Skype.
Let Google do the rest of the work for you
Okay, there may be one other crucial element for a bricks and mortar store – a map. So add it to the front (and possibly only) page. But use the Google Maps API and let the search engine that let you down so bitterly in the first place do the hard work. As an extra bonus, Google will also turn up any Twitter feed or Facebook account the business might be running on the side in the same search. Maybe that’s close enough without any need to integrate them at all.
The idea of such bad practice might bring you out in hives. It’s not a replacement for good websites. But it’s a way of on-boarding the stubbornly intractable with a bare minimum of effort on everyone’s part.
Later we can stir ambitions with words like SEO and dynamic content. For now, if those with the talent and skill were sometimes willing to do a patchy job, we might change the world for the benefit of all customer-kind*.