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10 Areas Where Small Businesses Lack an Online Competitive Edge

This is a guest post by Pratik Dholakiya.

We all know it; even though we wish it weren’t true: small businesses have limited resources. They often have only enough time, money, and patience for the core of their business. Certainly, a small business should never sacrifice its unique selling position. But it’s equally true that businesses need exposure in order to stay up and running.

Thankfully, the web makes it possible to boost awareness at relatively low costs. Even so, many businesses struggle getting a competitive edge online. Here are some of the reasons why.

This is a guest post by Pratik Dholakiya.

We all know it; even though we wish it weren’t true: small businesses have limited resources. They often have only enough time, money, and patience for the core of their business. Certainly, a small business should never sacrifice its unique selling position. But it’s equally true that businesses need exposure in order to stay up and running.

Thankfully, the web makes it possible to boost awareness at relatively low costs. Even so, many businesses struggle getting a competitive edge online. Here are some of the reasons why.

1. Poor Market Research Before Creating a Web Presence

Often, small businesses are simply creating a website because they feel it’s the modern thing to do, and they just want to get it over with. But it’s important to understand the online marketplace before diving in.

The market for products online may look very different from your local market or the medium you are used to. It’s important to address what the online competition looks like, how many resources they have, and how you can stand out from the crowd.

2. A Cluttered, Ugly Website Design

WordPress, Blogger, and Tumblr have made it so that anybody can put up a website. This is exciting because it has given consumers and small businesses a voice that they haven’t had in a very long time, but it also means that users won’t trust you just because you have a website. It’s important to invest in a sleek appearance and intuitive navigation so that users feel they can trust your website.

3. Not Setting a Unique Selling Proposition

As we mentioned in the intro, a business can’t sacrifice its core if it is going to survive long term, and this is only more true online. All to often, businesses try to convince consumers that they are “the best.” This is typically a waste of time because most consumers will not believe you.

It is important to be more specific about what you have to offer, and, most importantly, draw attention to how you are different.

Online efforts should focus on giving consumers a unique and specific reason to choose their product. Often this means creating a brand image as much as it means promoting the products themselves. It also often means that your site’s content must itself offer unique value that isn’t easily attainable anywhere else on the web.

4. High/identical price of Products/services compared to big names in industry

If your product or brand does not offer a unique and specific benefit over the alternatives, there is no reason it should be priced the same or higher. Big name brands have a very huge advantage in the marketplace and consumers need a very good reason to consider your products instead. This often means your prices must be lower, even if the product is in some ways superior. It is only if your product is clearly different from the competition that you may charge a higher price.

5. Don’t know the exact target audience

This is essentially the same problem as #1, but it’s important enough that it deserves its own category. Businesses often focus so much on creating the superior or cheaper product, when the real goal is to solve a problem for consumers.

You must understand your target consumer and the problems that they want solved. Often, your online content should also help them solve that problem, or related problems. This will help them trust your brand and the ability of your product to solve their problems as well.

6. Undefined Online Marketing Strategy

You need to be able to answer questions like:

  • Why are you online?
  • How will customers find you?
  • Why will customers choose your products over others?
  • How will your online presence grow?
  • Where are your target consumers most active online?

Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for businesses to have no answers to these questions.

7. Ignoring Social Media (or Being Ignorant of it)

Virtually everybody uses Facebook, and the most influential people online also use other networks such as Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and others. Making yourself known online requires building relationships with influencers as well as keeping consumers engaged with online conversations and community building.

At the same time, many of the businesses who use social media are ignorant of how it works and why people use it. The vast majority of people use social networks to entertain themselves first and foremost, as well as to express themselves and communicate. They do not use social networks to find information, especially not about consumer products.

8. Underestimating (or Overestimating) the potential of SEO software/tools

Businesses that do not track the results of their online efforts are waving their hands in the dark. It’s important for them to track their rankings, link building efforts, traffic, and other factors in order to understand what is working and what isn’t, so they don’t waste time on failing strategies. Some examples of low cost SEO tools include:

  1. SheerSEO
  2. W3optimizer
  3. SearchEnabler
  5. UpCity (Formerly known as DIYSEO)

Tools like these will help you understand how you can improve your site so that it is more easily discovered in the search engines.

However, equally dangerous is the possibility of overestimating such tools. It is important to understand that SEO and online marketing in general are not mechanical processes. You must create outstanding content, build relationships, and become a unique voice in the community in order to improve your visibility online and in the search engines.

9. Lack of Online and Offline Local Marketing Strategies

If your business is local, or has physical locations that consumers can visit at all, it is important to have a local marketing strategy. Some businesses are still under the impression that because the internet is a “world wide web,” it is useless for local marketing. This hasn’t been true for quite some time.

The search engines currently localize search results to display web pages from local businesses and results from Google Maps with driving directions. Foursquare and Yelp have become widely used to find and review local businesses. Facebook has local event notifications, and consumers can review local businesses in Google+ Local or Google Places.

