Web Design, Clutch Report

Small Business Websites in 2017: Survey

March 14, 2017

by Amelia Peacock

For small businesses looking to create a website, the amount of resources available can seem overwhelming. There are hundreds of web design firms dedicated especially to small businesses. Thousands of web builders like Squarespace, Wix, and Weebly that make it possible for anyone, even those completely unfamiliar with web design, to create a chic, modern website. And hundreds of thousands of online advice columns to help in the website creation process.

And yet, according to Clutch’s third annual Small Business Survey, small businesses continuously struggle to create and maintain a web presence.

In 2016, Clutch found that nearly half of the small businesses surveyed (N=350) had not yet created a website. While a year later the percentage of small businesses with a website has increased, there is still a significant portion of businesses that continue to rely on more traditional, non-digital marketing opportunities.

Our Findings

  • 29% of small businesses do not have a website.
  • Of the small businesses that do have a website, 79% say their website is mobile friendly.
  • Only 58% of Midwestern small businesses have a website compared to the Northeast (72%), the South (73%), and the West (77%).
  • Low-revenue small businesses (those earning less than $1 million a year) are about 30% less likely to have a website than higher-revenue companies.
  • High-quality web content and increased mobility are top website priorities in 2017.

Clutch’s 2017 Small Business Survey on Web Design examines the ever-evolving relationship between small businesses in the United States and their web presence. The survey addresses why some small businesses are more likely than others to value a web presence, what benefits small businesses receive from a website, and the major goals small business owners have for their websites in the coming year.

Increased Percentage of Small Businesses Have a Website

To many marketing and web design experts, websites are no longer simply a “recommended” aspect of modern business.

Because so many customers rely solely on the web to steer them toward new companies, a business’s web presence can make or break its success in finding and capturing new leads. In many ways web searches have replaced word-of-mouth referrals that were once the bread and butter of small business.

“In the old days, it was mainly entrepreneurs that were coming to the Internet. Now, more traditional businesses – brick and mortars – are saying, ‘We should get this figured out. Everybody else is on the Internet. I guess we need to be too.’ A lot of it is an education process and crossing the digital divide.”
Alan Dale, CEO, Los Angeles Web Design, a boutique Internet business development agency specializing in web design

A majority of small businesses (71%) indeed recognize the importance of a digital presence and created a website. Over half of small businesses surveyed launched their website before 2016, and another 16% launched in 2016 alone.

92% of small businesses predict that they will have a website by the end of 2018. While this prediction may seem optimistic, it points to the fact that the majority of small businesses recognize the value of a website and are at least aware of the missed opportunity of not having one.

5 Key Benefits of a Website

As the world continues to become more and more digital, the benefits of a website are hard to ignore. Experts point to five major opportunities websites can provide small businesses:

  1. Marketing opportunities increase from a “local” audience to a global audience
  2. Digital sales conversions save time and labor
  3. Elevated brand and greater ability to manage web aesthetic
  4. More cost effective than brick and mortar
  5. The ability to track marketing and business analytics

The ability to monitor and track business intelligence and other marketing data has become one of the fastest growing requests clients make to design agencies.

“Web development firms like ours see a lot more clients relying on data this year. We have a better understanding of what’s going on behind the scenes with Facebook, Tracking Pixels, Google Analytics and other tools. There is such a wealth of data on what’s happening on a minute by minute, hour to hour basis. This means we can leverage data moving forward to make educated decisions on where we should allocate resources and efforts."
-Michael Wynn, Creative Director & Owner, Full Blast Creative, a full-service marketing agency with a focus on web design.

New tools and better education have made it possible for even small business owners to track relatively complex data trends on their website.

Non-Mobile Websites Are "Dropping the Ball"

As the technical skill required to create a mobile friendly site decreases and the proliferation of exclusively mobile customers increases, it is more important than ever to ensure that every website is responsive. However, 17% of small businesses with a website have still neglected to launch a mobile friendly version of their site.

“Having a mobile friendly website is more important now than ever. With 20 plus years of industry experience, I’ve seen the way mobile use has changed over last two or three years. We see by reviewing the trends in our clients’ analytic data that there is a shift from majority desktop to majority mobile based traffic... If we’re not developing mobile-wise while we do the core build, we’re dropping the ball.”
-Michael Wynn, Full Blast Creative

A lack of upkeep is one explanation for why 17% of small business websites are not mobile friendly.

For the sites created during the early days of the Internet, mobility was both largely irrelevant and highly difficult to implement. The lack of emphasis on mobility created a general apathy toward core website maintenance.

Since the inclusion of smart phones and tablets in everyday life, the digital landscape has changed drastically. For small business owners more concerned with immediate business operations, the switch to a mobile friendly website could easily fly under the radar.

Responsive web design has made strides in recent years as a better understanding of the actual marketing potential of mobile apps becomes more clear. While tech savvy entrepreneurs at one point, considered creating a mobile app a necessity, the emphasis has shifted away from dedicated apps and toward easily accessible mobile websites.

