We Asked Local Small Businesses About Their Online Problems. Here’s What They Said.

A survey to find out what local small businesses are doing online.

I’m a relatively recent addition to the BUX family. As you know from the logo up there in the corner, we’re a website that looks at how to improve the user experience. I was thinking about that idea and was going over some old blog posts where Ben and Newman did a drive-by user test. It occurred to me that it’s been a long time since we’ve gotten out and talked to users about anything.

Besides writing for BUX, I also run a local networking group, Port City Young Professionals, and I got to thinking…

What are the biggest challenges online for local small businesses?

By now, most of them have a website. But how do they feel about it? What are their problems? And who is ready for Christmas?

Feeling a little like Encyclopedia Brown I world wide webbed my way over to Survey Monkey and put together a quick list of questions.

1. What is your company’s website address?

2. Are you a decision-maker with the company or organization?

– Yes
– No
– Don’t Know

3. Are you happy with your website?

– If yes, why are you happy?
– If no, what would you change?
– Don’t know

4. What’s the biggest challenge facing your business online?

– not enough knowledge on what to do next
– not enough traffic to the website
– not enough money to do it properly
– my web developer doesn’t pay attention to me
– not enough time to devote to it
– can’t be found on search engines
– not enough sales or leads
– other (please specify)

5. Who maintains your website?

– You
– Someone from your staff
– Web Design Firm
– Other (please specify)

6. Are you doing regular email marketing?

– Yes
– No
– Don’t know

7. Are you doing any social marketing? Like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn?

– Yes
– No
– Don’t know

8. Do you track data on your website using a tool like Google Analytics?

– Yes
– No
– Don’t know

9. Have you ever done any user testing on your website?

– Yes
– No
– Don’t know

10. Do you need help promoting your products or services online for the Holidays?

– No, thanks.
– Yes, email me to discuss.


I spent the next several hours emailing some business contacts I had through social organizations and looking up more businesses in local magazines (Wilma). Out of fifty requests, 21 people respond to the survey either by answering the questions by responding to an email or by filling out the survey online using the Survey Monkey link.

What follows are the aggregate results of the challenges facing local businesses in Wilmington, NC in early November 2012.

And the results are…

1. Are you happy with your website?

It was great that a lot of the participants chose to elaborated on their responses, giving us further insight into their perception of their website. Here are some comments from participants who were mostly happy with their site:

Overall, yes. On average, our website has generated close to 6,000 pageviews per day over the past year. Aesthetically, our website could be improved. We are currently working on a redesign, which will incorporate our new logo design and overall branding.

It always needs improvement in my opinion, but it should be upgraded regularly so that is to be expected.

9% Yes, I need it to be #1 on search rankings instead of #7

We are constantly updating our site to ensure we are providing the visitors the information they are searching for. We are in the midst of updating major sections of the site focusing more on quality.

We just went through the process of building a customized website and feel that it is a much better reflection of how we want to present ourselves online. We really are happy with the results.

Yes and no- always room for improvement!

It’s free and user friendly.

its ok

Yes, innovative and user friendly.

Yes, but changing it for Mobile Generation

I’m glad I finally have one.

Comments from participants who were mostly unhappy with their website.

Our website underwent a major re-tooling a couple of years ago, and I am pretty happy with the basic template, but the Word-Press functionality can be a little frustrating sometimes. We operate within a large organization, so I understand the need for a standard template for all departments.

We are currently reviewing our website and hope to soon have improved interaction such as Twitter / Facebook feed on home page, online forms, a calendar (instead of just listing events).

No. It’s very outdated and not up-to-date with online marketing and advertising standards, as well as missing a critical shopping cart feature. We’re currently working on a new website on the WordPress platform so we’re better able to manage and update our website. It is also very unorganized due to multiple people maintaining the website content.

I want more content and need to focus on improving techniques to deliver viable leads.

Yes and no. For what it is, it’s pretty good. However we want some better/customizable shopping features, and for it to be more cohesive in terms of design.

more traffic, more real leads instead of fake ones who want to sell me leads.

Several Things: The design, content and SEO need improvement

2. What’s the biggest challenge facing your business online?

The highest percentage said they did “not have enough time to devote to it.” The second highest is a tie between “not enough knowledge on what to do next” and “not enough sales or leads.” No one thought “my web developer doesn’t pay attention to me” or “not enough money to do it properly” as the biggest challenge. Here are some of the comments…

…It is sometimes difficult to find time to update content if we have a major event coming up, etc. Also, we are a small organization with a small budget. The redesign we are working on had to be incorporated into this year’s budget and approved by our board of directors. We aren’t able to make spur-of-the-moment decisions when it comes to spending money.

