Why Your Small Business Needs a Website in 2010

small business seoeMarketer 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?

Customers.

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:

  • SMB toolsDifferentiate 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 [you@domainname.com] email address – make sure you set that up to give you some added street cred.

pizza as paymentHire 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.

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About the Author

Lisa Barone

Lisa Barone co-founded Outspoken Media in 2009 and served as Chief Branding Officer until April 2012.

Get social with Lisa at Twitter

59 thoughts on “Why Your Small Business Needs a Website in 2010

  1. Lisa, I think once you said “Where should a small business owner start in building a Web site?” you probably lost 80% of the SMB owners that don’t have websites. They don’t even know *why* they need a site, other than “because my competition does”.

    And even with the declining use of Yellow Pages as consumers age, a good portion of SMB owners still don’t get it. And taking the time to educate them can be an arduous task for a web designer. And on top of that, trying to get them to commit to a monthly SEO budget? Forget it.

    • I hope some of the “why” is covered above, but maybe not. And as was discussed in the previous post, SEO for a small business is really mostly about covering the basics, which (usually) doesn’t require that large of a budget. There’s lots that a SMB can do themselves (listing their site, localizing content, etc) with just a small time investment. I don’t think SEO has to be scary for a small business owner. It’s about getting things set up correctly so you’re starting out with a site that’s accessible for everyone.

  2. The only thing I might disagree with is the advice about having the college student put up your website on the cheap.

    I cannot count how many small business owners have come to me over the past twelve years crying because the friend/relative/kid who designed their website disappeared, graduated, lost interest, or just generally flaked out on them. In many cases the hosting or the domains weren’t in the businesses’ names, which was a major hassle, and nobody had passwords or the knowledge or ability to do even the smallest update.

    If you want a professional site, choose a professional site builder. It’s not anywhere near as expensive as you’d think (and there are many templates you can get for under a hundred bucks, and your site builder can then customize them to make them look unique to your business)

    I always think of the phrase “I was wary of how much it cost to hire a professional – until I realized how much it cost me to hire an amateur”

    • Very valid. I mentioned the college kid approach because the average small business owner just needs a simple layout that looks professional. But you’re right, if you hire someone who’s just hacking shit together, it’s going to cost you more in the end for sure.

    • “On the cheap” doesn’t have to be a college kid though. I’ve built websites for next to nothing before. I built one for a local tea shop in exchange for tea. The good thing about small businesses is that they often have great services they can use to barter with.

      • The good thing about small businesses is that they often have great services they can use to barter with.

        Yes. That’s basically what I was getting at. Jesus, remind me never to bring up college kids again. :p

        • And another thing about college kids…. er oh.

          To me the take away is that the site shouldn’t be something that SMBs do as cheaply as possible to tick a checkbox but look at as an investment in marketing and customer service. Doing that casts it in the light of “hmm, I’m spending $N, what return should I see?” which can lead to “how do I know if I’m seeing that return?” and that comes full circle to the conversation about analytics, tracking leads from the site, etc – all of which usually makes lights go on in their minds since they start to get that sites are trackable in ways that many marketing efforts are not.

          I wonder, too, if some of this is generational and segment driven. I can see a 60yo being more reluctant to get into the web than a 30yo and I can see some stores who don’t sell items easily on the web (very high end furniture for example) thinking that they won’t make sales on the web so what’s the point?

          If someone is intimidated by hosting etc, I’d encourage them to look at something like wordpress.com if they don’t need commerce on the site. Pick a template that can be branded, pay a small amount to a technical friend to map your domain to the WP.com site and start. You can always move it over to a self-hosted site, but this is about as easy as you can get and it’s almost free (there’s a small fee for the domain mapping).

        • Yes, please do not suggest trying to get a “professional” looking website for free or trade. You will only frustrate your readers and the designers they contact.

    • After teaching web design to college students for nearly a decade I can honestly say I agree and disagree with this. It is all based on the student and I would say it is half-and-half. Half of my students could easily take a small business Web site and make it professional and meet all expectations.

      One of the things that I stress in class is the importance of that portfolio and the situations that are talked about here are what can help them to build the necessary portfolio.

      But, on the other hand, there are the students who took a DreamWeaver course and think that they can now be a full-time designer. Those are the one’s who are going to flake and take off at the first signs of critique.

