As a measure of the speed at which the digital age is changing how Americans shop, consider that in just a few months more people are expected to search for products from their phones than personal computers.
Cyber marketing specialist Drew Tonsmeire says he can’t under-emphasize the urgency for Mississippi businesses to prepare for the coming change in electronic shopping habits.
“That is now, guys. It’s not something in the future,” he says, as he points to a Power Point slide that makes this direct statement: “By 2013, more people will use their mobile phones than computers to get online.”
Tonsmeire, a marketing professor and area director of the Kennesaw State University Small Business Development Center, is a disciple of the gospel of Google and has taken to the road to spread his message.
He served as the opening presenter at an afternoon work session at the Jackson Marriott presented by Google, whose rise to prominence as the world’s dominant Internet search engine caused its name to become a verb.
“To Google” is to go in search of something. And as Google the company will tell you: “Ninety-seven percent of online consumers research products and services online before buying.”
Google is on a 50-state tour to acquaint small business owners with the coming changes in cyber shopping and what must be done to reap rewards from them.
Last Monday’s afternoon “Get Your Business Online” session filled an upstairs banquet room of the Marriott. Each participant received an offer of a free domain name and a year of free Internet hosting by Intuit.
Kenesaw State’s Tonsmeire brought a simple but significant message: “It’s not enough to just have a website. We’ve got to engage and connect.”
Your customers are engaged, Tonsmeire told the audience.
That homework typically begins with a Google search. You can buy a sponsorship to get at the top of the search page or an advertisement to get you to the right hand side of the page, Tonsmeire says.
Or you can try your hand at Search Engine Optimization as your best chance of gaining a high listing on the “organic” search results, he says.
Here’s where the business owner has to exert some effort and focus or risk placement on page two of the search — a no-man’s land where few shoppers venture, Tonsmeire advises.
“Content is the key,” he adds. The best content is “engaging,” uses “important words” and keeps “up-to-date.”
You’ll need the web master tools that will tell you how Google sees your site. You can use the tools as well to sign up for alerts and to tell Google about your site, Tonsmeire says.
You want Google to do more than bring customers to your web site, he says. That is why you need to submit your site map to the company for placement, Tonsmeire adds.
So you’ve come up with the right key words to gain you high placement through Search Engine Optimization, given Google details on your business and its offerings and submitted your site map. Now you must get your web site ready for new visitors, Tonsmeire says.
The first priority must be to put your phone number in more than one place on your site. “Make sure it is the most visible” element on the page,” Tonsmeire says.
With mobile phones and other hand-held devices set to become the most frequently used method for online searches, you must ensure your web site is a fast loader. It must load and show up on a mobile phone within two seconds, Tonsmeire says. “At four, I’m gone.”
With that in mind, you must get your web site updated to ensure it’s ready for today’s search habits, he urges.
Jackson web site professional Sam Johnson is staying busy helping businesses update their web sites to meet the changing times. He advises his business clients to watch out for the size of their imagery. Too large and it will be a clunky loader, says Johnson, a principal of five-year-old Howl Design and ThinkHD.com.
“Another thing is your host,” he says. “If you get GoDaddy or one of those $5 a month hosts, you’re not going to get the speed you need.”
The deeply discounted hosts typically have multiple web sites on the same server, which makes for sluggish response times, he says.
His advice: Get a good web design firm. “They’ll help you create what you need that will load up in reasonable time on a phone,” and will advise you on the host that best fits your web site, Johnson says.
A business can get an full e-commerce site set for as little as $30 a month through sites such as Shopify,com, according to Johnson. “They are a good one for starting off,” he says.
But it’s Google’s Analytics that will tell you who has visited your site, where they came from, the keywords they used and at what stage they abandoned your shopping cart, Johnson adds.
“The main thing I’m concerned with in my business is how are people looking at the web site,” and whether they got there by personal computer or mobile device, he says.
“Google actually has analytics for that. They have the absolute best tools available.”
In today’s tech world, he adds, “anything Google says is gospel.”
>>SEE BELOW MBJ-TV producer Stephen McDill also talked with Google representative Jamie Hill about the event.