In this rapidly changing healthcare environment and with the ongoing changes in technology we must continue to focus on our online strategy. And we must focus from the perspective of our users.

not enough money to do it properly, not enough sales or leads


not enough sales or leads, not enough traffic

No complaints

3. Do you or someone on your staff maintain your website, or do you use a web design firm?

Results found that the majority work with a web design firm in some capacity. Their comments indicated they are also doing  maintenance themselves, or by a member of their staff. Here is what they said…

updates from staff

…Our staff has the ability to update and make changes to the website. Anytime we have a specific question, we are able to reach the President of our web design firm on the phone or by email. He does a great job of getting back to us quickly, and it’s nice to be able to have such a close relationship with the ‘top dog’ of a company.

We have a web design firm that we keep on retainer; however, in the past year I’ve been here, they’ve been pretty unresponsive and/or going to charge an arm and leg to help us out. In terms of maintaining, I maintain the calendar of events, registration and content. Our Director of Member Services maintains the website database, membership search and the member login portion of our site.


us and a web firm

A friend built and designed it for me

4. Are you doing regular email marketing?

The majority of those surveyed are doing regular email marketing with their customers. Since this question yielded only yes or no responses, we don’t know the specifics of each businesses email marketing strategy or the frequency of the campaigns, only that they have done “regular email marketing.”

When done correctly, email marketing is a powerful and cost-effective tool that businesses can utilize to:

  • Provide a means for direct communication with our customers and for contacting prospects
  • Facilitate dialogue with and feed-back from our customers
  • Strengthen the relationship with their customers
  • Increase lead generation and cross-selling
  • Allow for immediate tracking and measuring of our marketing efforts

* Check out my article  7 Things to Consider When Choosing an Email Marketing Service Provider

5. Are you doing any social marketing such as Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn?

Wow! Almost everyone is utilizing social media in some capacity. Local mom and pops shops as well has larger institutions have joined in. That is because there are a lot of benefits for businesses that are engaging in social media:

  • Build relationships and become more personal
  • Helps with search engine ranking
  • Much cheaper than traditional marketing and advertising
  • Provides another way for potential customers to find you (like a free mini-website)
  • Find out exactly what your customers want – ask them on social media, and they’ll tell you

6. Do you track data on your website using a tool like Google Analytics?

Less than a fourth are not using any tools to track data on their website. Although there are many other tools available to track data including Woopra and wordpress plugins, Google Analytics (GA) is the most widely used website statistics service.

GA provides marketers and site owners detailed statistics by tracking where visitors are coming from: search engines, social media, display advertising, pay-per-click networks, e-mail marketing and digital collateral such as links within PDF documents. GAs not only tells us how they arrived on your site, it measures sales and conversions, gives fresh insights into how visitors use your site, and how you can keep them coming back.

It’s great that so many local companies are using a tool to track the performance of their site. But are they making changes to their site based on the data? The survey did not ask that question, but perhaps it should have. Ongoing iteration and testing is the key to having a successful website.

7. Have you ever done any user testing on your website?

An overwhelming majority are either not doing any user testing or they “don’t know” if their company has done any user testing.

What is user testing? User testing is a technique used to evaluate a product by testing it on users. Conducing user tests is the best way to directly obtain information about a website’s usability, design and effectiveness.

There are many user testing tools (heatmaps, surveys, screenshots, videos, A/B testing, interviews, mouse tracking) available that test a variety of elements (tasks, design, experience, usability) that present data in multiple forms (graphs, videos, case studies, etc.). We need user tests to give us the data we need so we can make informed product and design decisions.


1. Many local Wilmington businesses have a website and are engaged in some form of marketing with their website.

I hate to scare you but just having a website isn’t enough anymore. Gone are the days businesses can get by with an outdated and unfriendly brochure site that just displays the company name, address and some text describing what they do. Check out these articles to find out what your website should and should not be doing…

2. Many local Wilmington businesses are not listening to their customers (at least via UX).

Almost none of those surveys had done any user testing on their website or were not sure if any had been done. As businesses and organizations, if you have not asked your users What do you want? What do you need?  What do you like? or How do you feel? aren’t you just making it up? The customer should be at the center of all the decisions you make when it comes to product and design development.

