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Unlock Potential: Bridging the Digital Divide to Propel Black-Owned Businesses

Table of Contents

When we broadly talk about the digital divide, it typically refers to disparities in access to information and technologies. Here we focus on bridging the digital divide by improving a very narrow area of digital literacy with verifiable implications for black-owned businesses.

With the importance and impact of digital marketing, specifically SEO, and its ability to make or break many businesses, we took an objective approach to compare the website performance (n=1138) of black-owned companies versus the broader population.

We must note that website performance is only one of several factors contributing to SEO. It has well-documented implications for the user experience (UX), another factor that impacts a website’s SEO performance.

When COVID-19 shuttered the doors of most businesses in 2020, it forced an even greater reliance on websites to generate sales.

COVID-19 has significantly impacted minority-owned businesses, according to a recent study by the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research. The study reveals the devastating effects of the pandemic on these businesses. In early 2020, many black, Latinx, and Asian-owned companies shuttered, with black-owned companies most affected. Minority-owned businesses comparatively still suffer more from the pandemic, despite a rebound across demographics in May (2021).

COVID-induced business closures among minority groups.

Impact of the Digital Economy

Because of the pandemic, businesses increased their digital marketing and e-commerce use. Concurrently, traditional brick-and-mortar operations and face-to-face interactions decreased due to stay-at-home recommendations.

The “COVID” economy has forced significant changes in consumer buying habits and patterns, likely to persist long after the pandemic. During COVID, consumers became increasingly comfortable with online shopping  (PYMNTS, 2020).

One study found social media engagement rose by 61% due to stay-at-home orders and quarantines. Additionally, 80% of marketing influencers believe social media, in combination with organic search, offers the best results for small businesses.

Many start-ups and small enterprises use social media marketing as their first foray into digital. It is an affordable method for businesses to raise brand awareness and gain attention. 

Black-owned Businesses Adapting to Digital

Witnessing the disparity of black-owned businesses closing after COVID-19 led to many questions. Not surprisingly, many of these questions involved the adaptability and resilience of these firms.  

However, there are data points to reflect the disproportionality in businesses transitioning to an e-commerce focus; for most companies, virtual transactions will remain the primary medium for revenue and sales. To be expected, future success will heavily depend on a solid web presence.  Specifically, a company that engages consumers with a satisfying performance.

Comparing Page Speed of Black-Owned Businesses to Top Performing Websites

Identifying a single metric that credibly demonstrates the performance value of one site against another is a difficult task. Researching an effective tool to provide quantitative analysis for the study led to Google’s PageSpeed Insights (PSI).  

PSI provided the most feasibility in evaluating relevant metrics. PSI allows for assessing the performance of thousands of websites in an unbiased way and utilizing a simple scoring framework based on four distinct metrics.  They applied to all websites in the study, generating scores ranging from 0 (Poor) to 100 (Excellent).

Why Use PSI for Performance Comparisons

PSI levels the playing field for all websites and businesses, regardless of platform or company size.  The PSI score provides additional insight into website user experience (UX). Research has shown a strong correlation between website speed and bounce rates – the rate at which users visit a site and leave without taking action.

32% bounce rate for poor web performance

 In 2018, Google formally announced that “Speed is now a ranking factor”; therefore, speed affects the ranking position of web content in search engine results pages (SERPs). This metric represents a missed opportunity for many sites; whereas half of the website visits see users “bounce” to other websites, a mobile page takes over 3 seconds to load.

The PSI scores offered an objective lens to compare a dataset of nearly 1300 black-owned or focused websites to a control group of 420 sites, ranked in the top 100 SERPs for high-intent search queries.

Assumptions and Details Regarding the Test Group

The initial sample consisted of 1284 web domains from various black-business directories and relevant organizations. Given this, the assumption was that the listed URLs were black-owned or focused on their content, but this was not guaranteed. After removing non-relevant and inactive domains, the final sample consisted of 1138 websites in the list of black-owned businesses.

Control Group Selection

The control group comprised domains ranked in the top 100 SERPs for distinct transactional queries relevant to four of the top 10 industries with high African-American participation – Attorneys/Law, Beauty & Healthcare, Retail, and Construction. The tests included mobile and desktop performance scores, focusing on mobile scores.

Bridging the Digital Divide for  Page Speed and Site Performance

Google focuses more on how fast websites load, especially on mobile devices. This test showed that Black-owned businesses and organizations have issues with user experience and page speed.

