By Daniel Hunter

Independent research commissioned by TalkTalk Business reveals that small changes to a company’s digital identity — including email and web addresses or phone numbers — could result in significantly more business opportunities for small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

The same study also underlined the importance of SMEs being online, with 80% of consumers saying they’d expect smaller businesses to have a website.

Linked to this expectation is the fact that nearly half of consumers said they’d prefer to use a website as the first point of call to find out more information on a small business, rating the co.uk web suffix as the most reliable, reputable and professional. Addresses ending in .com were assumed to belong to larger companies while the worst scoring suffixes were .net, .info and .biz, which were deemed to be the sign of a ‘disreputable’ company by 41% of respondents.

When it came to having an online presence, around 90% of consumers expected smaller law firms, architects and estate agents to have a website, but 60% of consumers said they’d also expect tradespeople to be online and just over half would expect a local shop to have a website.

Email addresses are also critical in creating the right impression; almost two thirds (63%) of respondents admitted they form an opinion about a company based on its email address format alone. Top scores were garnered by the format ‘fiona.black@’, which was seen as the most approachable, professional, and reliable. Generic, ‘info@’-type addresses were seen as least approachable, while firms using free domain names such as Hotmail and Yahoo risk being judged as unreliable and unprofessional, regardless of their sector.

When it came to calling SMEs, the most popular type of number was a local landline (46%), slightly ahead of freephone numbers, which were voted for by 43% of respondents. However, when it came to the last time individuals had phoned an SME, 55% said they’d dialled a local number compared to only 14% who had used a freephone number, suggesting that offering both types of numbers would be advisable to avoid missing out on inbound enquires. Just 6% of consumers would prefer a mobile number, believing it would provide a quicker response but, premium numbers are unpopular with all but 0.6% of consumers.

“In the light of this research, SMEs clearly need to give serious consideration to how they are managing their digital identity and the impression it may be making on customers and prospects," Charles Bligh, Managing Director of TalkTalk Business, said.

“Those SMEs that have still not taken the digital plunge need to consider the huge business opportunity they are missing, particularly in the light of so many affordable and easy to implement solutions on the market; TalkTalk Business offers web design and ecommerce packages which include free hosting for the first year and can be up and running within weeks. Small businesses which get online are opening a digital door that will enable them to engage with more customers than ever before."

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