“People are still of the mindset that if you’re on a cell phone you have to have an app. We even get people calling us because they want an app and they want a website, and by the time we get done talking to them they decide, ‘OK, I don’t need an app. I just need to make my site responsive.’”
-Alan Dale, Los Angeles Web Design

Indeed, not having mobile friendly websites means small business owners miss a huge opportunity to tap into the quickly growing millennial and Gen Z markets that consider mobile browsing a part of everyday life.

Mobile Friendly Websites a Necessity for SEO

Ignoring website responsiveness can also have a major impact on a company’s ability to be competitive in search engines.

In April 2015, Google rolled out an update that penalizes companies for failing to create a mobile friendly website. After this change, companies clamored to keep up to avoid falling from the search engine rankings.

“There’s hardly anyone that we build a website for anymore that doesn’t want us to do some search engine optimization (SEO) for their page. It’s just a no-brainer. You’re going to go responsive because you have to. Otherwise you’re not going to get good page rank.”
-Louise Manfe, CMO, Los Angeles Web Design

Mobile design has become more achievable as DIY web builders and web design agencies place a greater emphasis on designing a mobile friendly website from the start of a project, rather than allowing mobility to be an afterthought or add-on.

Midwestern & Low-Revenue Orgs Slow to Build Websites

While small businesses have made digital strides in 2016, there are still many companies who have yet to invest in a website.

What kinds of small businesses are less likely to have a website? Understanding where the major deficits in website ownership lie can help web designers better strategize solutions that specifically meet the needs of the 29% of small businesses without a website.

Midwestern Small Businesses Less Likely to Have Websites

Strikingly, not every geographic region in the United States has the same percentage of website ownership among small business owners. Only 58% of small businesses in the Midwest have a website compared to the Northeast (72%), the South (73%), and the West (77%).

This may be because the Midwest has been slow to cultivate a culture of tech start-ups like Silicon Valley in California, where small businesses are the most likely to have a website.

“As a web development company in the Midwest, these findings are not surprising at all. Almost weekly, we encounter small businesses that do not have a website (or web presence) at all,” said Mark Tuchscherer, President, Geeks Chicago, a full-service design, development, and hosting agency.

Mark supports this claim with four reasons:

  • Some of the small businesses we talk to are not very tech savvy, and the thought of getting started with a website is overwhelming.
  • They think that it is very expensive, and there is no cost-effective way to be on the web.
  • There is still a lack of understanding regarding the importance of the web for all industries.
  • The companies do not realize how much revenue they are losing each day they are not on the web.

With “trendsetters” often based in LA and New York, it can take a while for the latest in web development to reach the Midwest.

Website Ownership Likely to Drop for Companies Earning Less than $1M

There is also a significant drop in website ownership when the revenue earned by a small business is less than $1 million annually. Unsurprisingly, low-income small businesses are more hesitant to devote the time and resources necessary to pursue a website.

However, a website can be one of the most reliable lead-generators available and can undoubtedly prove an asset to low-earning small businesses.

“Small business owners are focused on cash in the door – most often neglecting a true marketing strategy. They don't realize that digital is part of the game. There is a tendency to believe … that most of their market will find them: they don't think global; they're local.”
-Maresa Friedman, CEO, Executive Cat Herder, a small and enterprise business consulting firm specializing in growth and strategy.

Social Media & Cost Main Reasons for Not Having a Website

While the importance of a digital presence can easily be taken for granted by digital natives and web design professionals, 29% of small businesses still will refrain from launching a website by the end of 2016. This begs the question: why?

Of the small businesses without a website, 31% instead use social media profiles to cultivate a web presence. Others have not launched a website because they lack technical knowledge (25%), claim a website is not relevant to their industry (23%), or lack the human/financial resources to do so (22%).

However, according to experts in the web development industry every small business would benefit from having a website, and substitutions like social media often fall flat.

Social Media Not Ideal Replacement for Website

While social media provides great visibility for small businesses looking to increase their brand recognition and event attendance, it lacks some of the major benefits of a dedicated website.

  1. Leads from social media make it incredibly difficult to track sales conversions.

    “There’s no marketing opportunities with social media alone. You don’t absolutely get to keep your leads. It belongs to somebody else. All you have there is a vehicle to sell something or promote something, and when you lose that, what have you got? Nothing. You start over.”
    -Louise Manfe, Los Angeles Web Design

  2. SEO is hindered when only social media profiles are used.

    “Your website is the most ideal setting for your content to reside because it’s going to build up your SEO. It’s a powerful repository of all of your best content, assets, and conversations related to your brand. When you rely exclusively on social networks, you can’t control who receives access to your content and some of your content won’t be indexed as heavily by Google and Bing.”
    -Michael Wynn, Full Blast Creative

Modern small businesses shouldn’t ignore the importance of social media in generating an engaged and committed audience, but they also need to understand the differences in marketing potential between a dedicated website and social media profiles.

