A digital presence is non-negotiable

There was a time, in the increasingly distant past, when websites were seen as the domain of big business. The cost was exhaustive, the development was complicated and there were those who even made money buying up domain names, in the hopes that a big brand would pay big bucks for it.

We have moved beyond that to a place where if you do not have a website, or any other type of digital presence, even as a small business, you are being left behind.

In 2019, the top searched items in South Africa were:

  1. Job openings near me
  2. Parks near me
  3. Restaurant near me
  4. McDonalds near me
  5. Hotels near me
  6. Hair Salon near me
  7. Voting Station near me
  8. Petrol station near me
  9. Makro near me
  10. Woolworths near me


New way of window shopping

In the last five or so years, local search has started to dominate not just globally, but within South Africa, as well. Google’s Near Me feature, coupled with the explosion of location services on most mobile phones, have driven people to their phones when looking for just about anything. 

Why should all of this matter to you? 

Well, this trend clearly indicates that we do not wander aimlessly around shopping centres and malls the way we used to. Today, window shopping happens digitally – online or on mobile. One may even do a search for background on a product, service or business while on the premises. What this means is that, regardless of geographical location or size of your business, it is becoming increasingly important to have a digital presence, starting with a website, to serve as your home base online. 

You will also need a domain, consumers are more trusting of a business that has an official online home. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and internet companies like Afrihost, Mweb, and GoDaddy can help with that. The cost of domains and hosting depends on the company and whether you are registering a domain ending with, .com, .org, .africa etc., domain pricing ranges from R30 to R2000+. Afrihost, pricing ranges from R97 to R2000 (for .fm). Go Daddy ranges from R50 to R500. If you take a hosting package, some have specials for reduced fee or free on domain name for the first year or two.

To create your website, there are a wealth of resources available. The ISPs mentioned above also offer website building services, some are even included in your hosting package when you sign-up. You can also build your site, without extensive technical knowledge, using platforms such as WordPress, Wix, Squarespace, etc who offer free and paid for packages. There are thousands of themes to choose from. Google My Business provides a free business profile which is promoted, with your business website, on Google Search and Maps, and, should you not have a website, their tools can help you build your site.

Start with the free online tools

Beyond the above, there is a plethora of web developers who can handle this for you. To begin, it doesn’t have to be overly intricate. Start with a landing page with background on your business, your location, products and services, how to contact you and links to social media. As you go, you can add on booking services, e-commerce and a blog. Your website is for branding, for marketing, for sales and to build a relationship with your customers. Regular sharing of information and insights around your particular industry helps with all of the above. And your site also enables you to gather data on your existing and potential customers, which you can then use to tailor your business offering.

It will also be necessary to put in the work to understand Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) or to have access to a developer who can help you with this. Neil Patel defines SEO as “the process of optimising your online content so that a search engine likes to show it as a top result for searches of a certain keyword.” I know it’s overwhelming and it all sounds complicated, this shouldn’t stop you from starting and then you can build from there. 

Lastly, it is useful to establish a presence on social media, to complement and drive traffic to your website. However, be deliberate about which platforms make sense for your business specifically and don’t just jump onto a platform because it seems to be the most popular.

We live in a connected world. We are no longer limited by geographical location and, with the challenges facing us today, it is important to expand beyond our physical premises. It is necessary to be visible, to service your clients wherever they may be, and to demonstrate that your business is credible. When potential clients search for your business, let them find something.

By Kojo Baffoe