The 5 Biggest Problems Holding Back Your Small Business Website

Posted on Thursday, February 5th, 2015 No Comments


Throughout my work on small business websites, I have identified five major problems that hold back websites from reaching their potential. These are far-reaching problems that can have a large impact on a business. As a small business owner, your website presents your business to the world. Having a poorly developed website can be as damaging as having a bad business plan.

1. No Clear Headline or Value Proposition

What does your business do? I’ve seen websites that fail to address this basic question. Even if the website gives a reader the general gist of what the business provides, that’s not enough. It’s necessary to hit the reader over the head with it.

  • What exactly does your business do?
  • What specifically can a person buy/learn/get from you?
  • Why should anyone use your service in particular instead of someone else’s?
  • Who exactly is your product or service designed to help?

If you don’t know the answer to these questions, it’s time to think about them. If you don’t know, how can you target the right audience? If you don’t target a specific audience, then you’re just floundering around. (More on this next.)

Here are a few examples of websites that are doing a good job with presenting what they do (I added the red boxes):


This is a great example. Two big headlines tell us what they’re up to, and another big sentence explains exactly what it is they provide. Software companies tend to be pretty good at this, since they’re up to date in their approach to web design. But what about local retail businesses?



This is a hair salon in Sacramento. While they don’t have a big headline at the top, the main text on the homepage tells us exactly what their specialty is: custom cuts and hair color with specific products. It even says what they are “all about”, followed by a call-to-action.



This is a local retail shop in downtown Grass Valley. Like the example above, this site dedicates a large portion of the homepage real estate to photos, and then gives us a clear explanation of what the shop is and what it offers. Even the header links across the top make it clear what this store offers.

I would like you to look at your website with a fresh perspective, as if you had never heard of yourself or your company. Would you understand immediately what the business sells or offers? If there is any hesitation at all, any “hmmm …” in a reader’s mind, then it’s not clear enough.

2. Not Enough Focus on a Target Audience

One of the most important aspects about determining a business focus is to choose a target audience, and then tailor everything for that audience. Your website should clearly reflect this.

Here are some questions to ask yourself to determine your target audience:

  • Who will best benefit from my product or service?
  • Who is my ideal customer or client?
  • What are some attributes of this ideal customer? (Age, income level, location, temperament, education level, etc.)

Once you know your ideal client and her main attributes, you can tailor your entire website experience around her, including:

  • The overall look and feel of the website
  • The tone of writing
  • The way you present your services

Let’s consider a real estate agency that wants to specialize in order to narrow the focus of their clientele. A website for this agency should be very different if it’s targeted towards first-time homebuyers vs. high-income families or single professionals. It’s tempting to try to be “everything to everyone” so that you can cover many different markets, but that ends up being appealing to nobody.

So don’t try to please all these folks:

target audience - too many!

Instead, identify your ideal customer (the person you wish you got more calls from), and tailor your experience to her:


Excellent resources for more on this:

The 10 Commandments of Great Copywriting
Copywriting 101: How to Craft Compelling Copy

3. Outdated or Poor Design

Web design isn’t something that will make a giant impact on sales. The actual content of the website is a bigger influencer on sales, such as the copywriting, photos, and actual products.

Of course, there are technical issues that can result from an outdated website. Outdated sites tend to not display well on mobile devices and could be missing other functionality. But that’s more about web development, not design.

Web design does have a large impact on the perception of your business. It’s subtle. It’s about the impression a person is left with, and it’s a difference between: “That site looks really fresh and well put together!” and “Ugh, that site looks junky, like nobody even cares about it.”

The big problem is that when a website visitor leaves with a bad impression of your website, that impression extends to your business as a whole. More concerning is the fact that it could very well have been your only chance at a new customer.

Many people visit a few websites before they call or visit a local business. Imagine a potential customer looking at three websites on her iPad. One is yours, and the other two are your competitors’.

  1. Competitor 1 has a newly-designed website with a great layout, large photos, and it works well on the tablet.
  2. Competitor 2 has an old website that was created by the owner’s nephew ten years ago when he was in high school.
  3. Your website looks decent compared to the ten-year-old site, but it’s not responsive, so when viewed on the iPad, the text is way too small to read.

This potential customer almost automatically closes your website and the old one from Competitor 2, and Competitor 1 wins. After all, if you haven’t bothered to update your website in the last few years, what else haven’t you bothered with?

To find a few examples of outdated websites, I poked around in Yelp to find some local business websites. I opened about 20 pet-related websites and I couldn’t find even one that looked like it was made in this decade.




Now look, these websites aren’t making me claw my eyes out or anything, but they are in dire need of makeovers.

4. Search & SEO Extremes – Too Much or Too Little

I have spoken with small business owners who were distressed over the state of their website’s SEO because it was the only thing they were relying on to bring in business. Another person who called me was at his wit’s end because no matter what he did with Google Adwords, he wasn’t getting enough calls, and he didn’t know how else he could bring in new clients.

Relying on a single source of marketing is obviously a bad idea. You never want to be at the mercy of someone else’s whims. Google changes its search engine algorithms all the time, and someone else might come along and outbid your Adwords keywords.

My recommendation for small businesses is to do a mixture of online and offline marketing. Choose what makes the most sense for you:

  • Google Places listing (free!)
  • Yelp and/or Angie’s List
  • craigslist (free!)
  • Updated keyword-focused SEO
  • Social media (choose the platforms that make the most sense for you) (free!)
  • Blogging or other content marketing (free!)
  • Google, Bing/Yahoo, Facebook, or Reddit ads
  • Direct marketing (postcards are great)
  • Participation in your community (local faires, Chamber of Commerce …)
  • Backlink campaign (get listed on local business directories)
  • Build an email list and market to it


If you’re in a position where your business could die overnight because you’re depending on leads from one source, it’s time to diversify!

Check out my Online Marketing Pinterest board for a bunch of cool infographics related to online marketing.

5. Complacency

For most of my working life, I’ve been in the world of software & internet, which is naturally very forward-thinking. In that world, everyone is always looking for ways to make things better. “Innovation” might sound like an annoying buzz-word, but for those in software development, it truly is a way of life.

complacencyAnd then, for a year I worked for a small business that didn’t have anything to do with technology (except for the parts I handled). I was shocked, shocked, at the level of complacency I encountered there. In this company, everyone had been doing things the same way for the past 50 years, and they saw no reason to change. The world was literally passing them by. Every once in a while, someone would try to implement something new, but it was met with such resistance and apathy that it had no chance of success.

Even in organizations that aren’t experiencing that kind of extreme complacency, their website is often not high on the priority list. It’s met with attitudes such as:

  • The website is “good enough” so there’s no urgency.
  • I can’t devote any time to that right now.
  • I don’t even know where to start, so I won’t do anything.

I understand that for most people, a website isn’t in the forefront of their mind. They’re busy with their daily tasks and events. However, in many cases it should be given more priority than it is. A website is just as important as your physical store and other marketing materials.

Being satisfied and not pushing for something better is a direct path to obscurity.

Take your website seriously. Determine who your target audience is, clearly present your services to that audience, and do it in a modern, appealing way. Diversify your marketing channels so that you’re not dependent on any one source of income, and keep moving forward.

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