5 Mistakes Brick and Mortar SMBs Shouldn’t Make Online

Would you believe me if I told you that I have seen sites that confirm every single stereotype about their industry?  I have seen “official websites” hosted on free blogging platforms, local business listings that have nothing to do with what the business in question does, people attacking customers whose reviews were not favorable, etc.

I also saw a number of restaurants that market themselves online better than Seth Godin ever would if he had a restaurant.

This story is about mistakes that small and medium sized businesses make on the web.

1. Failing to Understand the Basics of Internet Marketing

This is perhaps the most dangerous of all mistakes that SMBs make online, because it can come with a hefty price tag.

Internet marketing is a young, unregulated industry with a very small number of legitimate educational opportunities which makes it look like a typical market for lemons, and a breeding ground for scammers.

Although complex, Internet marketing is not rocket science. A little education can go a long way in protection from scam and wrong Internet marketing decisions.

On the other hand, running a small business is stressful enough without learning about search engine optimization, PPC, conversion rate optimization and a number of concepts that take time to sink in.

There is an easier way to cut your chances of being scammed.

Just avoid dealing with Internet marketing businesses:

– That solicit you
– Without any professional affiliations
– With no certifications (except when it comes to SEO)
– That can’t promptly prove their track record
– That guarantee high organic rankings
– That won’t even consider being paid for performance
– With lots of bad reviews
– Can’t provide any references
– That aren’t members of their local business associations such as BBB or their chamber of commerce.

2. Unreasonable Expectations

More than 72% of people in the US are Internet users. For majority of them, Internet is the primary source of information about local businesses.

Granted, those numbers are impressive, but that doesn’t guarantee that even the best, perfectly executed, Internet marketing strategies can make your phone ring of the hook.


Internet reflects the state of the “brick and mortar” world.

The size of your market might create obstacles
If your market is small (you run a cleaning business that covers only 1-2 towns) online demand for what your business has to offer will reflect that.

If you are selling a luxury product or service in a region that is not very affluent, demand will not be great.

If your business goes through seasonal cycles, there will be periods when you will generate only a fraction of what you normally would in the peak of the season. Holiday season is great for retail businesses, but not for home improvement industry.

Competition might be strong and well established
It is reasonable to say that Internet offers the level playing field. But sometimes corporations and bigger businesses can have a stronger grip on Internet marketing, thus reducing the chances for a smaller or newer business to fulfil their Internet marketing potential as fast as they would like.

You still shouldn’t put your whole marketing budget online
The Internet might be the best marketing tool ever, but it’s not the only one. Every business owner should concentrate on providing remarkable service before anything else. Word of mouth marketing can’t be beaten, and more traditional forms of marketing still offer some value.

3. Having a Subpar Website

Dozens of books have been written about customer service, and most of those emphasized that customers see your employees as the company. As a result, most businesses go through great lengths to keep the level of costumer service they provide as high as possible, empowering employees to make the right choices and make every contact with a business an experience worth sharing.

At the same time, those business owners who wouldn’t hire a person who doesn’t smile often, would accept having a website that looks like it had been made 10 years ago, even though it was finished recently.

This attitude can impact the bottom line negatively because websites represent businesses online the same way employees do when they deal with customers face to face.

Subpar web design and development can cause:

– Credibility issues
– Low conversion rates
– Problems with search engines
– Usability issues

All these problems can cost a business a lot more than a professionally built site.

4. Google Centrality

With 65.7% of US search market share according to the latest comScore analysis, Google looks like an obvious starting point of all Internet marketing efforts for most small businesses.

Concentrating most of your attention on Google is a smart move. But focusing exclusively on Google means giving up on more than 30% of market share.

The number of businesses with this attitude is surprisingly high.

Being Google-centric can be especially damaging for brick and mortar businesses for many reasons – the most important reason being local search.

Unlike other verticals of search, like video for example, local search market is extremely fragmented, with Google controlling “only” 26% of the market according to the latest available data.

SMBs should work to acquire traffic from all the major local search engines, but also from:

– Major Internet Yellow Pages Sites
– Vertical Directories
– Regional Directories
– Local Sites
– Classifieds

5. Misunderstanding social media

Social media related mistakes are typical for SMBs who want to get “on board” with Web 2.0.
They engage in social media without thinking about ROI, while spending valuable resources and time creating profiles that nobody cares about and tweeting what no one reads.

