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Web Design, Survey

Small Business Websites in 2016: A Survey

By Amanda Soderlund
February 17, 2016

It's easier than ever for small businesses to have a website. A website can provide all kinds of benefits to a business. It can verify the existence of a business, increase visibility to new and current customers, and improve customer experiences. But, how many small businesses take advantage of these benefits?

Nearly half of small businesses do not have a website, according to our second annual small business marketing survey of over 350 small business owners and managers. The majority claim that they do not have a website because it is not relevant to their business or because it's too expensive.

Moreover, for those that do have websites, 23 percent are not mobile friendly, and another 9 percent have unknown mobile capabilities. Luckily, these businesses are planning improvements to their sites, especially in areas of search engine optimization, social engagement, design, and content. 

Overall, small businesses have a very high potential for online success, but they will only reap the benefits by developing and sustaining a strong Web presence. 

* The majority of survey respondents are businesses with 1-10 employees and less than $1 million in annual revenue, a true representation of small businesses according to the US Census Bureau.

Small Business Websites

To begin, we asked the small businesses if they have a website. Overall, 54 percent currently have a website and 46 percent do not have a website.

Further findings:

  • 24 percent plan to build a website in the near future.
  • 12 percent are unlikely to build a website in the future.
  • 10 percent are unsure whether they will build a website in the future.

Graph, percent of small businesses with websites

Small Businesses Without a Website

These results raise many questions. Most blatantly, why do nearly half of small businesses not have a website? Joe Ardeeser, owner of Jordan Crown Web Design, positions the lack of small business websites as a feasible dilemma.

“For a small business owner, it takes time to grow and achieve the mindset where they will make long-term decisions that can eliminate their margins for a particular month. Investing in a website because they can't be found online is such a decision. It's a vision challenge that I'm sympathetic to. A lot of small businesses are only active on Yelp, Angie's List or other review sites. They can be successful in getting leads that way, but that's not a reason not to have a website to complement their efforts.”
Joe Ardeeser, Jordan Crown Web Design

While the shortage of small businesses with websites is understandable considering the level of commitment required, agency leaders were surprised to find that nearly half of those surveyed still do not have a website.

“It's still surprising that so many businesses don't have a website. This ignores the fact that most Americans are on the web, looking them up. Studies have shown that over 70-80% of people will research a company on the web before making a purchase decision, usually by visiting its website. Even having a one-page website can establish credibility. It shows that the business is actually real and has taken the time to put out a presentation.”
Rehan Fernando, CEO at EIGHT25MEDIA

A website can help verify a business’s existence, increase credibility, and relay accurate information. Additionally, a website can help bring in new customers that are searching online. So again, why do nearly half of the small businesses surveyed not have a website?

Reasons Small Businesses Don't Have a Website

We inquired about the main reason that these small businesses do not have a website. The top two reasons were,

  1. A website is not relevant to their business and/or industry.
  2. The cost of a website.

Other reasons included the use of social media profiles as an online presence instead of a website, the need for ongoing maintenance, and a lack of technical knowledge.

Graph, reasons small businesses don't have a website

Website by Industry

Of the small businesses without a websites, 32 percent report that having a website is not relevant to their business or industry. However, agency leaders unanimously conclude that a website is relevant to every business and every industry, in some capacity.

“A website would never not be relevant to a business. Every company within a specific industry would benefit from having their presence known online. If you are selling something, why not reach consumers the fastest way possible in order to increase your sales immediately?”
James Trumbly, Founder and Managing Partner at HMG Creative

“No matter what type of business you run, if you have customers, it's necessary to have some sort of information online, at least a page describing who you are and offering contact information. It's essential to have this information indexed and shown to those looking for you, otherwise you're relying on third parties… Even if you only have a few clients a year, or think that people won't search for your type of services, there will be someone looking for you, and you should try and make their process easier.”
Max Elman, Founder of Razorfrog Web Design

In some way or another, a website is relevant to all types of businesses in every industry. What varies by industry or business type is the website design itself, including the type of website and its features.

“Every company needs a website on some level. How much they need to spend on it and how big it needs to be depends on the industry. For example, the restaurant industry is an area where owners don't need to spend a lot of money on web design, and where solutions like WIX or Squarespace could be used. Again, I don't think there is an industry where a website isn't needed. Every business should have one.”
Rehan Fernando, Eight25Media

While the capabilities of the website can depend on the business or industry, the bottom line is that some sort of website will benefit every type of small business.

