In the age of remote work and barrier gestures, digital transformation of SME is more relevant than ever with the health crisis. Here is an overview of the issue with the latest Sortlist study …


The business-to-communication platform Sortlist published a survey this summer on the digitization of Small and Medium Enterprises (SME). The survey was conducted among 500 SME in England, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and Belgium.

Copywriting training

No digital transformation for 22% of SMEs

One figure commands attention: 22%. This is the percentage of SME not having website. The figure is even more impressive if we take it back to the 25 million SMEs present in the European Union (figure of 2018). Note that there are significant disparities within the territory.

While in Germany 22% of SME do not have website, they are 34% in England and 42% in Belgium! According to the study, these differences are explained by the capacity of these countries to “adopt new technologies quickly” and that to be “flexible with regard to innovations”.

In addition, countries with the best rate of ” digitization are those who “attach importance to the generation of new knowledge” and “exhibit strong digital competitiveness”.

Digital transformation of SMEs according to their nationality

Moreover, the digital transformation is conditioned by the size of the companies. The figures speak for themselves: 90% of SME with a turnover of between 30 and 50 million euros per year have a website. When this figure is between 0 and 100,000 euros, only 45% have a website.

A dispensable website for these SMEs

How to explain such a difference ?

The mention of turnover suggests that the use of digital technology is a matter of means. This is true, but it is not the main reason. Companies that do not have website 37% think they don’t need it.

For Sortlist, they make a diagnostic error. On the one hand, fewer and fewer sectors of activity escape the digitization. On the other hand, the lack of visibility on the web prevents potential customers from accessing the goods or services of these companies. They are then redirected to their competitors, regardless of the distance they are located since the competition is global.

“The fact of not having a website is [donc] a major flaw in facing this competition ”.

Factors of non-creation of website among SMEs

Another reason given by SME partly linked to the previous one: the website is even less essential as it can be “compensated” by social media. The idea sounds appealing: setting up a Facebook page or a Twitter account costs nothing and provides access to millions of internet users.

This recipe has worked for years, to the point where businesses have thrived just with a Facebook page. We remember the example of the American news outlet “Little Things”.

The problem was that the business of these companies depended solely on one other: Facebook. As soon as the latter changed the algorithm that governs the operation of the newsfeed to favor posts from loved ones at the expense of “pages”, these companies were to be closed. This is how the organic reach of Little Things posts was dropping 75%.

That’s why going only through social media is a bad idea. First of all, because companies do not have control over the changes that affect these platforms, the effects of which can be deleterious on their business. It has also become difficult to be visible without paying to advertise. It is better to keep this money to have a website to which their accounts on social networks refer.

As the Sortlist study indicates, having a website is not a burden, but an investment with multiple benefits: widening its audience, improving its brand image, precisely measuring its results … In addition, this investment is not necessarily prohibitive if you make the right choice of CMS , theme, host, etc.

Note: the Sortlist investigation was carried out in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. The impacted companies have therefore placed the weight of their shortfall on digital technology: nearly 60% of SME who had the project to embark on their digital transformation reduced their budget for their online presence.

Last goal in creating a website : lack of competence. A fallacious argument according to Sortlist, which argues about the accessibility of digital tools. In our view, this is to ignore the electronicism that can affect some of the staff of SME, not to mention the time spent on administering and feeding a website. Likewise, using the services of a provider as Sortlist mentions can be expensive.

Websites designed by agencies and for mobile

That being said, the majority of SME who have a website had it done in collaboration with a web design agency, a freelance or a user experience (UX) agency. What Sortlist welcomes, the digital transformation having brought its share of complexities.

Among them, there is the responsive design which is the number one priority of SME having a website. Not taking mobile into account in the design of the latter is to cut off a significant part of its audience, especially the youngest.

Priority of SMEs with a website

If the other priorities mentioned by the study are important, it is surprising that improving SEO comes last. However, it is thanks to natural referencing that companies appear in the first results of Google, which are clicked mainly by Internet users. It is therefore a channel that generates traffic and, potentially, conversions.