    • Amen, and aside from being financially irresponsible, it’s down right sleazy to expect even an amateur to build you a fully functioning website for a pizza and work experience. Think about it, you don’t offer a doctor a pizza to diagnose your illness or a carpenter “work experience” to build cabinets, heck you don’t even do that to the neighbor kid that mows your lawn, so why would you do it to a person either in the process of or already at the level of a professional designer…

      If you can get yourself a decent site out of a site builder then just go that route to save money, it’s less skeezy and probably will turn out cheaper. But you should really consider hiring a professional.

  3. Not having a website for your business now takes the cake for the #1 reason to facepalm when explaining the value of a web presence to SMB owners. Reason #2 would be the classic phrase “my customers aren’t on the Internet”.

    If you don’t have a web site, and don’t make it easy to find, it just means that your potential customers are finding your competitors.

    -@sully

  4. 46% is just STAGGERING! It’d be interesting to see a case study of a loss of potential customers for a small business by not having a website. I have made many of my decisions [restaurant, store, etc] based on what info their site provided me. As you said, build a simple, 5 page [or so] website with basic information…that is all you need to garner most of your visitor’s trust. Great tips!

  5. Okay…I’m going to get hammered for this, but here goes any how (with a giant disclaimer that I’m in total agreement that virtually every business out there should have a Web site and the vast majority could benefit a ton even from basic SEO services):

    With the growing fragmentation of search and the increasing reliance on social media results, local business listings, Google Places, et al, couldn’t you make the case a small business needs a Web site less in 2010 than 2009? That is, assuming they took advantage of and optimized all those properties.

    [covers head and ducks]

    • Heh. I get the argument, but I still think you should be putting resources to a site that you own and that you can control. Those Place pages are going to be great for visibility both through traditional online and especially with mobile, but there’s zero point of difference there. It’s just the basics of your company. It gives no reason why someone should do business with you. I think if social media has proven anything its that people are interested in the story and who’s behind a company. Your site gives you a chance to do that.

      You also can’t explicitly sell to your customers via a Place page. You can’t gather emails from an email list to market that way. You can’t form a community on a Google Place page. It’s the difference between renting an apartment and building a house, IMO.

  6. I disagree, I think that now more than ever you should go to where the traffic is, not waste energy and resources trying to re-create it.

    The campy 1990’s style brochure site days are over. About us, Meet our Team, blah, blah, blah… I cant remember the last time I read through a small businesses brochure site (or spent money as a result of it) The main purpose of a website is to convert. So sell me, baby!

    Besides, if I want information about a company or product I know I can usually get more reliable information from a third-party, not the company itself.

    The exception to site building would be for those that ready to maintain a publication like a blog – but most small business owners are not doing that. So most owners should just make lead capture pages to grab contact info with some sales content. They’ll make more money.

    In sales: The less you give them, the more they give you.

    • You should absolutely go where your customers are but I don’t think that gets you out of the responsibility of having to have your own Web site. Even if it’s just some place to drive people back to when you establish that connection elsewhere. Your site is your home. You own it. You control it. You know it’s going to be there tomorrow. You place all your eggs on Twitter…and then you’re screwed when Google guys buys Twitter and borks it up to hell.

      The best way to grow your site is often to get off it but…you still need that place to hang your hat, IMO. Your site is what’s going to get you ranking for everything you want to rank for so that people find you. Not your social media accounts.

      • “…Google ‘guys’ Twitter and borks it up to hell…” — your fingers betray you?

        I think a large part of SMB resistance to websites is a combination of ignorance, fear, and the security that what they’re doing now, however lame and website-less, is working at least “good enough” to tread water. Even if they understand that a website could help down the road, they often have a problem quantifying the risk vs. reward and can never be convinced it’s worth the trouble to start.

        Unless a small business owner can grasp both why they need a website (if they do) and what to do once they have it, I’d honestly say they’re better off not bothering until they at least take some time to understand the basics, build a marketing plan, and set some realistic goals. You key in on that in your first bullet, but I think that process is woth special emphasis. Too many small businesses “just do it” without any knowledge or forethought, just because they hear from everyone, including their customers, that they should have a website. Floundering, failure, and abandonment tend to follow.

