It’s 2015, Why Are We Still Talking about SMB Websites?

In 2005, if I had told you that in 10 years around 45% of SMBs still wouldn’t have a website, you probably wouldn’t have believed me.  Yet, here we are at the doorstep of 2015, and the anchor of any business’ digital presence is still a pain point for many SMBs.

Those without websites can still develop a digital presence on local search sites like Yelp, Google Maps, IYP sites, etc. But making sure business information is accurate and consistent across all these outlets is another challenge altogether that I won’t get into here.

However, the website problem, well documented and becoming cliché, is two-fold. First, and most basic of all, many SMBs still don’t have a website. Second, those that are online want a better website that does more for their business.

SMBs Still Without Websites

In late 2013, 45% of US and UK SMBs said they don’t have a website (hibu) and another 2013 US study pegged this around 52% (Yodle).When it comes to SMBs without a website, the talk is usually around how “they” aren’t “getting it” which seems a bit naïve. While this might be true in a very few cases, most SMBs “get” the Internet and realize that consumers (including themselves) are using it to find local businesses and figure out where they will spend money.

Many SMBs want a website, see the value, but just don’t have the time to manage the process from creation to completion.  My dentist is one of these types. He is ready to pull the trigger, but the demands of running his business have continually put the project on the back burner.

Similarly, there is a major transparency issue within the industry of website creation that keeps the SMB away.  Helping an SMB friend of mine, I did some research on a web presence vendor that is popular within his industry.  After providing my contact info, I was able to get a look at the tiered offerings, which I realized would probably be considered a different language to the average SMB.

Furthermore, during this exercise, I found the pricing to be extremely high for the intentions my friend had.  For the minimal labor it would require to plug just a few pieces of content into a template and host it, the price didn’t match up. In addition, the entry level plan tied customers into a monthly fee and I can assume that fee paid for updates and maintenance but that wasn’t made clear on the site.

The barriers have remained the same over the last few years: general confusion, lack of trust as a result of lacking transparency and flexibility, and time/resource constraints.  A broader value proposition, a cheaper entry level price point and more transparent practices could really help the industry as a whole get more SMBs online.

At the same time, the growing number of vendors providing these services – no matter how transparent and clear the offering – creates a lot of confusion. Differentiation is difficult for the vendor, and with few widely recognized brands in the space, knowing where to turn for a website is currently challenging for the SMB.

The Need for Better Websites

A large percentage of SMBs that have sites wish they were better, more polished or professional. These businesses often have a very basic or “generic” site built that doesn’t serve them any longer or project the image they’d like to convey to the market.

In a 2014 LSA survey conducted by Thrive Analytics, 40% of SMBs said they are going to increase their budgets for websites by 10-15% within the next 12 months. Whether because the site they purchased wasn’t mobile optimized or the quality isn’t representative of the brand the business is looking to promote, SMBs want better sites.

SMBs very often see their websites as the core of their digital identities. In many cases hosting websites is a key to SMB retention. However the difficulty for site providers when serving the SMB client is developing sites at scale while allowing for significant and meaningful customization.  While templates and automated practices have helped make the process quicker and sometimes cheaper, customization remains a challenge.

As a result, according to Thrive Analytics, SMBs still rank their website as the marketing area they need most help with and none of the SMBs surveyed said they would be shrinking their website related budgets over the next 12 months. A 2013 study from Opus Research reinforces the point, with 20% of SMBs saying that if they were given a significant increase in marketing budget tomorrow, they would invest it in websites which was the highest of all marketing tactics listed.

Obviously website offerings are not satisfying the expectations of the SMB, and from the site provider perspective, providing customization at scale is extremely difficult. So rather than being a tactic to prevent churn, poor-looking, basic sites can contribute to churn.  Many site creator tools exist, but this discussion surrounding the challenges of the SMB website are still permeating the industry. Why is that?

While the solution isn’t exactly clear to me, one should be within reach. Given all the sophistication and innovation in our industry we shouldn’t still be having this conversation. Is a functional, customizable SMB website really that much to ask?

One Response to “It’s 2015, Why Are We Still Talking about SMB Websites?”

  1. Terry Wall says:

    Nice essay, Joe! I worked in digital marketing/advertising for over a decade before starting my own business, so I guess I had a head start in creating my own website. But having been in the space for that long, I KNOW how much skepticism exists among SMBs when it comes to website development. Of the 45% that still don’t have a web site, I think most DO “get it” as even they carry smartphones around! I also believe that the templated platforms would easily work for 90% of the 45. Certainly they don’t all need ‘customization.’ Bring these folks a website at a FAIR PRICE and be transparent about the deliverables, and there’s your solution. And I don’t think that’s an oversimplification.

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