Because I live in Portland, Oregon one type of project I regularly work on is for local Portland small businesses like Classic Sash & Door. I love working on local projects because helping great companies in my home town succeed also helps me & my community. And something nice about small business websites (regardless of where you’re located) is that good ones act as a 24/7 sales person working for you on the internet.

Simply, your goals (online and off) as a small business owner are to raise positive awareness of your services/products and increase the number of people who contact you and then hire you, or purchase your product(s).

On the internet, this means the desired result is being on the front page of Google results for your search terms, but also strategic placement of links to your site in places that list services contextually (eg: Angie’s List).

So how do you achieve this holy grail of searchability and being listed in the right place? Here are some pointers…

  • Hire someone to build or overhaul your website with your target market and business goals in mind. You can have the most beautiful website on the internet, but if it isn’t designed and built specifically for the people who you want to work with, it’s not working for you. And often, keeping things simple is best. If you’re going to lead more people to your website, make sure they know exactly what you offer and want them to do when they get there. This is often why hiring someone with experience helping businesses success and not just building beautiful websites (or using a theme and plugging in your content in the available space) is worth the extra money.
  • Design and build with searchability in mind. Make sure the text of your website, especially on your key landing pages, echoes the terms people will likely search for to find you. You don’t need an SEO guru or extensive research skills to do this, just think about word combinations and phrases that your target market will use, and make sure you use and address them in your website’s text and page headers. For example, if you’re a personal trainer looking for more female clients in your city, try titling your About page “[City Name Here] Women’s Personal Trainer [Your Name Here]”
  • Combine the aesthetic of your location with your area of expertise. When you’re targeting a local market with your website, you can leverage the aesthetic of your location AND the aesthetic of your chosen profession to gain instant recognition and identity for your site visitors. For example, there may be some visuals you think of that would pertain to a Florist’s website no matter where they’re located, but I’m sure you can also imagine that a Florist in Tuscon, AZ might be different than a Florist in Buffalo, NY — these visual cues will work to your advantage in the first few seconds site visitors are making up their mind as to whether your website is worth spending any time on.
  • Get listed locally. There are so many places you can list a local business, but Google Places is a great place to start. If you’re not already on there, you’re missing out on a wonderful, free marketing opportunity. Encourage your existing (happy) customers to review your services on places like Google, Yelp or Citysearch. Or if there’s a more appropriate site that lists Doctors or Contractors – get yourself on those lists. Then think a little more broadly — are there local bloggers who write up services like yours? Can you offer a promotion through a local magazine (with an online edition) that will help raise awareness? What about a Groupon? There are so many options here, sometimes you just need to get a little creative… what about doing a link exchange with other, complimentary local businesses?
  • Think about where your content lives. Your website will be your home base on the internet (at least for the foreseeable future), but if you had videos or photos that provided valuable information to your existing or potential customers, there are some great places to put them that will gain more exposure. YouTube is the natural place for video content — it allows you to easily embed your video content on your website or blog, just be sure to place a link back to your website in the description of the video on YouTube, and use the YouTube keywords. For photos places like Flickr, or if it pertains to your services a site like Houzz.com, are great places to host photos that will widen your reach.
  • Research your competition. If there’s someone in your town with similar services and they’re getting great search traction see if you can determine why. When you search for them where are they listed? What about the kind of information they provide on their website? Do they invest in online advertising? Sometimes just a short amount of time will tell you a tremendous amount of information about what you can do for your own website.

If you don’t already have a website for your business, you have a great opportunity before you to get started on the right foot. If you already have a website, take a critical eye to it — if you’re not getting the results you want out of it, think about what you can change to move things in the right direction. It might be a handful of simple things that have a profound result.