        On the topic of consultants / designers: If you really don’t “get it” but are ready to throw some money at getting a website up, at least get your money’s worth by working with someone that is willing to do a little hand-holding and can teach as well as do. Hiring a shady, black-box consultant that won’t help you learn is just another form of paying for something you don’t own – in this case, comprehension / expertise.

  7. When it comes to hiring a designer, I’m a firm believer in getting what you pay for. I’ve done sites in exchange for services before, but I tend not to mess with the value too much. If I’m building a $3,000 website in exchange for tea (to use Dawn’s example), I’d expect $3,000 worth of tea. I did a website for a local mechanic and when I gave him the quote (four figures but nowhere near $3,000), he offered me two free oil changes in exchange for the site.

    Honestly.

    If budget is a major concern, students about to graduate from web and graphic design schools are a great asset. They will still probably want some change, but the market value of that isn’t going to nearly what it would be for someone like Brian Hoff or Jason Santa Maria and you know they’re at least good enough to graduate.

  8. You’d think us small business owners would have addressed this issue 10 years ago. Amazing how many have still to get onboard. I know of countless (at least I’ve lost count) times when I’ve sat with a business owner, asked what name of their business was, looked online, and discovered either their market keyword or business name (or both) were available for domain registration. We will eventually reach the end of that road, but 2010 is no time to procrastinate (thank you spell check) on small businesses having a web presence.

  9. I think a lot of small businesses don’t think there is much value in a website if they are a purely local business. The local Chinese restaurant isn’t going to expect much business from the next state/country over, so why have a world accessible website? Yet that’s exactly what I hope they have when I’m deciding who to call when I don’t feel like cooking tonight, complete with photographs, ingredient lists, and a map so I can find them.

    How much is a full page ad in the Yellow Pages these days? Web hosting can’t be much more expensive than that. The cost of designing the ad is likely comparable to a simple website design.

  10. What about the local service provider who had a geocities “website” for 5 years, but didn’t get any results until hir yellow page listing / Google profile showed up in Google’s “ten box”? Doesn’t need a website.

    What about the realtor who has had a cookie-cutter corporate real estate site for X years, feeding leads back to corporate, but started tweeting and connected to real buyers and sellers immediately, with real-time communications on the Blackberry? Doesn’t need a website.

    No matter how you slice it, a website is a liability. It costs money to start (with uncertain returns), it costs money to maintain (with uncertain status), and costs money to update (with updates usually prompted by web service providers, not customers). There is a lot broken with the independent web site model for small business, unless the small business has a clear Internet strategy.

    Now go and try to sell them on paying for a web strategy.

    Google and online yellow page plays have the right idea, but so far have not executed well. The small business will partner for an annual fee… all someone needs to do is deliver value and manage risk. Sad it hasn’t happened much yet.

  11. 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.

    Would you ask a trainee surgeon to conduct a procedure on your wife or ask a builder to construct the underpinnings of your house in exchange for some free pizza? This is the kind of attitude that devalues the skills that area required to work in the web design/development industry.

    • As a writer/blogger, I know all about the devaluation of one’s skill set, I assure you. I more meant that small business owners are often able to barter for what they need moreso than a larger corporation. I really didn’t mean it as an insult. As a college student, I did a lot of work for college credit or other types of “payment” that didn’t include actual dollars and cents.

      Also, get in the conversation next time. Leave a name.

    • I don’t think it devalues the skills that are required to execute web design / development at a more professional level. If you’re getting something done for free (or almost free), common sense would tell you to expect it to look like it was free.

      When I was a starving college student, for example, I went to the local beauty college to get my hair cut for $5. I knew I looked like I had a $5 haircut, but I also knew that meant I had money for books. If you want to be guaranteed quality, you have to be willing to open up your wallet – and the point here is that many SMBs simply can’t match the price tag that quality web design carries (and deserves).

      That said, I know a handful of web designers just out of school with the latest skillset that are eager to build their portfolio and would work for half the price and do better quality work than some of the out-of-date “professionals” I’ve dealt with in the past.