Website Cost

The cost of a website can vary dramatically. One option is to hire a specialty web design firm to build a quality, custom website specifically for a small business. While this type of site surely will be high quality and customized, not all small businesses need a website of this caliber and cost. However, with lower cost DIY website platforms, building a brochure or informational website becomes a more simple and cost effective solution. Nowadays, there are various options to build a website, resulting in an ideal cost structure for every business.

With several options for building less expensive and less time-intensive websites, is the cost of a website still a viable reason for small businesses not to have a website? Or, are these small businesses really dealing with the cost of NOT having a website?

“Someone may not do business with a company because they don't have a website. For example, when customers type in ‘plumber Everett Washington’ and that person is nowhere to be found, the lost business is a hidden cost. A company may also be paying a lot for advertising when they could be investing much less money in a website that would show up on Google.”
Joe Ardeeser, Jordan Crown Web Design

Instead of viewing a website as too costly or unnecessary, a small business should see a website as an investment for their business. Once built, a website can have an incredible return on investment (ROI), especially in the long term.

“If a website costs $10,000 but a company's product costs $2,000, five additional sales in one year will have paid for the investment. After a year, everything is revenue. I encourage small business owners to think through their options, and do a cost and ROI analysis. If a site can hit certain key performance indicators and generate a certain number of leads, it will have paid for itself. Those are leads the business wouldn't have without it.”
Joe Ardeeser, Jordan Crown Web Design

While these small businesses have practical reasons for not investing in a website, these reasons are trumped by the practicality and benefits of having a website. A website is not only useful for capturing new customers, it is also necessary for credibility, visibility and meeting current clients needs. 

Small Businesses With a Website

For the small businesses that do have a website, we investigated the mobile versatility of the site and further questioned 2016 plans for site improvements.

Mobile Friendliness

A mobile-friendly website is especially important, considering recent increases in the amount of customers that visit a website from a mobile device. As the amount of people dependent on smartphones for Internet access continues to increase, having a mobile-friendly website will become a requirement. In fact, not having a mobile-friendly website can hurt a business with a substantial amount of mobile users.

“It's almost as bad not to have a mobile-friendly website as it is not to have a site at all. I spend a lot of time traveling and looking up businesses on my phone. It's common to encounter the difficulties associated with not having a mobile-ready site. People will give up on accessing it and go somewhere else.”
Max Elman, Razorfrog Web Design

Of the small businesses with a website,

  • 68 percent have a mobile-friendly site
  • 23 percent do not have a mobile-friendly site
  • 9 percent are unsure whether their website is mobile friendly

Graph of small businesses with a responsive website

While mobile friendliness has gained ground in the past year, a significant amount of small businesses have not made their websites mobile friendly. Not having a mobile-friendly website can result in decreased usability and a loss of current and potential customers.

“We now know that smartphone users are rivaling desktop users in many reports. There are more mobile buyers than desktop buyers. As a result, a huge amount of the market will be left with a website that's hard to use on a smartphone because it requires zooming in and panning. If the competitor's website is easily accessible and their product works, a customer will choose them. Again, there are hidden costs here: a business will lose money because their page isn't mobile-friendly.”
Joe Ardeeser, Jordan Crown Web Design

In addition to losing frustrated mobile customers, not having a mobile-friendly website can also limit search visibility. 

“Google is penalizing website owners because their page isn't responsive. Some of the latest algorithm updates for the search engine are factoring in whether a website is mobile friendly and responsive. This has made a big impact, in our case actually helping us climb in rankings because some of our competitors’ websites aren't mobile friendly and have gone down on Google.”
Joe Ardeeser, Jordan Crown Web Design

If losing customers and being penalized by Google isn’t enough, those who do not have a mobile-friendly site will continue to fall behind on mobile website expectations.

“Each year, as mobile device usage increases, responsive web design must be updated continually in order to keep up with the growing demand on smart phones. Businesses who do not have mobile-friendly websites are seeing a horrific decline in consumer traffic online.”
James Trumbly, HMG Creative

Those without a mobile-friendly site will continue to encounter a myriad of challenges, both now and in the future. Even those that have a mobile-friendly site face challenges around optimizing their site for an endlessly fluid mobile market.

“Mobile usage is on the rise more than ever. If a site isn't optimized, people will go elsewhere. This is especially true for restaurants, bars, coffee shops, or any kind of consumer business where hours of operation and contact information are important. This is true even for businesses where someone would just look for a phone number or the proper contact person. If the site takes a long time to load, it will hugely impact a business.”
Max Elman, Razorfrog Web Design

Those that have a mobile-friendly site need to reevaluate the mobile friendliness of the site and frequently optimize it for mobile usage. For small businesses without a mobile-friendly website, now is the time to implement a mobile-friendly strategy that works to optimize the site for mobile, improve mobile usability, and enhance mobile design.

