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The-importance-of-an-online-presence-for-rural-businesses

The importance of an online presence for rural businesses - Part 2

In the first part of this post we looked at some of the difficulties that rural and small town businesses face in promoting themselves, particularly when sources of support seem to be more forthcoming for their urban counterparts.

Well, we think that's too simplistic a view so here we've explored some online techniques that businesses can employ to help get themselves seen - some more obvious than others.

The best thing is, many of them won't cost you a penny!

Give the people what they want

When it comes to your website, perhaps the single most important thing to remember is to make it user-friendly. Try to pre-empt what your customers or service users will want to see, and give it to them! That may seem like plain old common sense (mainly because it is!) but, for years, disreputable quarters of the Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) industry have looked for ways to 'trick' search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo! into ranking their sites higher in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).

The good news is Google and its competitors are continually developing ever-more-sophisticated algorithms to list pages in the order that's most relevant to your search. It makes sense - Google wants to be your 'go-to' search engine and the best way for it to achieve that is to serve you with the most appropriate web pages for your queries - no tricks.

So, let's assume there are other companies within your area, vying for the same business. What should your website feature for Google to deem it the most useful and rank you accordingly?

What do you do?

From the outset make it very clear what the nature of your business is.

The catchiest business names rarely describe their function - just look at Amazon for example - but including the right keywords in your website header makes it much easier for a search engine to return that information in the SERPs.

Look at our recent website for Ash Heating Systems below. The header details the company's main services and that it serves Todmorden, Hebden Bridge and the surrounding area. Search Google for 'boiler installations Todmorden' and you'll find the site listed on the first page of results.

Ash Heating Systems

Never underestimate the importance of an informative 'Home' or 'About Us' page, concisely describing your services at a glance.

Look at our homepage for The New Delight Inn, for example, which tells you where the pub is, that it caters for walkers and bikers, etc., and the variety of food and drink you can expect when you visit. This is all covered in a few sentences, inviting you to explore the site further for more detailed information.

New Delight Inn

The bigger picture

It may be a cliché but there's truth in the saying 'a picture is worth a thousand words' - and that's exactly why you should use images on your website.

You'll notice on The New Delight Inn homepage a prominent photo of the pub in its beautiful Calderdale countryside setting. Instantly walkers and cyclists can see it's situated near their kind of terrain, the outdoor seating looks ideal for a sunny day's al-fresco drinking, and it's perfect for dog owners who may not be able to take their pets to indoor establishments.

So, what could some well-chosen pictures say about your business? Depending on the context, they can:

  • Be inspirational
  • Be aspirational
  • Provide information
  • Add to the visual appeal of your website

However, don't use images just for the sake of it. Make sure they serve a purpose and, importantly, ensure they're of good quality - remember, they represent you and your business.

Wherever possible, make pictures exclusive to your website and avoid stock imagery - it's the best way to visually portray what makes your business unique.

If you're happy for others to use your photos, hosting sites like Flickr allow you to specify an attribution, directing people to your website each time they're reused - a great source of free publicity.

Get yourself connected

Perhaps one of the best reasons for rural businesses to go online is the way a website can compensate for a lack of 'high street' visibility. However, the balance is only redressed if your site makes it particularly clear how, when and where your customers can get in touch with you.

It's not uncommon for websites to feature at least a phone number and e-mail address on their homepage, saving users time and effort exploring the site for contact details. Our design for Colden Care, below, is a case in point.

Colden Care

The same details and more should be included on a 'Contact' or 'Contact Us' page - this is the title that users will look for, so follow online convention and don't confuse matters with names like 'Connect With Us' or 'Hello'.

Rural addresses can be hard to find for people who are new to the area, so make your postcode prominent for sat-nav users and consider installing a Google map widget that, if clicked on, can provide visitors with travel directions from their location.

Signing up to Google's My Business service pinpoints you on Google Maps, lets mobile users phone you with a single touch of a button, and allows people to save or share your details for future use. Considering it's free and integrates with Google+, it's a no-brainer for any business to get onboard - you may have seen it featured in this advert that showcases many of Google's free facilities.

GillGraphics Location

Pure and simple

Look at our portfolio page and you'll see how we've applied these simple yet effective techniques to a range of rural business web designs in Hebden Bridge, Todmorden, Mytholmroyd and the Calderdale region.

We believe a successful website partly comes from an understanding of the area in which your business is based, and the kind of users you want and/or expect it to attract.

Contact us to find out how we could help your business with effective web design and keep your eyes peeled for the next post where we'll look deeper at ways to get your rural business noticed online.

Written By Oliver Smith - 26/10/14

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