Depending on which study you read, 40-60% of small businesses in the U.S. have no website.
Are these businesses missing the boat, or are they making a sensible decision about where to spend their marketing dollar? Does every business really need a website?
Since I design and develop websites, I'm not a completely disinterested party, but let's see if we can analyze this without letting bias get in the way.
The Customer Perspective
Looking at how customers behave is a good way to start analyzing any marketing question. What does customer behavior tell us?
How Customers Get Information
A recent survey by Webvisible found that 82% of consumers use search engines when they need local information,. This was far ahead of the runner-up (Yellow Pages directories with 57%). Furthermore, 50% said that they looked online first.
According to this survey, many consumers say they have struggled to recall the name of a business in their area or have wished to quickly check the website for store hours, directions or a phone number. But 39% say they routinely have difficulty finding that information using a search engine, even for businesses they know exist.
What happens when searchers can't find what they're looking for? Quite a few end up going to businesses for which they can find information.
The lesson: not having an online presence results in lost sales.
Most consumers aren't aware of the statistics quoted above. What they see is that virtually all large and medium business, and quite a few small businesses, are online. This leads them to assume that just about every business is online.
What happens when they find that you don't have a website? Their confidence in you immediately drops. They believe that having a website shows that you're a legitimate business.
The lesson: Websites give searchers confidence.
Consumer Buying Patterns
Suppose a consumer wants to hire someone who does what you do, or wants to buy something that you sell. Are they just going to walk into your establishment, ask their questions and make a decision? Maybe.
But a more common pattern is that they find out the basics of what you do or have for sale, and then go away to do more research.
Where do they do that research? If you have a website, they go there. That gives you an opportunity to reinforce your message and make the consumer comfortable that you're the one to deal with.
And if you don't have a website? Then they do the research on your competitors' websites.
The lesson: Not having a website gives up an opportunity to close the deal.
Are there exceptions to the above? Of course.
For example, people don't generally look online to see where to get their next tank of gas (unless they're looking on a site that surveys gas prices). There are a certain category of purchases like this for which the consumer is not going to bother doing research.
Another example might be a small town, in which there are not a lot of choices and where those choices are already well-known.
So yes, there are exceptions. But, if you don't have a website, are you sure you're one of those exceptions?
The Business Perspective
Our discussion of the consumer perspective highlighted the downside of not having a website.
Now let's be more positive, and look at what a website can do for a business:
- Sell your products. Your website is your sales presentation. It's your opportunity to convince the consumer even if they've never been in your place of business. And if your products or services lend themselves to online sales (via an online store), then your website could provide an even bigger boost.
- Provide a storefront that's open 24/7. The pace of life has increased. People need to fit a lot of activities into their lives, so shopping doesn't always happen during normal business hours. A website lets you give your sales presentation even when you're closed.
- Expand your market. You don't have to rely on people walking or driving past your place of business, or perhaps finding you in the Yellow Pages.
- Increase referrals. Your happy customers will want to tell their friends about you. Which are they more likely to remember: (123) 456-7890 or fredsplumbing.com?
Not Just For-Profit Businesses
What if you're a non-profit? All of the above arguments still apply. It's just the products and services that are different.
Depending on the nature of the non-profit, a website can support:
- Serving the core purpose of the non-profit (e.g. education)
- Outreach to those the non-profit wants to serve
If you're one of those businesses that has no website, I hope that the above has given you an appreciation of what you might be missing.
If you can think of additional arguments, one way or the other, please let me know in the comments.
Photo from Opensourceway via Flickr