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Take a look at Google.com , then Facebook, then flavour of the month Twitter.com. Are these sites attractive? Why are they so successful? – they’re useful.

Sure, it helps if people can actually read your information and navigate your site. But if you’re a small local business do yourself a favour next time you start working on your website – don’t do any work on the design unless it’s got a serious problem. If you’ve got to mess with the design don’t waste time, try black on white text with little tasteful graphics . Then use the rest of your budget to do changes to get customers in contact with you ;)

How do most new visitors see your site? Do they see the fantastic new facade you blew half your budget on? No, they see you like this:

How most websites are seen

How most websites are seen

That’s right, the first place they see you is as a short snippet in a search results page or a link a friend sent them. Nothing about your attractive design gets them there.

They don’t even see the site when they make their decision to go to it. You can’t edit what the friend says with the link, but you can change what the snippet in the search results show.

Search engines try to give local results to searchers. No two users are going to get the same search results. If the search engine has definitive address data and local sites referring to your site, it will boost your rank locally. If you’re B2C this is critical. The search results pages replaced the yellow pages some time ago for most people.

With phones used for GPS and geo-targetting being used to serve up search results, it’s critical you show up in local searches.

It is also critical that what people see of you in those tiny search summaries grabs them more than the sites above and below you.

Here are some great ways to improve your sites “look” and local appeal:

  • Make sure you own your Google Maps entry – it’s EASY do it here: Google Local
  • Make your store locator / map on your site easy to get to.
  • Even better – add the address and phone to the bottom of every single page and link it to your newfound Google Maps entry
  • Check your snippets for search results and fix them either by editing your site or sitemap or webmaster tools
  • Make a Facebook fan group even if your product isn’t that fun or sexy. Make it just to make sure someone else doesn’t do it for you later.
  • If you have the time, search for yourself or your products and see what you find. A few posts to the right places may drive tons of interested customers your way.
  • If you’re going to go for a full-on redesign make sure you don’t lose the pagerank you already have, use 301 redirects on the old pages
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