Websites are important to me. Not only because they’re how I make a living — though that’s a major factor! But they’re also an invaluable tool for me when I’m faced with tackling the unknown.
Two years ago now, I bought my first house. Home ownership forced me to navigate information and services that were foreign to me. Early on, I needed to find someone who could fix a leaky washer hookup, and replace a screeching refrigerator motor. My attic needed mold remediation (which was a stressful discovery in and of itself). Did the paint flaking around windows to reveal rusting corner beads mean I had a leak? And if not, did the beads still need replacing? Should the hot water tank be doing that?*
I stuck with my familiar environment, and hopped online to do research. I looked at local business websites for matching services, and to gauge professionalism. I needed to rely on the businesses I hired to be honest about the extent of work the house needed, since I was clueless. Their websites were a big factor in my decision-making for who to go with.
I know — from my work, from common sense — that getting these websites set up takes work, and can be costly. But I didn’t really how overwhelming that process could be for small businesses until I read the research done by group of my colleagues at Automattic.
That research hammered home for me that for many small businesses, setting up a website is yet another epic task that takes them away from the work they actually enjoy. Along with a ton of other administrative work, it’s not what they want to spend time on — or can afford to. It involves creating content, something many folks interviewed dislike intently, and don’t feel they have the skills for. It requires learning brand new tools and a whole new vocabulary to navigate them. Then once you have a website, you need to promote it so it can help your business. That takes you to things like social media and SEO (both intimidating areas on their own).
I took for granted that any small business I’d want to patronize would have a site where I could learn about them, when in reality, that’s not true. Not by a long shot. This research also made me realize there are probably a lot of great local businesses I completely overlooked by only looking online.
My thinking in the past has been, “Websites are great! What business wouldn’t want one in this day and age?” Thanks to this recent research report, I can see now it’s not a simple decision for small businesses to make. It’s a huge time commitment, and at the sacrifice of a ton of other things they need to do. It’s also highlights how important it is for us to help make building small business websites easier.