      • …I went to the local beauty college to get my hair cut for $5. I knew I looked like I had a $5 haircut, but I also knew that meant I had money for books.

        omg the giggle tears. But thanks for clarifying a point I apparently made very poorly above. :)

  12. Dead on, Lisa. I’m not sure why people are shocked that the survey found 46% of SMBs still do not have a website. Not to age-discriminate here but many SMBs are owned by our parents’ generation, many of whom are still intimidated by the internet, though thankfully most of them have been on it now. Even those who know their business could use a simple website don’t have a clue where to start, and are afraid of throwing money at some unreliable college kid. ;-) There’s plenty of work to be had out there, but I’m still not sure it’s obvious to the SMB owner where they should be looking.

  13. I couldn’t believe we are still having this conversation, but the comment about the average age of the small business owner and their tech savvy is spot on. My target client is SBO, 35-55, who needs some to deliver a professional, functional site AND hold their hand as they enter the digital age. The process, of not only building but promoting, is key to a sites success and something you can’t get from Website Tonight.

    I’ve also abandoned designing static sites and do everything in wordpress, joomla or volusion, and include as much user training as they need. I also teach then how to use email marketing and social media to drive traffic. Once they see it isn’t Rocket Surgey (can’t wait to read that book) they’re converted.

  14. Thanks for the great article.
    Yes it’s obvious that small business need a web site.
    However small business has another big problems, so they don’t have time or costs for their own sites.
    But it’s not difficult at all to built such sites. You only need to explore HTML (1-2 day) + CSS (few days). The bigger problem you may see is to add any interactions with your potential clients. For example you may need contact form. I’d like to suggest to use online creators for this, for example http://www.MyTaskHelper.com
    You can create and design your contact form, mailing list and even more, customize it and place few lines of code to your site and here you are – you spent few days and your business now have web site and even forms in it!

    Hope it helps.

    Cheers,
    Igor

  15. When the Yellow Pages get dropped off on my front porch I follow the following procedure:

    1. Using right foot, push & kick the book in the direction of my recycle bin.
    2. Once adjacent to the recycle bin, I use my right hand to pick up the book and toss it into the bin so that it can be recycled into another Yellow Pages next year.

    Who in heaven’s name doesn’t search the web for information about your business? I thought everybody had a website by now. :-)

  16. Just having a website (in 2010) is not going to be enough. You need to learn how to engage with your online visitors, talk to them, connect with them. Traditional social media tools (Facebook pages, LinkedIn, Comments on your blog) are great ways to get started.

    I also believe its important to get “closer” to a representative set of customers, for example, by creating a “BrainTrust” with your most important customers so that you can stay in constant contact with them: http://AskMyBrainTrust.com/c/b

  17. I’ve been working hard these past few years, setting up a social network that allows anyone (including small businesses) to build a professional web site or social network of your own (with AJAX capabilities) without needing any programming or graphic design skills. Simply drag & drop components directly onto your web pages such as photo galleries, comments, and videos, then install powerful applications onto your web site as well, like a blog, store front, or newsletter manager. http://www.rennder.com.

  18. Once again, we see that the years spent to acquire web development skills can be procured for pizza. God forbid you tried that same payment tactic on your doctor, attorney, or mechanic. And that is why I long ago stopped building websites professionally (and possibly why so many small biz sites are so very bad).

    • I agree with you 100% , this is why we need to regulate the Creative industry just like doctor, attorney, architect.

  19. Lisa,

    it’s really sad that an article like this has to be written. If you are a business owner and you have to be convinced of the “why” of this article, then you need to shut it down. I feel that the business owners who neglect this either don’t understand or they are just being lazy about it.

  20. Lisa,

    I almost wonder if many small businesses still don’t have a Web site because they’re still not seeing the value in it. Sure, they think they should have one “because that’s what everyone tells them,” but until they see how it brings in dollars, they aren’t doing it.

    John Sternal
    @sternalpr

  21. Good post for those peoples who are going to start own small biz. They can share own biz ideas with others quickly with several clicks.

    Thank for this post,
    Lisa

  22. I agree. It’s mind boggling to realize that at this time and age, there are still businesses out there that do not have online presence. I think maybe they’re overwhemed with the new technology and with the rate it develops, they feel they might not be able to catch up so they just stay where they are. Little do they know that there are tools out there, some even free, that would help them set up a website with relative ease and speed. I mean, it only takes a short time to install WordPress!

