There are 28 million small businesses in America today accounting for an estimated 54 percent of all domestic revenue, much of which is generated through online sales. Meanwhile, virtually any industry that comes to mind in the U.S. is represented by some sort of web presence, yet nearly half of small businesses nationwide operate without a website, according to a surprising new survey of small business conducted by Clutch, a B2B research firm.

More than one-in-five respondents said that a website is not in the company's short-term future, while 17% plan on launching their website this year. Among those who did not have a website, "irrelevance" to their business and the "overall costs associated" were the top reasons cited.

I must admit being surprised that in 2016 a small business owner would consider a website not relevant.

"Everything you do in marketing is to drive awareness. Yes, there is an initial expense and to maintain traction. Even if they get a personal referral, the first thing a lot of people do is go visit a website," said Mark Cummings, owner/creative director of Wayne, NJ-based Cummings Creative Group.

"You want to look current, not out of date. A website provides the opportunity to say who you are and what you're about. There is a wide range of options of what you can do -- from a "brochure" site to ones that are used for eCommerce," Cummings added. "Today, a web site has to be part of your business plan."

If your site has a blog, you can leverage relevant key words and tell your story. Essentially, you have a free medium if you do it right. This can be done on a smaller budget and you can then leverage social media on top of it.

Having a mobile-friendly website, does not appear to be a priority for small businesses -- even ones that already have a site on the Internet, according to the Clutch study. Meanwhile, more than 50 percent of web searches are completed on mobile devices. On Biz2Credit's web page, almost 60 percent of the registrants come via mobile. Further, the study found that 23 percent of existing small business sites are not mobile friendly. Nine percent of respondents said they did not know if their website had mobile capabilities or not.

"It's almost as bad to not have a mobile-friendly website as it is to not have a site at all," says Max Elman, founder of Razorfrog Web Design. "I spend a lot of time traveling and looking up businesses on my phone. It's common to encounter the difficulties associated with not having a mobile-ready site. People will give up on accessing it and go somewhere else."

Meanwhile, running any type of business requires an investment of both time and money; developing a website requires both. Fortunately, web development platforms such as WIX and GoDaddy have emerged as popular low-cost solutions for small businesses.

Any company that does not have a website should seriously consider developing one -- even the simplest, low cost, one or two-page website -- in order to have a greater online presence. There is no such thing as a business that is too small to establish an online presence, especially with an estimated 85 percent of consumers using the Internet to find local businesses and some 81 percent of shoppers conduct online research before making a purchase.

According to the SBA, more than half of all small business fail within the first five years. Among the most common reasons for a business to close its doors is the lacking of experience and volume of competition. Consequently, these embody two key areas of focal when considering the implementation of a website.

There is some good news, however. Of companies that do have a website, many are planning improvements this year. The survey findings revealed that search engine optimization (SEO), social engagement, design and content development are among small businesses' top priorities for 2016.

Many small business owners have their hands involved in many different areas of the business and web design is often a daunting task for them. Despite an increased ease in operating and developing a website, outsourcing the work to a professional web designer or marketing/p.r. firm may be the most effective solution to get your website up and running. Besides, chances are your competitors already have some sort of online presence... and if they don't, you're one step ahead of them!

Moving forward, more and more consumers will rely on websites and other online functions to make purchasing decisions. Even if your product or service cannot be sold online, it is important to establish a presence online -- even if you only list your address and a phone number -- to engage current and potential customers. If you're not doing this as a small business owner, you will only fall behind your competition. Avoid becoming a statistic of defunct companies, building a robust website is a good start.

Clutch's full report can be found here.

Published on: Feb 19, 2016