2016 Website Improvement Plans

Whether it be content development, design iterations, building new features, or improving security, there are always elements of a website to update and improve. What areas of their websites are small businesses planning to improve in 2016?

The most anticipated website improvements areas are

  • SEO
  • Social engagement
  • Content
  • Design

The least anticipated website improvement areas

  • Marketing automation
  • Site performance
  • User experience

Graph, small business website improvement focus 2016

Max Elman asserts that small businesses are on the right track with the top intended website improvement areas for 2016.

“The first few popular responses are in the need-to-have category. These lesser ones are nice to have once the basics have been knocked out. Many businesses haven't covered those basics, so I can understand why there's less of a priority on the latter categories. These more advanced topics bring a lot of business to our company, but this occurs only once SEO, design and content have been covered, and the client has some social presence.”
Max Elman, Razorfrog Web Design

Since SEO, social engagement, content, and design are considered basic elements for the foundation of a website, it makes sense that these are the areas that small businesses plan to focus on the most in 2016.

For example, being found online is a necessity, so it is understandable that 40 percent of the small businesses with websites plan to focus on SEO this year. However, Joe Ardeeser explains that while SEO is important, other areas of a website are just as essential.

“A lot of our clients are very focused on SEO. An important facet of having a website is its rank in Google, but what many people miss is that a site can be number one for ‘Seattle plumber’ and still be badly designed, giving the image of a flaky company and not offering a clear path for contact. It doesn't matter how many visitors a website receives if those visitors are not contacting the business.”
Joe Ardeeser, Jordan Crown Web Design

Agency leaders also identified prominent gaps in the website areas small businesses plan to improve. Most notable, they relayed dismay about the lack of focus on user experience and site performance.

“I think site architecture and visual design should be the first step to improving their website. If a website is not user friendly and a user cannot consume content easily, then it is not an efficient tool.”
James Trumbly, HMG Creative

Only 21 percent of small businesses plan to work on their website's user experience. This is a concerning number considering how important customer loyalty and customer satisfaction is to a small business.

“Small businesses should always work on improving user experience in order to maintain strong and consistent customer satisfaction, while also steadily increasing sales with more traffic generated on the website. If the website is not user friendly, then none of this can be done.”
James Trumbly, HMG Creative

Another area of concern is the lack of commitment to improving website performance. Only 21 percent of small businesses plan to address site performance in 2016.

“My recommendation for small business owners regarding website performance is that they should care because Google cares. If their site is slow, it will matter and will bring a penalty. Not only that, but customers will go to the competitors. Our patience and attention spans are short in the Internet world. If a site is taking 15 seconds for what could be done in two seconds elsewhere, it will impact the bottom line. Hosts can be switched and problems can be diagnosed, so there's no excuse not to do it.”
Joe Ardeeser, Jordan Crown

Site performance increasingly requires more attention as other features and functions advance. Each new design, animation, and feature adds a layer to a website’s foundation. Thus, a site will become slower and less cohesive if site performance is not addressed continuously.

“Performance and site speed is becoming more important as sites become flashier and use full-width images. You can build a beautiful-looking website, but before you know it, you can have a 20 megabyte homepage that takes three minutes to load. That isn't a good position to be in. Site optimization becomes more important as sites become more sophisticated.”
Max Elman, Razorfrog Web Design

Overall, 93 percent of small businesses with websites are on the right track, with plans to improve some part of their website in 2016. However, as the agency leaders point out, for small businesses to stay competitive online, they need to maintain a website strategy that includes consistent improvements across the board.

Conclusions

  • All small businesses can benefit from a website, whether a one-page site or a comprehensive interactive tool
  • The cost of not having a website is much higher than the cost of building a website, especially with the availability of lower cost DIY website builders.
  • For the small businesses with websites, there are always areas to improve to maximize visibility, credibility, and usability.
  • Small businesses need to make their websites mobile friendly and further optimize these sites for mobile engagement.
  • Both usability and site performance should be priorities for small business as they improve their websites in 2016.

In conclusion, small businesses that have websites will continue to benefit, and those that have mobile-friendly, user-friendly, and optimized sites will beat out competitors by offering users a higher quality website experience.

Survey Respondents

Clutch collected this survey data from 352 small business owners or managers in the US. The largest respondent group is made up of companies with less than 10 employees and less than $1 million in annual revenue.

Company size by number of employees | Clutch 2016 Small Business Survey

Company Revenue in 2015 | Clutch 2016 Small Business Survey

To request additional information or to provide feedback on this survey, please contact [email protected].


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