According to new research from Clutch, almost 7 million of the 27.9 million small businesses in the United States don’t have their own website. Given that 67 percent of consumers start their search for a local business through search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing, local businesses miss out on major revenue with all demographics by neglecting to set up a web presence. “In a world where localization is extremely important to a small business and the Yellow Pages are almost extinct, making a website locally relevant in search rankings can almost guarantee a free revenue stream,” says Andy Walker of Cyberwalker Digital, a content-focused online marketing agency in Florida. With obvious benefits, why exactly are small business owners choosing to opt out of what is seen as a necessary marketing tool in today’s always on, always connected world?
Many small business owners are slow to adapt to new technology because they don’t completely understand how it works or how it will benefit their business. Instead of investing the necessary time and effort into learning and understanding the many uses a website could have, some small businesses choose to go without. “I’ve found that many small business owners, once they’ve found strategies that work for them, tend to drag their feet on new technology,” says Brian Carter, author and CEO of The Carter Group. “They can mistakenly assume that since one strategy has always worked before, it will always work in the future.” Some small businesses are slow to adapt, but unfortunately, their competitors are already using technology and primed to build more business because of it. “Many successful, established small businesses don’t feel they need to keep up with the times because they’ve been successful without technology for so long,” says Andrew Goodman of AGNC Media, a social marketing agency. “But when a competitor comes along who can get people in the door with tech, the old established business will lose.”
The other issue is that technology changes rapidly; while websites are solidified in the realm of digital marketing, the upkeep and evolution might seem endless to a small business owner. “How often should the site get updated? Should I also create a Facebook Business page? What about a Twitter account? Do I need to do PPC ads? Once you’ve opened the Pandora’s Box of online outlets and services, will it ever close? “Every three to five years, something new comes along that provides a temporarily outsized advantage to businesses that adopt them,” Carter says. “They continue to work, but once a majority of people adopt them, the competitive advantage is much lower. That was SEO, then Google AdWords, then Twitter and now Facebook.” However, what many small businesses are failing to realize is that setting up an online presence is first and foremost for your consumer. A website helps people learn more about a business, Facebook pages let existing customers tell others about how great a business is and PPC ads help new customers find local services and products. These things aren’t in addition to running a business, they help
Not having a website is bad enough, but having a website that isn’t responsive cuts deep into the digital reach of small businesses. Responsive websites aren’t just miniaturized versions of a website on a smartphone or tablet; they’re different versions of the same website that are reconfigured for better use on smaller devices (i.e. text is larger, has click-to-call capability, easy to tap buttons to navigate around the site, etc.). Of the small businesses that do have a website, only 56 percent have implemented responsive design, meaning nearly half of those websites can’t be viewed or are difficult to view on a smartphone or tablet. Since 64 percent of U.S. adults own a smart device of some kind, responsive design is a major component of any quality website today. “I would characterize a failure to have a mobile friendly website in the same was as a failure to upgrade from a horse and cart to a car in the era of Henry Ford,” Walker says. “You’ll survive for a short while but eventually you’ll be out of business as all of your competitors large and small run you down.” Not having a mobile-friendly website puts your small business only halfway into digital realm. Consumers are always on the go, and small businesses need to be with them every step of the way — from desktop searching to tablet surfing.
The bottom line is that consumers, of all demographics, use the Internet to search for products and services. If a small business isn’t listed online and viewable on all devices, it’s going to lose its share of the market.