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Small businesses use some marketing tools, some of the time, survey finds

Small business marketing strategy

A majority of small business owners now embrace the use of online marketing channels like websites and social media to grow their company's reputation and their revenue, but many have not harnessed the full potential of their online presence and may be leaving money on the table.

According to a report released today by Web.com, 54% of small business owners report they are very confident that their business's online presence is doing the job it's supposed to do.

A deeper dive into the data shows small business owners have not yet tapped into the full suite of online marketing tools that are needed today to attract their next customer.

Online marketing: using basic tools but not all necessary tools

Only 17% of small business owners will be investing in SEO in 2017, 42% of small business owners admit they don't use both a robust website and social media channels to market their business. Only 12% cited that the main purpose of their website was for e-commerce, yet 31% of respondents identified themselves as a retail business with 26% admit to having only a single-page website with 43% say they have no plans to change or improve their online presence in 2017.

A majority of small business respondents (68%) say they are handling the building and maintenance of their online presence entirely in-house or on their own, compared to 22% who outsource this work to an online marketing firm, and nine per cent who solicit help from friends and family. When asked the number one area in online marketing they need help with in order to meet their top business priorities, the most popular answers were online advertising (29%) and website maintenance or expansion (26%).

The survey also found that although SEO can help businesses stand out from their competitors, most small business owners are not citing it as a priority. Only 17% say they plan to add SEO to their online marketing strategy in 2017, and only five per cent of respondents consider SEO a top priority for the year. The low number of respondents investing in SEO in 2017 may indicate a lack of awareness of the changing but important role of SEO and where to get help implementing it.

"Whatever a business's strategy is to reach customers – whether that's via social media, a website, or a combination of different strategies – small business owners need to stay focused on their main objective: to get their business in front of the right customers," says Brown. "The best way for small business owners to be found is to first identify what's unique and special about their business, and then make sure their site is visible using the right keywords and effective SEO."

Online security and small business: security breaches may go undetected

An overwhelming majority of small business owners (81%) say their webpages are secure or very secure – but they may be unaware of vulnerabilities that could compromise their businesses. A report from online security company Whitehat Security finds that 86% of all websites have at least one vulnerability, indicating small business owners may be putting too much faith in their current cyber protections.

"When addressing cybersecurity, the primary question is – do these small business owners truly know if they are secure or not?" says Dr. Ricketts. "Security breaches can go undetected by even the largest of organizations, so small business owners may unknowingly be at risk."

Small Business Owners Are Hitting Roadblocks with Social Media

Small business owners are overwhelmingly (88%) embracing social media to support their businesses and half (54%) plan to invest in social media in 2017. However, a clear majority (85%) reported encountering challenges or roadblocks when using social media to market their business. These include concern of reputational risks (15%), being overwhelmed with the upkeep, including the need to constantly develop interesting content (14%), lack of understanding of how social media will help their business (13%) and knowledge of how to set up social media channels so they integrate with their business (10%).

Additionally, 23% of respondents admit they only use their personal social media handles to market their business.

When asked which social media platform was most effective for their business, Facebook emerged as the clear winner, ranking as the 'most effective' four times more than any other social media channel. Twitter was the next most effective platform, ranking ahead of channels like Pinterest, LinkedIn, Instagram, Google+ and Snapchat.

"The good news is that our survey shows nearly two-thirds of small business owners truly believe having an online presence will help them grow revenue and attract new customers. However, our report also indicates those same small businesses find it difficult to keep up with the continually changing dynamic of the web," said David Brown, chairman, CEO and president of Web.com.

"In 2017, it is no longer enough for small businesses to be online with only a simple website. They need marketing tools like search engine optimization (SEO), which will get them to the top of search lists, and they need business-specific social media channels that engage customers. The real challenge they face is not knowing where to find the online marketing help they require so that they can focus on running the business."

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Laurie Fullerton

Laurie Fullerton is a writer based in Boston, MA with a background in business, sports, community, medical and travel writing. She has been a newspaper editor in the Boston-area, a sports writer covering yacht racing and a community reporter. She has been reporting for The Drum since October 2015.

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