Check out our UX Tool Box of user testing tools that help evaluate the effectiveness of a product or design in every level of the development process.

3. Many local Wilmington businesses are not investing in the development and profitability of their “online store.”

Businesses should treat their website as their “online store” and as an extension of their brand. Just as you want your customers comfortable, engaged and spending money in your physical store, you want them to have the same experience when visiting your online store.

What the survey tells us is that over half of them, “do not have enough time to devote to it.” This means they are not making their online store a priority and they are missing out on a opportunity to increase revenue for their business. This also means that time is a bigger challenge than the website having “not enough sales or leads.” Although I do not have data to back it up, I would have to say that if these businesses are not putting in time, then, the website is not achieving any business goals such as making money or getting clients.

The key to a successful website is ongoing iteration and testing and then basing future decisions on the data collected with analytics and user testing. There is value to be gained by having a website that answers the questions of what your customers, want, need and like. But to find that out, there needs to be an investment of time and resources.

4. Many local Wilmington businesses are not website and internet marketing experts.

The survey tells us that most of these businesses are not investing the time needed to have a site that achieves business goals and that “not enough knowledge on what to do next” are top challenges. Thats understandable. I don’t know how to give a professional massage. I can’t sell you property or heal your ailments and you shouldn’t be expected to know how to promote and GROW your business online. That’s why you bring in an expert. Did I mention we are a local internet marketing company. Check us out at LittleWingMarketing.com.

A big THANK YOU to the following companies for participating in our survey:

[one_third last=”no”] [/one_third] [one_third last=”no”] [/one_third] [one_third last=”yes”] [/one_third]

6 comments on “We Asked Local Small Businesses About Their Online Problems. Here’s What They Said.

  1. I’m just impressed so many responded. I think that’s why I don’t do e-mail marketing, I delete about 90% of what I get, even after making a purchase. I want pester-free shopping, I’ll contact you if there is a problem. Mostly, I assume my shoppers are the same way. So I view any contact or follow-up as intruding.

    I blush hitting send to mail a notification of shipping info!

    I’m not a shy person, but my mail-phobe is going to really hamper progress here. How do you guys over-ride pester-fear and “get with the program” ?

    • Good question!

      First of all, I sympathize. I remember several years ago when I was first starting out being afraid to send out invoices! I didn’t want to bother anybody.

      Of course, now I know better. For me, eating was more important than being nice, so I eventually sent the invoices and nobody yelled at me.

      Three things to know that might help you.

      1. We live in a marketing saturated culture. To be heard, you have to over-communicate. If you don’t send emails to your existing customers and have trouble emotionally keeping them up to date on their shipping info, you’ve got a communication issue. Believe me when I tell you that your customers definitely want to be in the loop about the stuff they’ve bought and they also are curious to keep up with you over time. (And if they’re not, they’ll unsubscribe from the email list.)

      2. You have to use email marketing appropriately. I don’t believe you should spam an inbox. But once somebody gives you their email address, you can totally email them. So, first contacts shouldn’t come through spam. That’s what you hate. It’s what I hate. It’s what we all hate. But once we give up our email address, we’ve given them permission to contact us.

      3. It’s not a matter of whether you should email them, it’s a matter of how well you do it. Email is a numbers game. It’s why I’ve gotten an email everyday since Thanksgiving from Best Buy. They know that if they keep sending them, there’s a chance I’ll buy. And once you learn about drip campaigns, you’ll see that we can really do some advanced stuff these days with email.

      If you need any help getting started, let me know! 🙂

  2. I’m compiling past buyers – digging through Paypal because I actually never saved buyers e-mails. Am going to send out a notice the website is updated and moved, and give a return-shopper coupon code. Now that I’ve gone public, my chicken self has to follow through.

    I hope my story serves some purpose here. I just wanted to point out that for some small biz, it’s not technology, lack of knowledge or information or ability or drive – sometimes it’s just our own personal quirks and reluctance to get out of our comfort zone.

    • Sounds like a good idea! Keep up updated on how things work out. 🙂

      How do you plan to send out your emails? Are you going to use a tool like Mail Chimp or Vertical Response?

  3. VR. I have done it before, according to the account records, I sent out in 2005, 2006, and 2008.

    Amazing they even let me log in still. 😀

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