By Tom Lutey
Billings Gazette, Mont.
Because shopping trips begin online, even for local customers, Montana small businesses need to be digitally connected, U.S. Sen. Steve Daines said Friday.
Speaking to small-business owners gathered in Billings for a one-day workshop, Daines told the audience they needed to be found easily online by shoppers who increasingly consult their smartphones for shopping advice even when buying locally.
Roughly 97 percent of shoppers use the Internet to find local goods and services, according to Google, which partnered with Daines to bring the business class to Billings.
“How many times do you see people walking down the street with their heads in their phones?” Daines said. “They’re probably on Google, and they’re probably trying to find maybe a business, a restaurant, they’re trying to find something they want to buy,” Daines said. “I was in Bozeman the other day, and you look at downtown Bozeman during the summer and you’ll see the tourists there with their phones out and they’re trying to find you.”
Small businesses are underrepresented on the Internet, said “Googler” Hillary Ross, who flew from Google headquarters to her hometown of Billings for the event.
“Fifty-five percent of small businesses don’t have a website, but four out of five people looking for services use the web,” Ross said.
A business that turns up in a shopper’s Google search gets visited by that shopper 38 percent of the time. And 29 percent of the time those inquiries result in a purchase.
But those transactions start with Internet traffic, not traditional retail foot traffic. Most of the Google seminar focused on growing small businesses online by using free tools offered by Google.
The company had developed free applications to build websites, track a business‘s Internet traffic and analyze the words and phrases shoppers most often use when searching for a business. The applications presented in the class are available to the public at www.google.com/apps.