Is your business website holding you back? If you don’t know – or if you haven’t made the right kinds of upgrades and improvements over the past few years – you’re going to be playing catch up with your competitors. That’s bad news in a world where customers rely more than ever on search engines, online reviews, and social networks when deciding which companies and vendors to work with.

Your website is the hub of your sales and marketing campaigns, not to mention your branding and recruiting efforts. If it isn’t up to date, or if it fails to put your biggest benefits and selling points forward, you will almost always struggle to grow your bottom line. That’s true even if you have better products, services, or prices than the other businesses you’re up against.

There is another side to this reality, though. When your website is put together correctly and backed with a smart online marketing plan you have a huge advantage. You can attract customers, generate leads, and build a stronger bottom line 24 hours a day, every single day of the year.

In this short guide, we want to outline a handful of tips and ideas you need to follow to ensure your website is ready to keep you competitive in 2019. Here is what you have to do to keep up with the latest trends and get a step ahead of your competition…

#1 Have Your Website Audited

In a lot of situations, enduring an audit can be a lengthy or uncomfortable process. In the world of design, though, it just means looking into the coding of your website to identify any big problems or challenges. For example, by testing your HTML, the creative team can see how quickly your pages load, look for problems like broken links or missing content, and even search for duplicate content that Google ignores.

In that way, a website audit is simply an in-depth checkup that lets you know how your website is performing under the hood. It gives you key statistics and performance indicators you can use to get a quick glance at the marketing power of your site while at the same time identifying issues like security exploits that could leave you vulnerable to hackers.

Best of all, a website audit is fast and inexpensive. So, if you’re looking for a quick way to improve your web presence in 2019 and beyond, begin by finding out how things look going into the New Year.

#2 Upgrade Your Web Hosting Service

Most business owners don’t give a great deal of thought to web hosting, which is understandable. It isn’t something you can see when you open your site in a browser, and different packages or options can all feel very similar.

However, premium web hosting brings you a lot of advantages. For one thing, it means storing your website on a faster service, which allows for quicker page loading times. And for another, premium web hosting comes with stronger security, automatic backups, and other safety features. That means there is less chance that your website will be hacked or accidentally deleted. Premium web servers even come with guaranteed uptime so you don’t have to worry about customers getting error messages when they look for your content.

The best part about premium web hosting is that it’s incredibly inexpensive. A lot of business owners don’t even notice the small added yearly costs, even though the difference in speed and security can be significant.

#3 Update Your CMS and Plugins

One of the issues we often discover during a website audit is that a company will be using outdated versions of software. They might be a couple versions behind with WordPress, for example, or could have plugins installed that are outdated and no longer supported.

This might not seem like a big deal, particularly if the website itself seems to be functional. However, big problems can arise when you have outdated code living in your HTML. Old programming can cause conflicts and crashes that only show up on certain browsers or devices. They might leave openings for hackers to exploit. They may also send a signal to Google that your website isn’t current or trustworthy.\

Updating or replacing outdated components of your website isn’t difficult when you know what to look for. If you ignore the problem, though, it could stop your website from being as effective of a sales and marketing tool.

#4 Add SSL Functionality to Your Website

You might not know that SSL stands for “secure socket layers,” but you have undoubtedly noticed that some websites are marked “secure” in your browser while others are shown with warnings like “not safe.” Your customers pay attention to these indicators, as well.

Traditionally, SSL connectivity – which encrypts data transfers between websites and visitors – were reserved for banks and online retailers. In recent years, though, they have become much easier to install and Google has begun to show a preference for SSL-enabled websites over those without that functionality.

This is another upgrade you can make to your business website for just a few extra dollars a month. Not only will it help your online marketing and search visibility, but it could also keep data exchanged with your customers a whole lot safer.

#5 Ensure Your Website is Mobile-Friendly

You have undoubtedly heard already that more than half of all internet traffic now comes from smartphones and tablets. This has prompted most business owners and marketers to upgrade to responsive web designs that adapt their layouts to match whichever screen size a visitor might happen to need. These websites work as well with mobile devices as they do traditional desktop and laptop computers.

If you haven’t already made that switch, it’s imperative that you do so immediately. However, just opting for responsive web design isn’t enough in 2019. To stay with the times you need to be mobile-friendly. That means taking a close look at the size of images and text blocks, re-imagining navigation menus, and considering implementing interactive tools like drop-down menus instead of web forms.

Speed and convenience are at the heart of the mobile-friendly web design movement. If buyers can’t access your site while they are using their favorite devices, you can bet they’ll move on to your competitors instead.

#6 Evaluate Your Web Analytics

There are really two ways to think about website analytics. Some business owners try to avoid them, usually because they are uncomfortable with statistics and technical-sounding reports. Others embrace the fact that they can get real-time feedback on customer behavior and get a better sense of how their various campaigns are performing. Guess which group tends to be far more profitable?

You don’t have to become a web design guru to get familiar with the basics of web analytics. In fact, your creative team should be able to help you understand the overall ideas and trends you see when reports are generated. What matters isn’t that you obsess over every data point or percentage. Instead, you just have to have a good idea of what kind of traffic your website is receiving, where visitors are coming from, and how prospects are interacting with your pages.

A detailed web analytics review is similar to a website audit in that it’s almost impossible to make good decisions about the future until you know what’s happening in the present.

#7 Make an Online Marketing Plan and Budget

The businesses that attract customers through the internet don’t find themselves generating leads and sales by accident. Instead, they plan ahead, knowing what sort of search, social, and advertising strategies they’ll be using weeks or months in advance.

