Small Businesses Are Cautious of Internet but Should They Be?

In our connected world not having a website could place your business at a serious disadvantage. According to Business NZ more than half of New Zealand’s small businesses still do not have one.

Among surveyed companies only 41 per cent of small and medium-sized enterprises have a business website. The numbers are even worse for social network participation — less than a quarter have a social media presence.

But this situation could already be changing. According to Business NZ chief Phil O’Reilly if small businesses have plans to remain competitive they should seek to establish a website.

“Increasingly, businesses do need them and not just any old website either, but a pretty professional effort (…) If you don’t have a website and if you’re not investing in it sufficiently then I think you’re missing out competitively”.

Adam Ferguson, the spokesman for MYOB, noted that a common problem for small businesses was scarcity of time. Companies with lack of relevant experience were also afraid of the unknown.

“They really don’t know enough about web development to really start the planning process,” Ferguson said.

The attitude is different in different industries and certain sectors are falling behind others. 80 per cent of manufacturers and wholesalers have a website, but only a third of trade and construction firms have one. With primary sector firms it’s even worse. Just a quarter of them have an online presence.

Ferguson states that companies with websites are more connected to their customers. Such firms experience growth in leads and an improvement in the company’s image.

Meanwhile, Andy Blackburn, New Zealand Innovation Council director, motivates small-business owners to grow their business and work on their customer service, including online. “I think they’re caught in a paradigm of seeing their business as a local business,” said Blackburn. “I think it’s fear of the unknown and perhaps a comfort with how things work right now.”

Why Short Loading Times Are Essential for Your Website

Here at Austin Digital, we’re fond of making quickly loading websites. We have all visited websites only to be greeted with frustratingly long loading times. Poor web design could lead to poor website performance and this has often been cited as the number one reason for people abandoning a page. In order to keep your place in the extremely competitive world of online business, it is essential that your website offers high performance and ease of use. Statistically, if your page takes even just four seconds to load, you can expect a 25% abandonment rate. If it is even slower than that, your abandonment rate will increase exponentially. In conclusion, every second counts.

A word on mobile internet users

With today’s super-fast smartphones offering comparable performance which rivals that of the average laptop computer just a few years ago, mobile users expect their browsing experience to be comparable to what they are used to on a laptop or desktop computer. Over the next year, mobile browsing will even overtake desktop browsing, so it is even more important to cater to this rapidly increasing demographic. While some people still expect mobile Internet performance to be slower, they are now very much in the minority.

In spite of the rise of mobile Internet, more than half of users currently experience problems on a regular basis. Many sites are still poorly optimized for the small screen and touch interfaces. For this reason, you must be prepared to thoroughly test your website on mobile devices, including a range of smartphones with different specifications, mobile browsers and tablet computers. Using responsive Web design practices or having a separate version of your website which loads when a mobile browser is detected are two ways to overcome many of these problems.

Long-term effects of poorly performing websites

If someone leaves your website due to long loading times, it is not very likely that they will return. Instead, they will probably go straight back to Google and search for an alternative. As a result, your business will have probably permanently lost a potential customer. Some statistics claim that a one second delay in loading times is roughly equal to a five percent drop in your conversion rate. If you are running an e-commerce site which has a turnover of $10,000,000 per year, for example, this equates to an annual loss of $500,000!

Poor performance can also be bad for search engine optimization. If your site is poorly designed, makes excessive use of poorly optimized multimedia features and is difficult to navigate, it is not likely to stand well in the search engines.

Things which create poor site performance

There are many design factors which can harm a site’s performance, but here are some of the most common.

  • Poor optimized graphics. All on-site graphics should be properly compressed. Use thumbnails to represent larger, higher quality images, which when clicked on, open the original image.
  • Video and audio content which automatically loads when someone visits the page. Not only does this take up a great deal of bandwidth; most visitors will also find it intrusive.
  • Elaborate, graphics-intensive themes. Every business wants to have a great looking website, but going overboard on design themes and styles can lead to considerable performance drops.
  • Flash and Java content. Avoid such content for navigational features. It is slow, not compatible with a lot of platforms, and such content cannot be indexed by the search engines.
  • Too many plugins. Many sites make use of content management systems in order to avoid complex coding and make maintenance and updates easier. A lot of these have a wide range of plugins available. Use only those you need.
  • Poorly optimized coding. Poor coding such as bloated HTML, CSS or jQuery content can cause all sorts of performance and reliability problems with your website.

Sometimes, the problem might not be with the website’s coding and content itself, as explained below:

Bad hosting company. Some Web hosting companies are just plain rotten when it comes to performance. If you suspect your host is causing the problem, it may be time to change, or at least upgrade to a better hosting package if your host provides one.
Too many visitors and not enough bandwidth. Once your site gets busier, you will need more bandwidth to accommodate the increasing number of visitors. If you don’t have enough, performance will decrease.

Update content often

Most businesses don’t just want customers; they want repeat customers. The same goes for your website. If you want people to view your website again and again, you have to give them a reason to come back. Try to change something on your website as often as possible. If you sell a product, write posts about daily promotions or specials you’re offering, as well as any new items available for purchase. You might also inform page viewers about the latest features on your site or improvements within your company. Even book reviews or journal articles that somehow relate to your business can flesh out your website. Adding content that’s of interest to your readers will be engaging and prevent your site from seeming too mundane. Sometimes all it takes is a little creativity to increase page views.

Keep it professional

When developing a business website, it’s important to make sure your graphics, colors, fonts and content are all of good quality. Your design elements should reflect your professionalism so that anyone visiting your site will be assured you know what you’re doing. If you don’t feel confident in your design abilities, consider hiring a web designer to help you craft something that suits your style and is appropriate for your business model. Also, refrain from posting any personal content that doesn’t directly relate to your business. Maintaining a professional tone will help you convey your expertise.