To think of social media as anything else but a set of communication platforms can lead to resource drains.

Every social media platform offers a chance to connect with your customer base and the community of people that could care about your services or products. But no social media platform can create those communities.

Connect with people who already care (your customers) and they will do the rest.

More in: 37 Comments ▼

Vedran Tomic Vedran Tomic is the Founder of Local Ants, LLC, an local Internet marketing agency focused on helping businesses acquire more customers for less using the web.

37 Reactions
  1. Vedran,
    Thanks for the helpful article!

  2. My advice to SMBs would be to keep it manageable. Start with a well-designed yet simple website. If blogging, you may only post once or twice a week, but be consistent. Whatever you do, do it well.

  3. Penny Feigel, IAC-EZ

    “local business listings that have nothing to do with what the business in question does”

    I have seen sales people, try VERY hard to convince business owners to put their ads in completely unrelated categories because data showed that they were areas that were searched more. – I did not understand that idea at all.

    If I am looking in the yellow pages for a fruit stand, I am not going to look under auto repair. And, if I “am” looking in auto-repair, I probably would not be interested in the fruit stand even if it were there.

  4. Hi Vedran
    I particularly like the part about avoiding Google Centrality. use other local search tools and directories to diversify your online presence.
    Good stuff.

  5. I always explain to my clients that want to get into social media to start off slow. Once we develop a manageable strategy, it must be maintained. Set small goals if that’s the case and build up from there. I tell them that once we decide where their presence is best utilized, then we must be sure to be consistent and on-target to attract interest. Sometimes starting out with 2 or 3 forms of social media is more reasonable.

  6. @Robert Brady,

    That’s solid advice. Too many people leave unfinished profiles they never come back to, write blog posts that they themselves wouldn’t read etc..

  7. @Penny Feigel, IAC-EZ

    I have heard/read sales pitches for vertical search engines that have no traffic whatsoever. People selling ads on those made it seem that Google can’t compete with them. Sad, but true.

  8. @TJ McCue,

    That doesn’t mean we should forget about the big G.


    Thanks 🙂

  9. Excellent post! It’s a whole new ball game when it comes to owning an SMB Online, and more concepts to adjust to, while it is definitely more convenient to operate your own business online as compared to the Brick & Motar world with minimal investment.

  10. Great post Vedran. This is probably the most comprehensive and accurate analysis I’ve come across.

    The rules of global niche internet marketing are only partially-relevant for local bricks and mortars, and the challenges are many.

    The fragmentation of the web almost requires a full-time representative to really focus on figuring out the bottlenecks that are impeding online success – something most SMBs lack and could not justify the expense for.

    We’re developing a platform that what we believe is the answer to the SMB brick and mortar online marketing conundrum, but it’s a very complicated issue and every local market has nuances that change the dynamic of the approach required.

    Our solution involves working with local partners that know the market intimately, have existing relationships and work with businesses, consumers and other stakeholders to achieve critical mass within the community. We are starting to see success, but it’s required years of trial and error to learn what we now know.

    Anyway, once again – excellent post! I look forward to reading more of your articles on smallbiztrends.com.

  11. @RedHotFranchises

    Thanks for the comment.

    Owning a purely online business has its advantages. But it also looks like a less forgiving environment. Algorithm changes can hurt your organic search traffic. Bad hosting companies can cause disasters. The same is true with hackers of all sizes and shapes. PPC costs going up all the time are not helping….etc…

  12. @Colin Pape,

    Thanks for the compliments.

    Glad to know someone feels my pain 🙂
    Colin, you have a great concept and a brilliant idea.
    How are you planning to compete with Merchantcircle?

  13. This is my first time i visit here. I found so many entertaining stuff in your blog, especially its discussion. From the tons of comments on your articles, I guess I am not the only one having all the enjoyment here! Keep up the excellent work.

