How Many Small Businesses Have a Website?

Smiling woman holding a notebook looks at an ipad screen with a man

We asked small business owners if they have a website – and 98% said they do. If you’re interested in hearing how American small business owners use their websites, read on for the full results of our research.

A previous study found 71% of small businesses had a website in 2021, compared with just 50% in 2018. Given the upheaval of commerce over the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s no surprise that American entrepreneurs are making inroads online.

Small business owners are using their websites to facilitate services, handle customer care, explain their credentials, and showcase their successes. And more than that – to tell their stories.

In our research, the same four themes kept coming up. Without prompting, respondents named the following main reasons for having a website:

  1. To broaden my brand’s visibility: 41%
  2. To appear in search engine results: 40%
  3. To convince others that my business is credible/trustworthy/authentic: 38%
  4. To convert sales: 33%

These are the major reasons that small business owners choose to invest in creating and maintaining a website today. And they’re compelling too.

Trust Me, I’m a Small Business With a Website!

Why do small businesses have websites? A major reason is to prove credibility: over a third (38%) of small business leaders who spoke to us mentioned a need to demonstrate their authenticity or trustworthiness.

The quality of your website is a key way in which customers learn whether or not to trust your business. And even more is at stake when you’re a relatively unknown business, a sole trader or a local tradesman.

“Our customers are looking to spend $10,000 or more on projects. They want to hire a professional – not some random schmoe with a tool belt!” explains Joseph Berman of Clear Choice Contractors in Plymouth, Michigan. “Having a cheap website – or worse, not having one at all – reeks of ‘amateur hour’. Would you spend $100,000 on a new custom swimming pool and outdoor living area built by a company that doesn’t even have a website? I wouldn’t.”

Clear Choice Contractors small business website homepage

Nearly two in five (38%) small business owners told us they have a website to prove the credibility of their services. 

Wise words. An informative and professional-looking website convinces prospective customers that they can trust you with their money.

Yet website owners must be careful not to unsettle web visitors through poor UX (user experience). It’s not only sales conversions that small business owners use their websites to attract. For many, collecting email addresses and phone numbers can be just as highly prized. One in five (21%) Americans decided not to use a website recently because they were concerned about how much personal information would be collected.

A separate study by PWC found 17% of US consumers would stop interacting with a brand they love after just one bad experience.

It should come as no surprise, then, that 88% of US consumers say how much they trust a brand determines how willing they are to share personal information (PWC). Trustworthiness, then, is inextricably linked to good UX.

Clicking onto your website might be the first interaction a new customer has with your business. A well-structured website could be the difference between a conversion and a lost lead. As online marketing guru Neil Patel reminds us, a website should help users easily find what they’re looking for. “The goal of information architecture is to create a website structure that optimizes user experience and meets business objectives,” Patel explains.

Get Your Small Business Seen on Google: Organic Search Means More Leads

As any website-maker knows, building a good looking site is only half the battle. Once you’ve built your masterpiece, then comes the challenge of getting people to land on it. A website is generally part of a business’ broader digital marketing strategy. That means your social media posts, print media, and TV and radio adverts should all be pointing back to your website as a hub of information, service details, pricing, and contact channels.

Paid marketing methods hungrily devour business budgets, yet organic search – users finding your website on search engines – cost nothing at all (bar the price of website upkeep). Indeed, enabling new customers to find their business online is a priority for nearly one in two (47%) US small business leaders, our research found.

Building a professional website is a cost-effective way to market your business to anyone who’s searching online for the products or services you offer.

“Every organization faces client churn. To ensure continuing success, you must attract new clients, and one of the most effective methods to do so is to increase your visibility on Google,” says Max Whiteside, SEO and Content Lead at Breaking Muscle, an Ohio-based fitness blog. “SEO is the key to getting your business on Google's first page. The term search engine optimization may be scary, but the method is rather straightforward.

“You add business-related words and phrases into a keyword research tool, determine which ones receive the most traffic on Google, and then create content around those phrases. As a general guideline, each piece of content should target a distinct keyword, so that as your site's content list increases, it can rank for more keywords.”