    Amy Cameron
    BuildMySiteforFree.com

  23. I work in an industry where most have a website but most are not built or positioned properly. Not only do Small Business Owners need a website but the right website.

    • I agree with you 100% , from what I’ve seen on here there are a lot of amateur hacks trying to make a quick buck, I think they need to f@#k off and let the professionals do what they do best. Just because you can install wordpress doesn’t mean that you can design and develop a website. that’s how most businesses get a crappy website that is no good.

  24. Having a website without a marketing plan is just like having a vintage car that you can show to people but cannot take a ride on it. Your idea fo website should be backed up by a good internet marketing plan so that you can drive your potential customers to your website. Make full use of Social Media in your marketing plan. Social media is your means and your website is the destination.Not sure if Geo targetting or Geo Marketing can be helpful to all small businesses but yes they help in some specific industries. Another, important point is to use CMS so that you can keep the content of your website changing so that even if you have a handful visitor they do not lose attraction to visit your website in their own convenient time.

    Rubela
    Software Sales and Development

  25. Great Article Lisa.
    To continue the ‘auto analogies’ further, part of the problem is that a ‘harried’ SMB just doesn’t know who to trust with those hard won dollars- and so often ends up at an agency- who will build them a ‘Ferrari’ site.
    It cost a lot, looks beautiful- but as it is often created in ‘Flash’ (or other ‘coding) it means that this ‘Ferrari’ will be parked in a side alley in a garage- never to be seen!!
    We know the Search engines will never find them…
    We need to get the info out to the general community that all these SME’s are losing ground to their more ‘savvy’ competitors- and that a good site does NOT have to cost $ 20K!
    Its the Age of the Dinosaurs all over again..extinction is nigh for some SMB if they don’t wake up!
    ;-)

  26. An Internet site offers a second optical presentment:

    Not every establishment put up dedicate television advertizement, just an internet site allows a visual image component and makes up forever usable to anybody with Internet access. If a customer has questions that can be better answered on a website than over the phone, this is a valuable asset to your marketing.

  27. Hire someone to design it – Only part in the blog I disagree with. You need professional to handle this part. Like any other software, this small software a.k.a website needs maintenance.

    College Student, Neice or Nephew may have other priorities now…

  28. Websites are a huge part of a company’s presence within the local community. If they miss on the quick and efficient nature of a website, they are effectively loosing customers. If even a simple, informative website is created, customers can have easy access to see what the business is all about

    Thanks,
    Alex

  29. Even if you don’t own a website you should at least build a Google local place for your business. It’s easy and people in your area will find you on google very easily and they can give feedback and reviews on your services. Altough it is better to have a website beside your google listings with the marketing efforts and everything. Currently I don’t have a live site for my one man web affiliate business cause I don’t have any clients other than affiliate companys but it would be good for my business to have one for even those contacts and I could throw few links to my sites and build my trust in google for the business if I ever want to change the business style to local businesses and such.

  30. Hi Lisa,

    With the YP losing its popularity, nothing is stopping small business owners to really set up a website and start looking at optimization techniques to rank their business’ pages.

    But aside from having a website, getting a simple design and loading it with helpful content, reading a simple but effective call to action is the way to go. This is the next step in getting your customers’ time and attention, the chance for your business to shine and prove that you can deliver.

    Cheers,
    Dave

  31. The competition in the web nowadays is getting crucial mostly for a company website and for that reason the Web Design is usually the first concern. I am really shocked to read that there are companies who doesn’t have websites, I think they should seriously look onto this part and concern a web design company who can actually make them rule there sales online :)

    Jatin
    @OneClickRanking

  32. Its the end of 2011 and I constantly come across businesses with no website. Having a website for my business was crucial. Having a website with social media is now the base.

  33. Just came across this post while doing some research, and 2 years later…it is still pretty disappointing how much effort is required to convince small businesses that a website is a good idea. Up here in this part of Canada, getting them the results (SERPs) once they’ve committed is the easy part – it’s getting them to take that first step that’s the challenge. It will be an interesting ‘curve’ to examine over time.

  34. So cool to read what the thinking was just a few short years ago – and then see how so much has come true… and how so much has changed. thanks – Andy :-)

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