  14. @Vedran

    Thanks for the kind words! I definitely feel your pain… 🙂

    Our angle is a little different than theirs, in that our model is more online-offline oriented. We promote our brands heavily out in ‘the real world’, and because we have a message that the community wants to spread, we tend to get great support from local businesses, Chambers of Commerce and municipal governments (even leading to official partnerships in some cases).

    We are more partner-driven I think, and have a referral-based model that offers residual income for introducing businesses to ShopCity.

    MerchantCircle has done a great job with local search optimization though, and we are hoping to capture more search traffic as we go… As you can imagine, SEO is a little more challenging with thousands of separate domains… 🙂

    Thanks again for the great article!


  15. I should have mentioned that we’re also more commerce-focused than MC… We enable businesses to sell email gift certificates and post products and services into a community marketplace…

  16. Great article. One question though:
    Why did you include businesses who are members of their the local chambers of commerce in your list of internet marketing businesses to avoid?

  17. @ Jacci,

    Thanks for bringing this to my attention.
    It was a typo, I meant to say “…that AREN’T a member of their local business associations…”.

  18. Vedran,

    You are absolutely right about how having a subpar website can hurt credibility and sales.

    I almost can immediately tell if a website I am viewing is a scam or not based on the design. Also if a site is poorly designed and I can’t find a basic “login” button, I feel more apt to give up and leave!

    Great article all around though. I hope to see more!



  19. @ Colin Pape,

    Have you given any thought to hyperlocal blogging?

    I believe you should do whatever it takes it to differentiate yourselves from MC, including exploring markets that they did not – like what you did with coupons.

  20. @ Mark Clayson,

    Thanks for the comment and welcome to SmallBizTrends!

  21. @ Ryan,

    Seeing businesses of decent size with a truly bad website makes me die a little bit inside 🙂 And I’m not a web designer…

  22. Vedran – I work with micro enterprise and other small businesses who don’t always understand the jargon or have time to really get “educated” about online marketing. In general, I liked your article but there are “vertical directories”, PPCs, etc that mean nothing to those who are not online savvy. For small businesses, less jargon and more basic “how to” would be helpful. Thank you.

  23. @ Linda G.,

    Point taken.
    Sometimes I get carried away 🙂
    Thanks for your suggestion.

  24. Great points Vedran.
    I found your point on Google the most interesting. It is easy just to go to the biggest in the market but from what I’m hearing Facebook is now generating enormous amounts of traffic which could be a real threat to Google. Also, Facebook has more information on their ‘users’ which could in time lead to far better targeted marketing.

  25. “Thanks for bringing this to my attention.
    It was a typo, I meant to say “that AREN’T a member of their local business associations”.”

    Can you fix this typo? I want to link and quote your article, but that is a major typo that is kind of a “deal-breaker” (to quote Liz Lemon.) 🙂

  26. You are correct; a subpar website can be detrimental to a small business. A great reputable and professional service that allows small business owners to take charge of their own website is Office Live Small Business. It is an extremely inexpensive service that provides 500MB of storage space and is ad free. It also has a free, easy to use web designer tool which allows you to create web pages without the need to know how to do HTML/CSS coding. Check it out for yourself: http://smallbusiness.officelive.com/

    For great tips and conversation about running a small business website, join the community over on the Office Live Page on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/officelive.

    MSFT Office Live Outreach

  27. Great post.. thanks

    Another common mistake is SMBs getting too obsessed with one metric (usually number of clicks) when they have started an attraction campaign.

    It’s really important to look at all metrics – click through rates, bounce rates, time on site, conversion rates, etc.

  28. I’m surprised to learn that Google doesn’t have more of the search market share. I think the first thing I’m going to do Monday morning is make sure my business is showing up on all the other search options as well. Thank you.

  29. Hi Vedran!

    This is a really helpful post! Thanks for providing your insight. =)

  30. I’d like to add a 6th Mistake:
    Stopping your offline marketing just because you now have a web presence.

    I see way too many businesses that want to implement new and unproven online marketing tactics at the expense of fundamental offline marketing.

  31. Local Business Marketer

    Vedran really did a great job on this one. Social media is especially useful for bricks-and-mortar since the closest personal relationships are usually bounded by geography.

  32. Verdran – would you mind if I reprint this blog in my small business e-newsletter? It’s great information. Thanks!

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