Agencies & DIY Web Builders Offer Diverse Pricing

When it comes to cost there is no denying that hiring a web development agency for help launching a website can be a major roadblock for small businesses. With many agencies charging thousands of dollars per project, it can seem daunting to devote the money necessary to get a website up and running with an agency.

“Most small business owners, regardless of what industry they are in, are just trying to keep their head above water, their customer serviced, their taxes and vendors paid, and the lights on. In addition, they are berated every day from inbound sales calls for the latest and greatest toolset to help them with their business, and it's hard to distinguish what can actually help them and what is a scam or waste of time.”
-Bryan Clayton, CEO, GreenPal, a lawn-care start-up connecting customers with landscapers across the country.

However, an easy work-around can be found in DIY website builders – a great, inexpensive substitute for a fully custom-made website. Though there is a moderate learning curve, modern DIY web builders make it much easier for small business owners to begin enhancing their web presence with little to no monetary investment.

2017 Website Priorities Require Extensive Resources

Considering the growing availability of DIY web builders, how many companies actually are taking advantage of this easy, inexpensive option?

Of the small businesses with a website, the DIY website builder is the third most popular resource used. Other small businesses use a freelancer or consultant (40%), a design or development agency (31%), or a UX/UI agency (9%).

In-House Staffers Need More Web Design Training

The majority of small businesses with a website (51%) have an in-house staff that manages their website needs. However, many experts notice a trend: in-house staffers are responsible for maintaining a website without being given the proper training.

Often, these staffers have expertise tangentially related to web design (social media marketing, graphic design, etc.). Unfortunately, the needs of a small business and the trends in web design are ever evolving, sometimes so fast that even the most advanced agencies have trouble keeping up.

Without the proper training, a well-meaning staffer may accidentally cause havoc on a small business website.

“You’ve typically got that one person in the company whom is tasked with running and managing the site, the social and everything else related to online marketing. These disciplines tend to be overloaded. Smaller companies might not understand that a social media manager and a marketing manager and a web designer are very different roles and expertise.”
-Michael Wynn, Full Blast Creative

Small businesses that choose to manage a website with an in-house staff should be attentive to their employees’ skill sets and ensure that they have all the resources necessary to properly maintain a web presence. Professional development opportunities like coding courses, social media webinars, and web design tutorials can greatly help staffers create a successful website.

Design Agencies Best Suited to Maintain Websites, but Costly

One benefit of outsourcing to a web design agency – and one of the reasons why this option is so much costlier – is its ability to train in-house staffers on the basic coding and standards necessary to keep a web page going once the agency is out of the picture. Many agencies even provide on-going web maintenance for a small fee.

Keeping a website up-to-date with the changing trends in the web design industry can be pivotal for a website’s ability to bring in quality leads.

Over the years Google has rolled out various updates to its search engine algorithm that greatly affected a website’s ability to be found on search. This may be why 23% of small businesses are prioritizing high-quality content creation in 2017: part of Google’s recent push has been to encourage websites to provide useful and constructive body copy for their users.

“Google started penalizing people that were filling their website with useless body copy. You actually have to tell a story now. So instead of writing content aimed at the search engines, the big shift was, ‘Oh, Google’s going to give us a higher ranking if people stick to our site and navigate through the site and spend time on our site.’”
-Alan Dale, Los Angeles Web Design

Leaning on the support of a design agency or hiring an in-house staffer with specific expertise in web design is one vital step small businesses should consider when attempting to keep their website updated.

Websites Worth the Effort for Small Businesses

It is more important than ever to have a responsive, well designed website for your small business.

Whether you are just starting out, think the web isn’t related to your industry, or don’t think you have the time and money, launching a website needs to be a top priority.

“Now, you will get some curmudgeons out there that say, “I don’t need a stinking website.” They’ll call me up and say, “I really don’t think my industry is on the Internet, but I wanted to get your opinion.” And so I say “OK, I want you to Google this.” And then they go, “Oh my god, everybody’s on the Internet. My competitors are there. I’m behind the times.”
-Alan Dale, Los Angeles Web Design

Building a website can be the key to putting your small businesses at the forefront of your industry—and it might even be fun.

“I have a story about being an older woman who, with no technical background, almost no assistance, and very little money to spend, has built several business websites and wants to assure all the people who are afraid to do it, that if I can do it, they can. Although it can be frustrating, it can also be fun.”
Diana Gardner Robinson, PhD., Founder, Choices Success Strategies Coaching, a life coaching and strategies service.

Luckily, there are hundreds of options for small businesses to get started on their website. Weigh the pros and cons of partnering with a design agency, hiring an expert in-house staffer, or investing in a DIY web builder to ensure that your small business is getting everything it can out of its web presence.

About the Survey

Clutch surveyed 355 small business owners/managers across the United States. Respondents answered questions regarding their experience with website ownership as a part of the 2017 Small Business Digital Marketing Survey.

42% of respondents’ companies have 10 or fewer employees, and 50% have an annual revenue under $1 million.

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