Despite an increase number of small to medium businesses running their own website, new research shows there has been a significant decline in proactive online business activity.

MYOB’s July 2012 Business Monitor survey found the proportion with a business website rose slightly in the past few months, from 36 per cent in March 2012 to 38 per cent. However, it also discovered online business activity – including online transactions, email marketing and social media – was in decline.

Less than one quarter (24 per cent) of SMEs used search engines to promote their business, down from nearly one third (31 per cent) in March 2012. Social media activity such as connecting with consumers via Facebook, YouTube or Google+ had also dwindled, as had networking on LinkedIn (15 per cent versus 18 per cent and 13 per cent versus 19 per cent respectively).

“The decline in popularity of online business activities was completely unexpected, particularly that of online marketing and social media. Many of these tools, such as a basic LinkedIn page, are free and can be used to raise the profile of a business and to communicate with customers,” MYOB CEO Tim Reed said,

“We also found more business operators are experiencing revenue falls than are experiencing rises, and the majority lack confidence in a short term economic recovery. I suspect this has seen many shy away from online activities as they focus on the health of their business, whereas embracing them could reap productivity benefits.”

Last year, those with a business website were 53 per cent more likely to experience a revenue increase – 23 per cent saw their revenue rise versus 15 per cent of those without one. The SMEs surveyed also said positive business changes were more likely a result of having a website than using other promotional media, or a result of utilising both.

 “With Australia’s internet audience reaching 16.2 million in May 2012 it surprises me that so many business operators have not yet realised the value of having a simple website containing their contact details,” Reed said.

“Websites are a great way to attract new customers and to keep existing customers loyal, which can only have a positive effect on cashflow.”