By Ann Marie van den Hurk Lexington Herald-Leader.
There is a digital divide between small businesses and consumers.
Only 51 percent of small businesses have websites, according to the Score Association, a Herndon, Va.-based nonprofit organization of small-business counselors and mentors supported by the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Among small businesses that do have websites, many are lacking basic site components such as a call to action, phone number, physical address, email address or social media accounts.
To add to the problem, four in five consumers have used a smartphone to shop, yet 93 percent of small-business websites are not optimized for mobile.
This digital divide is hurting small businesses.
The owners of these businesses give many reasons why don't have websites: They don't think they need one, it costs too much, they don't have enough time, it's too complex.
But they're missing a huge chance to connect with customers. Ninety-one percent of consumers have visited a store following an online experience, and 37 percent use the Internet to find a store at least once per month.
HOW CAN SMALL BUSINESSES ADDRESS THIS DIGITAL DIVIDE?
So, if you're a small-business owner, you need a website. No more excuses.
While you can go the do-it-yourself route, it may be better to hire a professional website designer to either create a new site or audit your current page.
Michael McCranie, founder of the small business-focused website design firm Type3WebDesign.com, suggests the following when looking for a web design firm:
-The contract should be project-based not hourly and should spell out what the firm is doing in detail, such as who is providing content for the site, what content management system is being used, and what the creating design standards will be.
-The contract should spell out that the small business, not the website design firm, retains ownership of the website including content and domain name.
-The design firm should be able to provide the small business with customer references and links to their work on active websites.
-The firm should listen and be responsive.
WHAT MAKES A GOOD SMALL-BUSINESS WEBSITE?
A website can be as simple or elaborate as you want; however, the most important factor is that it provides value to your consumers.
McCranie said a good website should:
-Be visually appealing to users.
-Share great content above the fold, or before users have to scroll.
-Include a call to action and contact information such as email address, phone number and physical address on every page.
-Load each website page in under four seconds; two to three seconds is ideal.
-Include a regularly updated blog.
-Be mobile-ready so it can be viewed on all devices.
WHERE DOES SEO FIT INTO THE PICTURE?
Search engine optimization is vital when it comes to helping consumers find your website. SEO has replaced many traditional marketing tactics, so it is important to invest in it because it can help to drive tons of new business, said Grant Kantsios of the Charlotte-based SEO and design firm Kantsios Consulting.
As a small business you cannot afford not to have a digital presence today. ___ ABOUT THE WRITER Ann Marie van den Hurk, an accredited public relations professional, is principal of Mind the Gap Public Relations and author of "Social Media Crisis Communications."