eMarketer quoted an Ad-ology survey today that found that 46 percent of small business owners do not have a Web site in 2009. A separate Vistaprint study cited by eMarketer found that only half of those with a site are currently tracking their marketing efforts. Maybe that puts my fire about last week’s small business SEO debate into a bit more perspective.
If not, what about the stats from the new a Discover Small Business Watch poll mentioned by Denise O’Beary last week that corroborate Ad-ology’s numbers and adds in that more than 45 percent think it’s a myth that people even need one?
Is the discussion about why SEO is important for small business owners still unimportant? I don’t think so.
For me, these numbers do a lot to paint a picture of where many SMBs are in the Internet marketing learning curve. Yes, we’ve seen small businesses do some amazing things in social media. I actually think they’re some of the best unofficial social media marketers out there because they still have the heart, the ears, and the passion that many larger corporations have lost. But as the numbers offered by eMarketer and Discover show, not everyone is at that point. Some are still fighting getting their feet wet.
What are SMB owners losing by NOT having a Web site?
Small business owners need to realize that people aren’t using phone books for anything other than door stops anymore. As of last week, all three major search engines are skewing search queries towards local even when a user doesn’t include a local modifier. SMB owners need to not only create a Web presence, but to control it, as well.
It’s possible to create a Web presence without a full site thanks to things like Yelp and other social media outlets. However, you don’t control any of those. You have no say on how they’ll let you connect with customers. You can’t create an email list on Twitter. By relying on *other* sites to house your conversations you’re severely handicapping yourself.
Without a real Web site, you lose your ability to:
- Differentiate yourself
- Create authority and street cred with customers and within your industry
- Spread ideas
- Get social
- Take advantage of Universal Search’s ranking power
- Benefit from the engines bias to show local results
- Share your company story and information
- House your own community
- Save costs by answering frequently asked questions
- Target your specific neighborhood (defined by zip code, points of interest, ideas, etc)
- Build an email list.
Where should a small business owner start in building a Web site?
Identify the purpose(s) of the site: Not all small business Web sites have the same goal. Some want to simply promote the product, while others are looking to promote their ideas or build an active community. Give some thought to what you want to accomplish before you consider anything else. You’d be surprised how it changes your perspective.
Get your domain: In most cases, the domain name you choose will probably be very similar to your business name, however, that’s not always the case. Back in 2008, I detailed how to pick a kickass domain name. I think the advice there still holds.
Get hosting: This is typically where small business owners start eyeing the door. They’re cool with coming up with a wicked domain name, but for some reason “hosting” sounds scary. If you’re a small business owner, there are plenty of very affordable hosting options available that will get you up and running for less than $10 a month. Your hosting plan should also allow you the opportunity to create a [firstname.lastname@example.org] email address – make sure you set that up to give you some added street cred.
Hire someone to design it: You don’t need a fancy, feature-heavy Web site in order to promote your small business on the Web, but you do need one that looks professional. If you can’t do it yourself, hire someone to give you a hand. And hire doesn’t necessary mean “give them money”, never underestimate the power of free pizza and “real life work experience” to a college student.
Create your content: Again, you’re not Sears or CNN. You don’t need a huge Web site over flowing with content. You just need to give potential customers some place trusted to land that tells them who you are and what you’re about. That means creating (at minimum) your Home page, Product or Service pages, an About Us page, and a Contact us page to share information about who you are and what you do, but also to localize your business through content.
Get listed: Claiming your local business listing in Google, Yahoo, Bing, Yelp, BOTW and all over third-party sites is important enough that I do include it on the Setting Up Your Site list. If you’re not sure if you’re site is already listed or what info the engines have about you, the appropriately-named GetListed.org is your window into that world.
Marketing it: Like the design stage above, you may want to outsource your marketing efforts to professionals who can help you create a social media plan or a marketing road map. However, if you’re willing to get your hands dirty, you may not have to. There are plenty of easy ways to build buzz for your small business site without hiring a full-fledged Internet marketing company. Matt McGee offered some great tips on what he’d do if he was just starting out again. You may not even need people like us.
While the number of SMB owners creating Web sites is up 36 percent over the past two years, that number really needs to grow in the next year. The search engines’ obsession with local has made your Web site an even bigger part of your business and marketing plan. Make sure you’re treating as such.