Devise an integrated local marketing strategy that makes the most of the online and offline world in combination with events to spread publicity.

10. Ignoring Mobile

As more and more people own smartphones and tablets, it is becoming unacceptable to pretend that people only use PCs to access the internet. Consumers are frustrated with sites designed for desktops that they have to zoom in and out of and scroll all over the place to use. Sleek and uncluttered sites that they can slide their way through, easily reading and pressing buttons with their fingertips, are far more successful.

But mobile is an opportunity, not just something you need to adapt to. Mobile users tend to be more wealthy, they are more engaged with their devices, and they are often already on the go looking for nearby businesses to visit. Conversions are much higher on mobile devices, and apps keep your brand where consumers will see it.


Understand the web and you will beat your competitors, becoming a successful small business in the online world. Fail to keep up and you will lose touch with your customer base. The web presents a promising opportunity for the businesses willing to make the most of it. Don’t fall behind.

By Pratik Dholakiya

Pratik Dholakiya is the Founder of The 20 Media, a content marketing agency specializing in content & data-driven SEO and PRmention, a digital PR agency. He regularly speaks at various conferences about SEO, Content Marketing, Entrepreneurship, and Digital PR. Pratik has spoken at 80th Annual Conference of Florida Public Relations Association, Accounting & Finance Show, Singapore, NextBigWhat’s UnPluggd, IIT-Bombay, SMX Israel, SEMrush Meetup, MICA, IIT-Roorkee and other major events. As a passionate SEO & content marketer, he shares his thoughts and knowledge in publications like Search Engine Land, Search Engine Journal, Entrepreneur Magazine, Fast Company, The Next Web, YourStory and Inc42 to name a few.

11 replies on “10 Areas Where Small Businesses Lack an Online Competitive Edge”

You are right that most small business want a website just because it is the thing to do. They want to be able to tell their customers that they are “on-line”. They do not care about doing “keyword research” or a “call to action”, they just want customers. By hiring a web designer small business owners will not have to worry about the technical details and allow them to concentrate on running their business.

“WordPress, Blogger, and Tumblr have made it so that anybody can put up a website.”

Not only has WordPress made it possible to streamline websites with clean, ready made templates, but they also offer a lot of opportunities for maximizing SEO opportunities. Within WordPress you can install SEO Plug-ins that optimize new pages, and blog posts so you can make sure all of the content on your site can be read and indexed by the search engines. The best part is, you don’t need to be a coding expert to optimize your WordPress site with these tools.

I have to disagree with a few of these points! Competing on price is a non-starter for most small businesses. The “big guys” have access to economies of scale that crush the little guys. They have every right to charge the same amount as a larger competitor. My advice to small businesses is to outperform their large competitors by providing better customer experience, added services, or focusing on customers their competitors are not serving well.

I also think consumers are starting to use social networks to gather data on purchases in a more significant way. Enter graph search. This is another area that local businesses can have an advantage by connecting with their customers. The ability for users to passively endorse their business simply by having ‘liked’ the page.

Definitely in agreement, though, that this stuff can be overwhelming for small business owners who are busy all day long trying to produce a good product or service.

I’ve always found #7 Social Media to the the most difficult aspect of an online business plan. There’s just so many options and it can be a massive time-sink. You need to really sit down and map out a firm plan on how you want to approach it to be most effective.

What’s your target market? Which network are they one? How can you best reach them?

It’s tough and still something I am working on because I want my time to be well invested with maximum impact.

Small businesses can have a chance at success or more sales if they work on their influence on the internet.

In this article, a very nice checklist for the business owner to follow.

I enjoyed the social media part and feel like new business owners just start to focus on SEO only since that is what they think they heard.

Social media has to be included in increasing your online presence and many successful brands are utilizing nicely.

Excellent article!

This post is right-on Pratik! So many of my students struggle with all of these issues, especially SEO and no strategy. I find they scatter their efforts in too many places without enough focus, and because they’re small biz they don’t have $$ to waste.

Kristi – love the new design. Much cleaner than before. Gotta love StudioPress themes. I recommend them to my clients!

Hey Pratik,

Totally agreed with your opinions, I think small businesses always tend to grow quickly but they hardly plan how to do it. That’s the biggest mistake they make and results wastage of their efforts and time.

Plan, plan and plan! Before you jump into something, you need to outline all the things.

Number 2 – definitely one thing that I would check on. A LOT of websites look ugly and I’m a visual person and very critical when it comes to a websites design. I like a website that is simple yet has great visual impact. Nice color palette, structure and all those stuff. A bad design makes me think that whoever owns this site does not take care of their business, making me jump to the conclusion that they don’t take care of their customers at all!!!

Nice Initiative Pratik,
I agree with your points and these two really happen Ugly Website Design & Don’t know the target audience, most of the small business never keep in mind for their online business success.
Thanks for sharing..

It is an issue with small businesses, whether this is online or not. It is hard to figure out how to balance the need to understand a specific niche and fulfilling the need to expand. Thankfully, online, you have some wiggle room.
Great article by the way.

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