Statista 2022 barchart most popular websites showing Google at the top followed by YouTube

Google is everybody’s favorite website: Google accounted for almost a fifth of desktop web traffic in the US, according to Statista research from May 2022.

Although it takes a number of years to develop “authority” as a website and get recognition from search engines, the long-term rewards are significant. Once you budget for SEO costs and implement a steady keyword strategy, you can expect a healthy flow of visitors to your website. So, be patient! Continue to update your website with informative, high-quality content such as well-researched articles, and you’ll reap the rewards of increased online footfall.

Ecommerce Platforms Are the Beating Heart of Online Stores

Many choose to have a website because it’s integral to how their business functions. Elearning sites, jobs platforms, and people-locator search engines – none of these would work at all unless they ran on websites. A major group here is ecommerce sites, which together raked in $768bn in the US in 2021. While it’s possible to sell online through social media channels alone, ecommerce websites offer a broader range of options when it comes to browsing and buying online.

Ecommerce platforms like Shopify, Squarespace, and BigCommerce equip retailers to sell to customers through a dedicated website that displays products and processes payments. Nowadays, you can add a “buy” button to an existing website, or build a whole site from scratch using ecommerce templates and DIY builders. Or, if you think your business needs a more complex set up, you can hire a web developer to build you a custom online store.

Ecommerce Statistics About SMBs During the Pandemic

We know ecommerce sales for US retailers increased by $244.2 billion, or 43%, in 2020. But how did this affect SMBs in particular?

Here are some fascinating findings on small and medium business owners moving online amidst COVID-19:

  • Most growing SMBs (71%) say their business survived the pandemic because of digitization.
  • 95% moved a portion of their operations online in the past year.
  • 63% of SMBs have an ecommerce presence – including nearly one third (31%) who added it within the past year.
  • 71% of SMB leaders say their customers expect online transactions.
  • 72% of SMBs have increased their online presence (including social media, websites, email, and ads) over the past year.
  • 8% of SMBs say they have no online presence at all.

Statistics from the Salesforce “Small and Medium Business Trends” Report: 2,534 SMB owners (globally) surveyed in June and July 2021.

Local Marketing Goes Hand-in-Hand With Online Retail

A website can always work in tandem with offline marketing methods. For instance, Lou Haverty of Enhanced Leisure, a hot tub retailer in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, plans to adopt just such a tactic. Haverty told Expert Market: “I live in the Philadelphia area and I have a natural market in close proximity to me that would be interested in some of the more specialized products.

Enhanced Leisure hot tub enclosures ecommerce website small business screengrab checkout page

“For example, a walk-in tub naturally lends itself to being professionally installed. I intend to build out a local marketing campaign using old school methods like direct mail as a supplemental marketing strategy.” Making use of local knowledge to entice customers to browse and buy online is an exceptionally smart business tactic.

Using diverse marketing tactics broadens the net to capture a wider range of potential shoppers. This works particularly well in the case of at-home installation projects such as hot tubs, where it wouldn’t work to just order a shipment from China then struggle alone with the setup instructions.

Could you use an expert's opinion on your digital marketing?

Shifting Online During the Pandemic Boosted Profitability

Bricks-and-mortar retailers certainly reaped the rewards of ecommerce when it came to pandemic closures. “Our website has been one of the best investments we have ever made,” enthuses Jeff Moriarty, marketing manager at Moriarty’s Gem Art, Indiana. “Our family's jewellery business didn't have an ecommerce website until the start of the pandemic. Then we had to close and the loss of sales was devastating.”

Small business website screenshot Moriarty's Gems Indiana

www.moregems.com invites web users to patronize their physical store since the pandemic ended. The webchat button waves a friendly hand adding to the family-feel of the brand.

Like 71% of SMBs during the pandemic, Moriarty’s Gem Art avoided bankruptcy by launching a digital avenue for sales.

“We quickly put together a website through Shopify so we could continue to sell to not only our community, but nationwide. The sales allowed us to continue to pay associates during the six months of having our retail store closed.

“It did so well, we invested more money into the website, into marketing, that we had our best year ever in 2021. We are up 15% already this year as well.”

