Go to an alarming number of small business websites and you'll find the equivalent of the faded old brochure that's curling up in the sun.
It's clear that for some small businesses, maintaining their website is not seen as particularly important, let alone a core function. Some don't often think about the usability or functionality of their websites.
Yet, even when a website looks pretty and stylish, it may not be doing what it should - turning visitors into potential customers.
The website is a business's face to the world and a virtual sales person. Think about how a visitor to the website is actually going to get in touch with you and how many of them go on to make an enquiry. Do you have that information to hand? You ought to. You need to understand the dynamics of your website traffic and where it is coming from. The old saying is that what is measured has a habit of improving.
Here, Xero UK's MD, Gary Turner, offers his five tips for making the most of your website:
1. Sign up for free website monitoring services like Google Analytics to start tracking which are most popular pages and where your traffic is coming from. If you have a newsletter that links back to your site or you are running an electronic marketing campaign you can measure the traffic.
2. Make the most of the professional directories or portals to which you belong or subscribe. You can find out how effective that directory is by creating a landing page on your website. This is a separate page that does not need to be navigable from the menu. You can even mask it from search engines. You can organise it so that it is only visible to visitors who come to your site from the directory.
3. By cross-referencing the traffic information with how many enquiries you receive, you can find out how effective the directory is. A good professional directory will also have a registration requirement which captures important profile information about visitors showing interest in your business. This can be immediately emailed to you.
4. A landing page will also smoke out where the problems on your website are. People will never phone you up and tell you what's wrong with your website. They will just go elsewhere.
5. Make sure you give someone the job of keeping your landing and home pages up-to-date each day or week with new video overviews or screen shots.
So if you run a small business, you need fundamentally to re-evaluate the importance of your website and understand how potential customers will use it to form that early critical opinion of what you do.
Only after you have sorted out your website and started squeezing the juice from it, should you think about how you will spend your money on search engine optimisation and other tools that will drive more traffic your way and help you ascend the Google rankings. Otherwise you are throwing good money after bad.