There will always be occasions where you and your creative team will want to make adjustments on the fly, of course, but you shouldn’t be making up your internet marketing strategy as you go. By putting together a plan and budget beforehand, you can maximize your resources and ensure all of your marketing pieces are nudging buyers towards the same goals.

The difference between having a set plan and a list of activities that feels more like a wish list lies in setting deadlines, assigning responsibilities, and thinking realistically. Know what you want to accomplish in the first few months of 2019 and then work with your web design partner to establish a plan that will make it happen.

#8 Update Your Website Content

In a lot of companies, website content is something that’s generated once and then never thought about again. That’s understandable, given that business owners and marketers tend to be busy people who don’t have time to read an update for work that has already been completed. However, it can also be very problematic since outdated information on pages that contain product details, schedules, or team bios can lead to confusion.

Ideally, you would review and refresh your web content on a regular basis. Since that hardly ever happens in most businesses, though, it’s especially important to look things over when you’re on the verge of a new calendar year. It’s a good occasion to think about what might be changing within your company and what buyers, vendors, or the public needs to know about your company.

Unless you have a very large website, it probably won’t take a great deal of time to review your content. But, don’t forget it’s an important step you need to follow through with.

#9 Plan Out an Editorial Calendar

Speaking of content, you already know that adding material to your blog, email newsletter, and social media profiles is a key to promoting your business online. You also know that it can feel virtually impossible to come up with fresh topics and ideas when you are pressed for time and staring at a blank screen.

The answer to this conundrum is to plan out an editorial calendar in advance. Think about which topics and themes you want to base your marketing campaigns around, and how they fit with various seasons within your industry. Think ahead to what might be going on with your customers, and what sorts of specials or concepts you’ll want them to be thinking about during given times of the year.

It doesn’t take a great deal of effort to put together an editorial calendar, but it can give your marketing a much more cohesive feel. And, just as importantly, it can make the difference between always having fresh content and running out of inspiration when you need it most.

#10 Optimize Your Website for Local Search

Every website should be optimized for search engine traffic, but going into 2019 it isn’t enough to simply have generic industry terms and phrases sprinkled throughout your pages. Specifically, you should be sure that Google (and real-world potential customers) know where to find you in a geographic sense.

More than 25% of all searches are for a local company or vendor. It’s no surprise, then, that Google and the other search engines try hard to match up searchers with companies and their areas. They do this by reading specific cues – like city names, street addresses, ZIP Codes, and other factors – that can be found on websites.

While search engine optimization can be difficult, technical, and time-consuming in competitive markets, optimizing your site for local search is usually fairly straightforward. It just requires a bit of research and some on-page tweaks by you and your web design team. Then, Google will know exactly where you are and can send local customers your way.

#11 Check and Manage Your Online Reputation

Did you know that right around 90% of all of your customers will look on the internet for reviews about your business online before they ever call you, make a purchase, or walk into your retail location? Many business owners recognize this intuitively – because they do it themselves – but fail to understand just how important online feedback is to their bottom line.

Your online reputation is the sum of all that has been written or posted about you by former and existing customers, business publications, and even employees. It’s what someone finds when they look at you, your company, or your products on Google, Facebook, Yelp, or an industry website. And, it’s frequently what determines whether you’ll get the opportunity to win a sale or have a buyer turn to your competitor.

Your web design team can set you up with very affordable automated tools that help you to monitor and manage your online reputation – keeping a tab on any reviews that have been left for your company while at the same time encouraging your best customers to say good things. If you’re interested in growing your business, it’s an aspect of your online marketing plan you should be paying close attention to.

#12 Protect Your Website and Data

You wouldn’t leave the front door to your office or business unlocked, so why not protect your website that could see hundreds or even thousands of visitors each month?

We have already mentioned the importance of improving your web hosting and upgrading your web-based software, which is important for safeguarding data. However, you should go farther and set up strong passwords that you change frequently. You’ll also want to make sure your website has been backed up regularly, and that someone is keeping an eye on logins and other activity to look for suspicious behavior.

As with the other tools mentioned in this short guide, protecting your website in these ways costs you virtually nothing. And yet, these kinds of preventative measures can make all the difference in the world when you’re facing an attack or some other online crisis.

The Two Realities of Digital Marketing Now

There are two realities of maintaining a strong web presence. The first is that the internet touches every aspect of your business in a way that would have been difficult to imagine even a few years ago. The fact of the matter is that much (if not most) of your ability to attract and maintain customers will come down to the strength of your website.

The second reality is that businesses of all sizes now fall into two groups: those that are pulling ahead and the ones that are falling behind. There isn’t much middle ground left. You’re either enjoying all the benefits the web has to offer or wondering why buyers are flocking to a company that’s down the street or further up Google’s search engine listings.

The good news in all of this is that deciding where you’ll fit into this mix is entirely up to you. As we have pointed out again and again in the short guide, it doesn’t take a huge amount of time or money to compete online. You just have to be smart and intentional about what you want to accomplish.

Of course, all of this gets a lot easier when you have the right web design and online marketing team on your side. Managing a web presence – complete with an active blog, a regular email newsletter, a search engine optimization plan that attracts customers, and a healthy stream of social post and online ads – is simply too much work for the average business owner or executive to keep up with. That’s where we come in.

You don’t have to build or manage a website all on your own, and you don’t have to wreck your schedule or budget to see good things happen in your company. In fact, if you want to find out just how easy it is to put your business on an upward path, we encourage you to contact us today to schedule a free consultation.

In one short meeting we can learn more about your business, show you what we been able to do for other companies like yours, and give you personalized recommendations that can make a real difference in your bottom line. Why not take five minutes to reach out now and learn more about what we can do to help?