Despite the harrowing setback of losing 100% of in-person sales, Moriarty took advantage of the boom in demand for e-retail and the business saw greater success than ever before. Although the decision to open an online store was made under pressure – the looming pandemic clouding certainty for retailers and buyers alike – it turned out to be their most profitable decision yet.

Salesforce report ecommerce SMB statistics

Statistics show more than half of SMBs had an ecommerce presence in 2021, as reported in the Salesforce “Small & Medium Business Trends Report” fifth edition.

Reputation Management is a Must for Any Small Business

“Businesses are in the public sphere, meaning they will be discussed whether the owners participate in that dialogue or not,” claims Anthony Puopolo MD, Chief Medical Officer at RexMD, an online telehealth service. It’s a fair point, and one of the many reasons that reputation management is a major feature of the SEO services offered by digital marketing companies today.

It’s never been easier to spread information. And a bad review online is like taking a bite out of a donut covered in sprinkles. The sprinkles get everywhere. Instantly. And they’re hard to clean up without simply spreading the mess further.

Google will actually rank your website above or below similar search results (i.e. your business competitors) based on how positively or negatively other users rate your company. You’re already well aware that customer reviews are immensely influential on human consumers. But did you know that the search engines are watching out for the quality of your client satisfaction too?

RexMD small business website SERP screengrab

The second result for “Rex MD” on Google’s SERP is a review of the telehealth site’s reputation and credentials. Clearly web users want to know “Is REX MD a legitimate company?” because this appears immediately underneath.

“By having your own website, you can implement a great deal of control over the narrative of your business,” Puopolo says. Which is true in the case of the site he features on, because the answer to the first question on Google refers to information on Rex MD’s own website. That’s pretty robust PR right there.

Going Above and Beyond Legal Compliance to Earn Customer Trust

Few professions are as exposed to reputation risk as medical doctors. Puopolo knows this well, and features on a medicine-based ecommerce website with many “trust signals” aimed at the consumer. Featuring endorsements from numerous named medical professionals, Rex MD makes it clear to consumers and search engine bots that it’s a safe place to buy medicine and telehealth consultations from.

“In having your own website, you can input the information you wish people to know about your products, services, staff, and policies,” Puopolo reasons. All medicines advertised on Rex MD are clearly described, with safety warnings beside each one.

RexMD FAQ

An FAQ section allows small business owners to address the concerns and doubts of potential customers – particularly crucial for a firm that sells medicines online.

Another way the site inspires trust is by having an FAQ section that repeatedly references the legal requirement that only US-licensed doctors can work with them. The web visitor can feel even more reassured that they’ve found an authentic source of reliable medical help.

It also helps that every page of the site features a smiling doctor. The doctors pictured look so confident you can’t help but feel relaxed. Seeing human faces taps into deep-set psychological responses and stirs a feeling of familiarity. All of these factors make a buyer more likely to convert into a sale.

Who would you rather buy medicine from, a manufacturer of unknown origin on a generic online marketplace, or a man wearing a stethoscope who has amazing teeth?

Accurate information combined with expert opinions adds up to a whole lot of credibility. As Puopolo puts it, the website is “providing the social proof that cements your brand in the public’s mind.”

Reasons Why Small Businesses Don't Have a Website

With benefits like increased brand awareness, proof of credibility and even increased sales, why wouldn’t a small business get a website?

In our research, just two respondents said they didn’t have a website. PR agency founder Chenadra Washington held back from creating a business website in order to figure out her wider business strategy. Aware of the importance of brand consistency, Washington was careful not to create digital footprints before she was ready.

“When I initially started my business, I wasn’t sure of my full range products and services, so I didn’t rush to a website.

“I spent a lot of time learning business basics and didn’t just want a website to just say I had one. If the website is not helping with your bottom line, then what's the point?” Washington found she converted clients without a website, so it just wasn’t a necessity for her business.

Although she’s currently in the process of connecting her blog to a new website, Washington warns other entrepreneurs to consider their motivations for creating one. “I believe that websites are a solid piece of branding but need to include strategy,” she asserts.

It’s a fair point, because a poorly-made website could cause reputational damage to your brand. Say you had little time or expertise in website creation, but decided to start one anyway in order to get something online for your business.

