The Biggest Digital Barriers to Small Business Growth (and How to Overcome Them) Jessica Lunk Domain registrar and website hosting company GoDaddy recently teamed up with Alignable, a social media network for small local businesses, to survey more than 100,000 small business owners in North America to learn what they struggle with most with when trying to grow their businesses digitally. The survey, conducted in May, had some surprising results. After looking at the data Alignable came up with five areas that repeatedly emerged as problematic for small business owners: Building a website Optimizing the website Website branding Customer communication Ecommerce We spoke to Andrea Rowland, managing editor for GoDaddy’s small business community, The Garage, to better understand these and other challenges identified after analyzing the survey results. More than half of small business owners use a generic email. This is a big problem for small businesses, but they don’t seem to realize it. “When you look at the top ten online factors that influence consumer trust, a business’ email ranks fourth,” says Rowland. “When people look for at business’ email they want it to include the business’ domain name. It looks far more professional than one from gmail or yahoo.” A domain based email is essential for increasing email deliverability and email open rates. Small business owners underestimate the importance of that—54 percent still use generic email accounts—even though consumer surveys show that email remains the preferred method of communication for consumers and the ROI for email marketing is through the roof. “Your payback for what you spend is much higher for email marketing compared to any other form of marketing,” she says. “Even pay-per-click, although affordable, will not give you the kind of return on investment as email. Getting a domain based email—one with your business’ name in it—often costs less than $5 a year. Often it’s free with your domain registration.” Small businesses fail to understand the importance of a strong domain name. Many small businesses wanting to capitalize on their web presence don’t understand the significance of their business’ domain name. That’s a company’s electronic shingle and so whatever is chosen should both represent the business (clearly and succinctly) and be easy to remember. It’s also easy to change a domain name that doesn’t fit your company anymore. “You don’t have to be stuck with something you chose early on that doesn’t work for the business now,” says Rowland. “Maybe it’s too difficult to remember or it just doesn’t represent the business well. People take a lot of time thinking about the actual name of their business, but in conjunction with that they should also be looking at domain availability for it.” In addition, many small businesses are not proactive when it comes to securing strategic email domains and pointing them back to their main website. For instance, investing in other domain extensions – like .net or .biz – can ensure that another brand won’t encroach on your digital footprint. Fifty-two percent of small business owners said they don’t sell online. Not only do small business owners often struggle to establish their web presence but more than half aren’t sure how or if they should be selling their products and services online. This despite the fact that the U.S. Department of Commerce reported that online sales accounted for more than a third of all retail sales growth in 2015. Ecommerce sales last year totaled $341.7 billion, up more than 14 percent over 2014. Thirty-one percent of those surveyed have a dedicated ecommerce site and 15 percent sell on marketplace platforms like Amazon and Etsy, either instead of or in addition to their own ecommerce website. But many business owners report feeling overwhelmed by the choices of platforms they can use to sell products. Rowland suggests that even if they are selling on reputable platforms, they also have a dedicated website for sales. “That often freaks people out because they think it’s hard enough to manage a simple website without also incorporating money and shipping,” she says. “That’s a scary thing for a lot of small business owners.” Yet there are plenty of ecommerce website building tools (like GoDaddy Online Store, Shopify or BigCommerce) that make it simple and require no knowledge of back-end technology. Driving your audience to one central website – a platform you own – can help you not only generate sales now, but capture more leads to nurture into customers down the line, creating sustainable, repeatable revenue for your business. Nearly half of small business owns surveyed complained their website doesn’t show up in searches. A website is essentially a living thing, not something you slap up into the ether and then forget. If you leave your website idle, says Rowland, no one will find it. “That was one major complaint from our survey, that small business owners feel no one is finding their website. You can change that with some basic on-page search engine optimization.” One simple thing a business owner can do is make sure that on each page of their business website–as naturally and organically as possible–they include keywords that would be used in a search for whatever product or service the business sells. And, says Rowland, make sure your online business listing on Google is accurate. “You want to make sure the hours are correct, the business name and website address are all up to snuff. Spend ten minutes a week doing a quick check to make sure it’s updated,” she says. “It’s well worth the time.” If you’d like more tips for improving your search engine rankings, check out our DIY Guide to SEO.