The state of the local Internet in Cumbria
As an offcomer, I know very few local people and even fewer local businesses. As a web-worker, I turn to the Internet to answer all questions. Finding useful local information here is tough. Lots of effort, with not much result.
So what causes the local Internet here to fall short of its potential? The number of good (and more importantly, useful) local sites is low. Thankfully though, the void has been filled by automatically generated directory sites. Thanks to them, the look and feel of the local Internet is cheap and irrelevant. It’s spammy.
So. Two questions, both linked:
1. Why aren’t more small local businesses getting sites built?
Why are local businesses letting themselves be represented by these potentially inaccurate robotic listing sites?
Perhaps there’s a perception that websites don’t offer value for money. Websites aren’t cheap and the whole process is saturated with concepts that aren’t related to the core business of the client. Bandwidth. Servers. Domain names. Content management systems. All businesses, even web businesses want to make money and maximise sales, so projects are scaled up. Clients are up-sold to earn a quick buck. But that’s business, right?
And the big expensive project does not directly generate income. There is no monthly lump sum. It feels like the client has bought a new car that they don’t have permission to drive, rather than the start of an exciting new direction for their company.
But why spend money on a site that no-one looks at? Roll on, second question.
2. Why wouldn’t the local audience look online for business information?
I don’t believe it’s a question of sophistication. Everyone and their mum has a Facebook account that is kept thoroughly up to date. Smartphone usage is endemic. When I asked Nick Turner (head of digital content at the CN Group) for some insight, he shared that 19% of the visits to the News & Star site were mobiles. That will only rise.
Perhaps the quantity of ‘spam’ listing sites puts people off. Lots of sites that rank highly in Google but offer less than zero value. They waste your valuable time. Perhaps it’s the quality of the real sites. High on noisy SEO optimised content, low on useful information. Worshipping at the altar of SEO.
So, how can we fix it? I warn you, this is not a get-rich quick idea. It is a slow burning, long-term idea. The goal is to improve your relationship with your client and their relationship with their customers.
Websites that are fit for purpose.
Websites that can be found and found easily, with well structured content that includes the name of the organisation and describes the client’s business in a way that expresses the character and tone of their business. No SEO bolt-on — let the search engines do their job, naturally.
Build lightweight websites
Begone, complex Content Management System powering pages full of pointless junk for the benefit of Google. The site should have contact details but without a contact form. Telephone number, address, email address. Short. Sharp. Informative. Instead of building the site for the spiders, build it for the audience.
Design should be simple and functional. Avoid fluff that eats into (or inflates) the budget. Lightweight. Tidy. Reign in your client!
They key here is to provide a low-cost entry into website ownership. We don’t want to act as the gatekeepers for their site, we want to be there to help them grow their business through the Internet.
Explain what the Internet is
Help them to understand the Internet. No, put away that ARPANET book, I mean the character of the internet. Why are cat pictures funny? If I have a video I want to share, how do I get it out to the public. How do I talk to my customers?
Instead of driving their online strategy, based off what you think they need, they will be able to suggest their own features. Use your expertise to hone and refine their ideas. The relationship between you will be more balanced. More respectful. And it’ll grow. For a long time.
Prove it’s working
Help them to understand analytics. Give them the ability to collect and interpret the data their website generates. Show them that their customers are more important to their business than website hits. That they don’t need e-commerce to earn money from their site. Lead generation followed by efficient conversion to sales.
It’s about involving the client rather than just building them a site. Work together to build momentum at a pace that both you and your client can cope with.
Start small. Start nano. But aim to grow!
Coming soon: We aren’t starting this adventure with nothing. Harness local assets for your benefit. And theirs.
p.s. I’m @dies_el on twitter, say hello!