As more consumers fire up the Internet to search for restaurants, businesses and events in their own neighborhoods, a growing number of local establishments feel pressure to have a presence online.
Webs Inc. co-founder Haroon Mokhtarzada said that pressure now defines his Silver Spring-based business, which for the past 10 years has allowed anyone with an Internet connection to create Web sites from pre-fabricated templates.
“We started just to let anybody create a Web site, and [the company] didn’t really have a focus on anyone,” Mokhtarzada said. “Years later and millions of users later, it started to become clear to us that there’s really a need for this type of tool for small business.”
Many of them are already online. Eighty-four percent of small businesses have a Web site, according to a 2010 survey from the National Small Business Association, though a smaller portion use it to sell or promote their merchandise.
But the Internet and the marketing opportunities it offers are constantly evolving. The recent popularity and influence of social media and mobile technologies have given consumers a broader reach and put local search in the palm of a hand.
“The new micro-businesses coming in are much more technology comfortable than the older generation of businesses, so they’re much more willing to try out tools and engage with technology than the older generation,” Mokhtarzada said.
Webs is not the only service provider to spot a potentially lucrative market. In fact, Google and Intuit just came through town in September on a national tour designed to get small businesses online.
Jacksonville, Fla.-based Web.com, which offers Web registration, hosting and design services, paid $405 million for Herndon-based Network Solutions in August. The deal added 2 million subscribers to its customer list.
“If you believe that mass adoption is occurring, and we do believe it, then the bigger you are and more profitable you are, the more you can invest in building a brand,” said Web.com chief executive David Brown. “You can identify yourself as a national company that exists to help them.”
“If you don’t have scale, then you can’t offer products inexpensively, and most small businesses have a very low risk-to-reward tolerance, so you better be able to deliver in a very cost-efficient manner,” he said.
Both Webs and Web.com have debuted products this year aimed at giving small businesses a presence on Facebook and mobile phones — trends both executives said were likely to shape how customers find small businesses in the near future.
In February, Webs acquired a Danish firm called Pagemodo that allows small businesses to set up and customize a Facebook page without any serious technical know-how.
“When a business starts up, the first thing they do is tell their friends ... and other people around them,” Mokhtarzada said. “What’s happened is word-of-mouth has shifted from being a physical word-of-mouth to on the social Web.”
Brown said Web.com has made a similar bet on Facebook, as well as smartphones. The Internet-enabled devices capture a larger chunk of the mobile market each quarter, meaning many consumers can now look for a business while on the move.
“In order to properly serve the market, you have to have a big tool kit,” he said. “There’s no one product that’s the answer for all of these customer, so having a big tool kit that would help us reach a large swath of the market.”