Board member for Siinda, a nonprofit association of digital advertising & local search companies, contributing to thought leadership.
Covid-19 changed how small businesses operate, and they are unlikely to go back, even after the pandemic has lifted. Recent studies from Salesforce and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development found that even after the health concerns of the pandemic alleviate, customers who traditionally shopped in brick-and-mortar businesses will continue to shop online at similar pandemic levels. This is a stark warning for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) that have yet to invest in their online presence. Online is where customers are today, thanks to lockdowns and restrictions. Online is also where many customers will remain once the pandemic has passed. As general manager of Siinda, a nonprofit association of companies serving the digital needs of SMBs, I’ve seen firsthand what is happening to this sector of businesses and how agencies can help.
SMBs account for over 99% of all businesses in the U.S., U.K. and Germany, as well as 97% of businesses in Australia. SMBs account for over half of the total GDP of developed countries. If small businesses fail, economies fail.
Governments understand this, as do the world’s largest tech giants. Governments across the globe have begun to offer assistance to businesses in the form of grants, tax breaks, furlough schemes and other initiatives. Each measure is to help SMBs remain on pace and operating during the ongoing pandemic. Likewise, Facebook and Google have pledged hundreds of millions of dollars to help SMBs get through the pandemic. To show their support for small businesses, Facebook started a small-business grant program, and Google has offered ad credits to SMBs. After all, both are heavily reliant on the success of SMBs. A negative impact on the spending power of SMBs could have a similar impact on Google’s revenue, which is why it’s in their best interest to help SMBs in this challenging time.
Despite the efforts of governments and tech giants, the reality is that a sizable number of businesses are still not online or have a poor online presence. In one survey of just over 500 U.S. businesses, almost one-third of respondents still have no website. In the U.K., a separate survey shows 40% of respondents have no online presence — including a website.
The reasons for SMBs not being online vary. According to research by Deloitte, some of the top barriers to using digital tools include costs and a lack of skills and experience.
Experts in the online marketing industry have been saying for a long time that the best way for SMBs to move their business forward is through online channels. Peter Urmson, a member of my company’s network, is the CEO of Spotzer, a white-labeled website and digital marketing company that works with some of the world’s largest hosting, telco and digital marketing companies. He recorded a 180% year-on-year increase in customers’ investing in online presence, especially in e-commerce.
Before Covid-19, a French study found respondents’ companies were 25% more profitable when they benefited from integrated digital strategies. Research from Deloitte found that businesses are three times more likely to grow compared to businesses that do not invest in their digital strategy.
So how can we help SMBs lift their online presence?
1. Tell them just as they wouldn’t let their brick-and-mortar store fall into disrepair, they should not let their websites do the same. SMBs must keep them up to date with fresh, relevant content — which is essential for SEO and for improving the chances of customers finding them online.
2. Tell them to add a blog page for content — all while keeping in mind it must be informative content that often answers customer questions.
3. Setup and verify all Google My Business and Bing Places. This is great for SEO and helps businesses take up a lot more screen space on Google and Bing when customers search for a business by name.
4. Ensure their website is secure and has an up to date security certificate. Not doing so is a significant deterrent. Many users have a negative reaction to sites that are not secure. They are likely to drop off and never visit the site if they see this warning.
5. Websites should look into performing better on mobile devices. One way to do that is to make sure their website is mobile-friendly.
6. Make sure SMBs engage with a website design company or agency that offers ongoing support — or can make a plan to seek support as time passes. With the digital landscape changing, it is good to have guidance on how to keep a website up to date.
The Covid-19 pandemic could be the excuse — even the opportunity — many businesses have been looking for to grow and be more successful. To support success and take advantage of the benefits online presence offers, SMBs need to get there and engage with customers. Maintaining an outstanding online presence will help boost their business — as long as they don’t include a set-and-forget strategy position. Agencies are in a great position to help SMBs and our economies as a result while helping to influence the online landscapes of the future.
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