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Business Owners' Biggest Mistake? Hanging Up on Smartphone Customers

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Now more than ever, consumers are searching for their dentist, plumber, mechanic and other service-based businesses online and, more importantly, via smartphones or tablets.

Yet 93% of small-business websites are incompatible for mobile devices, according to research conducted earlier this year by vSplash and BIA/Kelsey.

According to a recent Google study, 67% of people said a mobile-friendly website makes them more likely to buy a product or use a service. Additionally, 61% said that if they don't see what they're looking for on a mobile site, they'll quickly move on. The survey polled 1,088 U.S. adult smartphone Internet users in July 2012.

Small businesses could be missing out on crucial opportunities to connect with customers if they resist allocating resources online toward mobile optimization and to get high placement in Google (GOOG - Get Report) search rankings. Small businesses can vastly increase their Web and mobile presence by implementing a few easy changes.

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The first look customers give to a business online is the domain name, which should reflect the business name or be keyword-rich, says domain name and Web-hosting company, Go Daddy. It also should be short, memorable, easy to use and have commercial appeal, Go Daddy says.

The website design itself should be simple, carry current content and be easy to navigate. Including direct language, such as a call to action, will increase customer conversions up to 100%, Go Daddy says.

Beyond that, online marketing consultant Yodle emphasizes the need for a business to have a website that is well-designed to convert to a mobile site, a page on Google+ and a Facebook (FB) page, at a minimum.

"The most important thing -- it's kind of like the lottery -- you have to play to win," says Yodle CEO Court Cunningham. "You have to show up online for people to find you. A third of the companies we talk to don't have a website, they're not showing up in Google Maps and over 90% don't have a mobile website."

Yodle has about 30,000 small-business customers, mainly in the service industry or those with mobile-based businesses.

Half of a small business' marketing budget should be allocated toward Google paid search, Yodle says.

(Yodle announced in September that it became a part of the Google AdWords Premier SMB Partner Program, which connects Google partners with small and medium-sized businesses that need assistance in creating, managing and optimizing their online advertising campaigns. Google is using this program as a way to collect feedback on its tools to further improve performance. By being a partner, Yodle can gleam insight into how small-business customers can use Google more efficiently.)

Small businesses should also "claim their listing" on Google Maps, Cunningham says.

"It isn't that hard. Go to Google+ or Google Maps, search for the business name and ... claim that listing. They will confirm [with] multiple methods for verifying," such as a mailed postcard to that address, which has a pin number to tell Google.

Unclaimed listings do not get pins, Cunningham notes.

To get mobile friendly, small-business websites should include so-called "responsive web design," which allows for viewing optimization across several different devices, meaning different content shows up depending on the device used -- a desktop computer, an iPhone or a tablet.

Mobile content should only be what is "most relevant [to the user] or likely to convert" to a sale, whereas a tablet can have content that is somewhere between a smartphone and desktop, Cunningham says.

For example, a business' mobile site for an iPhone shouldn't waste space with navigation buttons. Instead basic information like contact information, areas that are served and a booking widget are most applicable, according to Yodle.

"A great Web and mobile site, supported by a world-class company, can be life-changing -- it was for me," said Jeff Patterson, owner of The Crawfish Co. and a Go Daddy customer. "Equipped with an idea and nothing to lose, I found Go Daddy on Google. A domain name and one page site later, my phone started to ring. Today, we get up to 1,000 calls a day in crawfish season. My advice to small-business owners: Take time to understand the Internet and get online."

    So, to recap:
  • Choose a domain name that reflects your business name or is keyword-rich;
  • Understand where your business should show up online;
  • Claim your business on Google Maps;
  • Make sure your website is mobile-ready;
  • Invest in paid search, the fastest way to appear on the first page of Google.

-- Written by Laurie Kulikowski in New York.

To contact Laurie Kulikowski, send an email to: Laurie.Kulikowski@thestreet.com.

>To submit a news tip, email: tips@thestreet.com.

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