If your website text is riddled with spelling mistakes, images look stretched or blurry, and negative comments go unanswered online, it’s a recipe for PR disaster. Because you’d have to pay for the domain name and the hosting (unless you’re using a website builder service, which typically includes hosting), you would actually be paying to showcase an embarrassment like that!

Speaking of costs, let’s look at the affordability of a website.

How Can Small Businesses Afford a Website?

Understandably, a number of small business owners are concerned about the cost of a website. Several of our survey respondents cited expense as a reason for reluctance over creating a website. While web traffic is considered an organic (“free”) marketing channel, that doesn’t mean there aren’t overheads involved in maintaining a website.

When lockdowns limited how US businesses could operate, many took to minimizing their financial outgoings as a way to mitigate revenue losses. During the pandemic, 57% of small businesses cut their spending.

Yet a website doesn’t have to be a source of major expense for an SMB. While rising inflation may be a legitimate concern for business owners following COVID-19 closures, a website should be the last asset to cut in order to save funds.

As well as serving the essential function of funneling sales leads for your particular business offering, a company website provides need-to-know information for curious would-be customers. A website can also generate business income in some unexpected ways. Let’s look at how.

Websites are a Vital Source of Revenue for Small Businesses – Not Just for Online Merchants

Selling products online is not the only way to bring in revenue with a website. In the modern world of affiliate marketing, clicks mean cash. Savvy small business owners are building partnerships with brands in their industry, and bringing in a healthy sum in return.

“I earn revenue through ads and affiliate marketing, so my website has turned into a huge part of my business, and brings in a lot of revenue,” shares Jacquelyn Kennedy of PetDT. The dog trainer couldn’t run her regular dog classes during the COVID-19 pandemic, so began a blog to deliver her expertise instead. Kennedy used Amazon affiliate links and Google ad banners to turn web traffic into extra income, proving a lifeline when she was no longer able to meet clients face-to-face.

PetDT web advertizing

Kennedy chose to monetize her pet care blog through Google Ads. It’s become a crucial source of income for her dog training business after pandemic restrictions limited in-person meetings.

Kennedy says her monetized website provided “an important way of earning money through a really tough period”. But the benefits continued after the pandemic came to an end: “Now, all of my training clients find me through my website,” she relates. This just goes to show the long-term benefits of a website are not always immediately obvious. Specialist blog posts addressing your target market’s questions can lead to long-term interest in your professional services.

Research Methodology

We conducted our research using HARO, an online service that connects journalists with people who’ve got insight or experiences to share. We asked to hear from owners of small businesses – defined as companies with fewer than 50 employees. We asked for their thoughts on the following question: “Do you have a website? Why or why not?”. We then analyzed the responses, and our final sample size was 106 small business owners or representatives (for example, employees) in the US. Respondents operating outside of the US or with no listed address were discounted. Percentages were rounded to the nearest whole number.

All sources quoted in this article were aware they were giving their answers for publication. Nobody was paid any financial compensation for sharing their views.

Final Thoughts

The overwhelming majority of small businesses have a website: 98% of the US small business representatives we spoke to confirmed they have a website. Their reasons for maintaining a website ranged from enabling them to run their core business offering, to increasing revenue through ad sales, to displaying their professional portfolio.

Four main themes emerged from answers to the open question: “Why do you have a website for your small business?”

  1. To broaden my brand’s visibility: 41%
  2. To appear in search engine results: 40%
  3. To convince others that my business is credible/trustworthy/authentic: 38%
  4. To convert sales: 33%

It seems many businesses are pivoting online since the disruptive effects of the COVID-19 pandemic first began. Luckily, the barrier of expertise once needed to create a website has fallen away over time thanks to DIY website builders, which use drag-and-drop editors to bring online designs to life.

Sabrina Dougall

Sabrina writes about tech for business as well as consumer software. She covers topics ranging from digital marketing to ecommerce fulfilment, security systems, franking machines, and more. Having run her own successful small business, Sabrina knows first-hand how much there is to keep on top of. Writing with your company’s needs in mind, she distils truly useful product information (without the sales pitch).