By Ann Marie van den Hurk Lexington Herald-Leader
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) If you've been putting off a website refresh, now's the time to do it!
Shifts in the customer experience are bound to continue this year, and small-business owners who want to continue to thrive should be particularly mindful of two increasingly important trends: mobile and artificial intelligence.
Mobile Everything you do as a business operator should take mobile, think smartphones and tablets, into consideration.
After all, nearly 60 percent of searches are conducted on mobile platforms, meaning it's crucial your business be mobile-friendly, said Grant Kantsios, a Charlotte, N.C.-based consultant.
So, how do you go about getting better at mobile?
Three key areas to attack are website design, search engine optimization (commonly called SEO), and content.
If you've been putting off a website refresh, now's the time to do it.
Customers visiting your website are seeking specific information, and you need to make it easy to find. Focus on highlighting key information: products and services, contact information, location and directions, hours of operation, staff members, and perhaps a frequently updated blog. Your site should allow users to easily find a phone number and dial it with a quick click.
With that in mind, also know that your mobile-friendly design should be simple, meaning no photo slideshows or bulky graphics. Navigation should be uncomplicated, meaning you should limit the site to three or five pages with short menu titles.
SEO, meanwhile, plays a huge role in customers finding you. How quickly your website loads is a major consideration in the optimization picture. An ideal time is two or three seconds a page. To help in this department, consider Accelerated Mobile Pages, a Google-backed program.
Outside web design and SEO, content, as they say, is king. Make sure your site's text and visuals effectively answer your customers' questions.
Artificial intelligence Once the stuff of science fiction, artificial intelligence, or AI, has become a reality. Automated vacuum cleaners and self-driving cars are but two examples.
How can AI be helpful for routine tasks and become increasingly accessible to small businesses to help your venture?
Let's examine three key categories: virtual assistance, insight generation and manual process automation.
Virtual assistance is something a small-business owner can start using right away. Many already use Apple's voice-activated Siri on a daily basis. Similar virtual assistants and chat robots, or chatbots, can assist with customer service tasks like scheduling meetings or answering simple questions.
Karima-Catherine Goundiam, a co-founder and partner at Red Dot Digital Agency, said the virtual assistant she uses to schedule meetings has made the cumbersome process significantly more efficient.
AI programs can also generate meaningful insights from the reams of consumer data easily collected by businesses of all sizes these days. You can use these insights to adapt to market changes and increase sales.
As for the automation of manual processes, smart algorithms can take over time-consuming tasks like compiling sales reports and corralling customer phone numbers.
As you embark on improving your business in the months ahead, remember to let mobile strategies and artificial intelligence bring you closer to your customers. ___ ABOUT THE WRITER Ann Marie van den Hurk, an accredited public relations professional, is principal of Mind the Gap Public Relations and author of "Social Media Crisis Communications."