Why Many Small Business Websites are Frustrating

I cannot remember the last time I went to a local business’s website and thought to myself: “wow this website has exactly what I need and nothing that I don’t.” I know that sounds kind of harsh but for the most part when I click a local business’s search engine listing I’m (1) thankful they even have a website to begin with, (2) hoping it’s not still “under construction”, (3) hoping some lame music doesn’t automatically come on and assault my eardrums, and (4) hoping I’m not completely repulsed by the horrible colors, navigation, and content display / organization.

Less than half of all small businesses have websites

This is according to these 2009 statistics. Congratulations to the 55% of small businesses who are generating so much business that the need for online exposure is not needed. After all, 41% of the businesses in that pile say they don’t need a website and 16% say they just don’t have time. I would love to meet those small businesses who have the luxury of not needing an online presence. I would love to shake the hands of the businesses who have customers and prospective customers who never have questions about the business’s office hours, their credentials, the type of food the local restaurant has on the menu, whether or not they accept checks, whether or not customers can order items from the business online, whether or not they have the type of product or brand their prospective customers are searching for, or whether or not they can schedule a consultation with the business online because, let’s face it, the only real time some people (me included) actually have to acknowledge your existence is between the hours of 8 – 12 pm…when many small businesses are closed for the day.

Why this happens

I don’t think the 55% of small business without websites have the luxury of not needing new customers or the luxury of not keeping their existing customers happy. I suspect that part of their reasoning for citing that they don’t “need a website” is all rooted in the misconception that websites are for marketing. And while websites can certainly be a component of marketing, the fact is that for most businesses they primarily function more in the area of customer service. So saying you don’t need a website is a lot like saying you don’t need to improve your customer service…and I can tell you from a customer’s perspective that I’ve wished (on several occasions) that a business in town had a website. But they didn’t and it was very frustrating.

Too many small businesses have pages still under construction

This should be illegal. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on websites, clicked on a link that looked really interesting, only to be met with a blank page apologizing for not having any content on it…and it seriously makes me want to pull my hair out. If you don’t have the content, then don’t create the page. In fact, don’t ever create a page with absolutely no content on it unless you enjoy angering your users.

Why this happens

It’s simple – the person in charge of overseeing the launch of the website doesn’t make it a priority. They get very involved in the design and flow of the website when it’s being built, send over a few pictures and paragraphs, and then disappear with a half-built website. It happens all the time.

What needs to be realized is that this is your business. It’s your bread and butter, the thing that puts food on the table and sends your kids to college. Your website is the face of your business online and needs to be a priority. If you have to close your business for a day to work on website content, do it. If you need to come in on a weekend and spend a couple hours working on filling up those empty pages, do it. If you need to hire someone to help you with your content, do it. You get the idea. All of these options are more appealing then embarrassing your business online with a crummy, half-built website.

Too many small businesses are not thinking about their website users

If I visit a website and hear music playing, completely unprompted, I’m leaving. I don’t care if it’s my favorite song and it makes me want to stand up and get my dance on every time I hear it. You have no idea where I am when I’m accessing your website, how loud my speakers are, what else I’m doing while I’m browsing your website – I could already be listening to music online with Pandora and your unprompted music is drowning out my jam. Ditch the music and start paying attention to this little thing called “user experience”. Pay attention to your bounce rate in your Google Analytics. Your bounce rate is the percentage of users who leave your website as soon as they arrive…or take no other action on your site. If your bounce rate is astronomical, you may need to make some adjustments to your site. Ask friends to take a look at your website and give some feedback.

Why this happens

Many website owners are more focused on their own likes and dislikes versus what others prefer. It’s the same reason why your next door neighbor painted their house “burn your retinas smiley face yellow”. Some people just have no style and need really good feedback and guidance with their design and usability choices.

It’s hard, I know

Owning a website, especially if you’re a busy small business, can be hard work. I know a lot of small business owners are not exactly familiar with the process and what all is involved in it. Some of these folks never even turn on a computer. But if you want to run a successful business, be competitive, and make your customers and prospective customers happy, you need a good online presence and a quality website. Save your money and look for a great, reputable company to do your design and development for you. Ask them to outline the whole process and what’s involved. Ask them how much of your involvement is required and inform them of how available to them you could be. Ask them how you can easily access statistics about your website and measure its performance. Ask about content strategy and what’s involved in that piece. Ask about search engine optimization and what needs to happen so that you’re getting the right kind of search engine visibility.

Ask questions, but most of all, make your website a priority and your online users will thank you for it with their business.