Google Page Speed Test of Black-owned Businesses (BOB) vs. Websites of Top SERP Performers revealed the following:

Metric (Medians) Black-owned Businesses Top SERP Difference BOB/TS
PageSpeed Score 22 28.5 -22.8% Unfavorable
First Contentful Paint (sec.) 4.1 3.30 24.2% Unfavorable
Total Size (MB) 2.8 2.00 40.0% Unfavorable
Number of Requests 85 108.0 -21.3% Unfavorable
Table 1: Comparison of Website Performance Metrics

The PageSpeed score of Black-owned businesses in the test group was 22, which is poor by Google’s standard and substantially lower than the 28.5 scored by the top SERP performers. This finding was the most critical result, directly affecting Google rankings and visitor engagement. The difference was unfavorable by 22.8%. In addition, the size and number of requests were notably higher for black-owned businesses, negatively impacting the site’s performance.

infographic - Bridging The Digital Divide for Minority-Owned businesses

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The Importance of SEO

As e-commerce continues to dominate the business landscape, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has become crucial for businesses seeking to thrive in this digital era. This shift is particularly true for black-owned companies that have been disproportionately affected by the economic downturn brought on by the pandemic. Having an optimized website is essential for improving user experience and site performance. It is vital for increasing online visibility and attracting potential customers.

What Is SEO?

SEO is a collection of techniques that improve the visibility of a website on search engine results pages (SERPs). With Google’s search algorithm considering page speed as one of its ranking factors, optimizing a website for speed is an integral part of the SEO process. Moreover, an optimized website will provide a better user experience, leading to higher engagement rates and potentially more sales. SEO is not just about keywords; it encompasses many activities, from optimizing content and images to ensuring mobile compatibility and fast-loading times.

Unfortunately, PageSpeed analysis revealed technical evidence of the digital divide for black-owned businesses. This gap in site performance and digital readiness hinders black-owned businesses’ ability to compete online and reach potential customers effectively. 

With the increasing importance of SEO in the digital world, black-owned businesses need to prioritize their online presence and invest in SEO strategies to bridge the digital divide. SEO is a long-term investment that can significantly impact a business’s online visibility, reach, and sales.

How SEO Benefits A Business

Investing in SEO is not only about improving search engine rankings but also offers additional benefits. It helps establish brand credibility and trust, as higher rankings on SERPs foster a perception that a brand is more reputable and trustworthy. Additionally, businesses that invest in SEO tend to see higher engagement and conversion rates and increased customer loyalty. All these factors can contribute to the growth of black-owned businesses in the competitive e-commerce landscape.

Bridging the digital divide requires a comprehensive approach to SEO. Black-owned businesses should seek professional assistance and resources to help them improve their website’s performance and user experience. SEO provides a holistic approach to online visibility and customer engagement, from optimizing web content to increasing site speed and mobile compatibility.

Conclusion

In conclusion, investing in SEO is a strategic move for black-owned businesses to bridge the digital divide and remain competitive in the rapidly evolving digital world. As black-owned companies adapt to the new e-commerce reality, embracing SEO strategies will help ensure long-term success and a strong web presence in the competitive online marketplace.

In the new digital age, where many businesses will continue relying on online platforms for growth and revenue, black-owned companies must adapt to the new e-commerce reality and improve their website user experience and performance. Black-owned businesses must prioritize their online presence and invest in digital marketing strategies that build a strong web presence To bridge the digital divide and compete with top-performing websites.

References

An, D. (2018, February). Find out how you stack up to new industry benchmarks for mobile page speed. Retrieved from Think with Google: https://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/marketing-strategies/app-and-mobile/mobile-page-speed-new-industry-benchmarks/

Ascend2. (2019). Organic Search & Social Media. Retrieved from Ascend2 Research-based Marketing: https://research.ascend2.com/2019-organic-search-social-media/

Fairlie, R. (2020, May). The Impact of Covid-19 on Small Business Owners: Evidence of Early-Stage Losses from the April 2020 Current Population Survey. Retrieved from Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR): https://siepr.stanford.edu/publications/working-paper/impact-covid-19-small-business-owners-evidence-early-stage-losses-april

KANTAR. (2020, April 03). COVID-19 Barometer: Consumer attitudes, media habits, and expectations. Retrieved from kantar.com: https://www.kantar.com/Inspiration/Coronavirus/COVID-19-Barometer-Consumer-attitudes-media-habits-and-expectations

PYMNTS. (2020, May 1). Retrieved from https://www.pymnts.com/coronavirus/2020/main-street-on-lockdown-smb-coronavirus-recovery/

 

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