Generating new customers ‘biggest concern for UK SMEs’

Nov 15, 2019 | Ads, E-commerce, Mobile, Search

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A third of small to medium size enterprises do not have a website to enable discovery, while 71% do not manage a search engine listing or map listing for their business, according to new research.

In a study commissioned by Google to understand the key concerns of UK small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and how they use advertising, respondents highlighted driving future growth as their main priority. The study also highlighted the need for SMEs to have access to easy to use, fast tools to enable advertising.

Although uncertainties around Brexit are often pointed to as a key concern for business owners, 79% of respondents said that the majority (60-100%) of their revenues came from domestic (UK) sales. In fact, 41% of SME owners and managers identified ‘generating new customers’ as their key challenge over the next year. With 36% of respondents suggesting that ‘increasing business growth’ was their primary goal over the next year, and a further 39% opting for ‘consistent growth’, it’s clear that SMEs are in need of simple ways to drive growth that come at a relatively low cost.

SMEs are currently under-utilising tools that can assist them in their goals, because of the difficulty and time involved in advertising and in managing their online presence, which are key avenues for driving customer acquisition. This is not due to a lack of dedication, however. Over 15% are spending more than four hours per week managing their advertising, while a fifth (22%) are spending more than two hours. This is a significant time investment for business owners who already have a huge amount of demands on their time, and whose priorities often lie in the day-to-day running of the business.

As customers in a fast-paced world look for solutions and products on the move, it’s crucial that SMEs are discoverable online to new customers looking for their services. However, almost a third (30%) do not currently own a company website, while 71% do not manage a search engine listing or map listing for their business. It’s therefore clear that there is a gap between desire and action for many SMEs.

SME owners do have big ambitions for their digital advertising, however. Almost two thirds (61%) said they aimed to use online advertising to bring in new customers, and a little over half (51%) suggested they wanted it to increase awareness of their business. When asked what they most wanted from an advertising product, ‘easy to use’ was the most popular suggested solution for businesses. It’s clear that advertising needs to be more accessible, easy to use and fast to manage if SMEs are to benefit from its potential gains as they seek to grow or retain current business performance.

Kim Spalding, Global Product Director for small business ads at Google, said: “Small business owners often wear many hats and are often short on time. But even the busiest SMEs know that online advertising is critical to acquire new customers and drive growth. Using machine learning and automation technology, Google Ads offers Smart Campaigns to help small and medium enterprises who don’t specialise in digital marketing to quickly create ads and reach new customers.

New Google internal research also found that Smart Campaign delivered 70% more relevant audience to EU small businesses.


This survey has been conducted using an online interview administered to individuals who have agreed to take part in surveys. Emails are sent to panellists selected at random from the base sample. The email invites them to take part in a survey and provides a generic survey link. Once a panel member clicks on the link they are sent to the survey that they are most required for, according to the sample definition and quotas. Invitations to surveys don’t expire and respondents can be sent to any available survey. Where required, the responding sample is weighted to the profile of the sample definition. UK sample size 1000 respondents.

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