The ease and convenience of making purchases online has long been an absolute game-changer for businesses of all shapes and sizes. Brick and mortar operations are slowly but surely losing ground to their cyber counterparts—call it the Amazon Effect.
Now there’s a day that seemingly celebrates that transition, and it comes on the heels of the ever more hectic Black Friday. The 2015 edition of Cyber Monday was anything but just another day of online commerce. This one broke records and exceeded estimates. Monday’s online sales surpassed $3 billion for the first time ever, reaching a final total $3.07 billion according to Adobe’s Digital Index, per CNBC. That represents a 16-percent increase from a year ago, a marked acceleration in the rate at which buyers are now turning to the internet for all kinds of goods and services.
So what’s that mean for you and your business? It depends of course on what exactly that business does—why you have a website in the first place. But there are some general takeaways that will likely apply to virtually any business interested in a legitimate web presence.
Taking Your Website Seriously
There’s sometimes a tendency to build a site and forget about it, assuming that it’s enough to simply have a minimal web presence. But few of us would feel that way about the look of a traditional store front—its signs, its cleanliness, etc. In a world where your site increasingly doubles as your virtual store front, we should be taking our online reputations just as seriously.
If your site was built some time ago, that’s all the more reason to consult with a professional and make sure it’s up to date and easily found by searches through engines like Google or Bing. It’s also worth taking a fresh look at basic considerations like fonts and how visually stimulating the website design is. That may feel like a subjective factor, but there’s little doubt the average user can tell the difference between a modern website design and something that looks like it was built 10 years ago.
At minimum, take a look at what the competition and industry leaders are doing. You don’t have to mimic their sites entirely, but you should certainly think about incorporating some of their online best practices. That goes for everything from how content is organized to what it looks like at first glance. There should be a reason and thought process behind virtually every website design choice.
The bottom line is that there’s way too much competition online to overlook your site’s effectiveness and user-friendliness. Unless your site is both eye-pleasing and functional, you run the real risk of losing clientele to others in your market.
Making Your Site Easy to Find
There are a number of ways to promote your site and its content, but there’s no better option than attempting to do so organically. While it may cost you some initial investment to ensure your site’s search engine optimization (SEO), those expenses will eventually seem like a drop in the bucket when compared to traditional advertising and marketing campaigns.
Remember that a significant number of Cyber Monday shoppers were likely searching for a product or service before stumbling upon the site(s) with which they ultimately did business. And that goes for online shoppers on every other day of the year, too. Your goal is to capture as much of that search traffic as possible, and that partly means ascending the ranks of Google’s search algorithms.
This usually doesn’t happen overnight, but nor does it necessarily require you to pay for “sponsored” position within those rankings. There are a number of technical components to improving SEO—everything from coding to URLs to meta-tags. Newer web-hosting companies often optimize these kinds of things automatically, but it’s always worth checking with an expert to make sure your specifications are what they should be.
There are also a number of considerations over which you have some control, though. Chief among them is the regular production of content (e.g. via a company blog). Whether the content is just a service to the public or a form of marketing in and of itself, consistent producing it can improve your site’s search rankings in time. That’s not the end of the story, though.
To improve the odds that someone actually reads your content—and potentially explores the rest of your site—you want to think about the kinds of topics and keywords for which your customer base is likely to search. Note that some software and consulting services can actually help you identify those terms and concepts. From there, the trick is to sprinkle your targeted keywords throughout content without making it ridiculously obvious by packing those terms into every square inch of your articles. Google will know the difference and penalize you if you’re overtly attempting to game the system.
There’s really no shortcut to producing quality, accessible content that the average user might be interested in reading. This means posts that are substantive, usually at least 300-500 words in length. The better your content, the more likely it is other sites will link to it—and that’s a good thing for SEO purposes. And the more regular your content, the better its chances of signaling to the algorithm gods that your site is current and relevant.
These strategies are just the tip of the iceberg. You should conduct additional research into the ins and outs of SEO if you’re truly committed to maintaining a website that brings in new clientele.
Ensuring Your Website Design Is Mobile Friendly
To fully appreciate the importance of mobile devices, some more numbers from Cyber Monday are in order. Of those $3.07 billion in sales, a full 26 percent came from mobile devices according to Tech Crunch. That’s a total of $779 million in one day alone. Tech Crunch also reports that $575 million of those sales came via iOS users, while another $219 was associated with Android users.
So not only are online purchases reaching new heights—many of them now come from mobile devices. Who wouldn’t want a piece of that action?
The Cyber Monday statistics come in the wake of news from Google that it’s now seeing more search traffic on mobile devices than it is from desktops. That’s all the more reason to care about your site’s mobile accessibility. This isn’t just a one-day trend.
The good news is that there are plenty of things you can do to ensure your site is more friendly to mobile users (and more likely to be found by them). Some adjustments may require consultation with a web designer, especially if you have an older site. You’ll want to check into things like page speed and whether font scales, assuring that pages can accommodate slower connections and smaller screens.
You should also test your site on a variety of devices and operating systems, assessing how it looks and whether it’s as user-friendly as possible. Is there a lot of content jam-packed together, potentially making it difficult from readers to distinguish one thing from another? Are buttons placed too close together, making it difficult for users to select the one they want? Content can also be too spread out, requiring users to move the screen horizontally in order to find what they’re looking for.
Don’t make any assumptions about how well your site works on mobile devices. You should take a fresh look at it from a mobile perspective.
Building a Rapport With Social Media
So you’ve assured that your site looks good, can be found via search and makes life easy on mobile users. What to do next?
Because we’re looking to do things as affordably as possible, it’s time to make full use of social media. This doesn’t have to be an elaborate venture. It can be as simple as making someone in the office your new social media officer, handing off responsibilities after some basic training and instruction.
There’s a wide range of emerging social media platforms, but it’s probably wise to start with the manageable tandem of Twitter and Facebook—both very widely used by virtually every potential target demographic. To really exploit social media to the max, it’s always good to have some of that previously-mentioned content to share. Even without a blog of some sort, though, you should still be sharing posts that serve a variety of functions. Yes, that includes simple promotional posts that improve brand awareness, but it also means sharing the kind of messaging that readily interests other social media users. You especially want to reach out to users who’d conceivably be interested in your business. So do some careful planning when it comes to the kind of posts you share. They should be the kind of useful, entertaining content that draws some in and even prompts them to re-share it with others.
Finally, don’t forget the social aspect of social media. You should be responsive to other users’ questions and comments. You should even get in the habit of following and retweeting/sharing others in the hope that they’ll return the favor. This is particularly true when you come across a major influencer who already has a wide social media following. The more you give on these platforms, the more you will receive.
Your business may not become a Cyber Monday sensation overnight. But that shouldn’t stop you from taking steps toward increased relevance in the internet age. Those shoppers may well be waiting for exactly what you’re offering.