Scots businesses must improve online presence, warns Google

Thousands of small businesses in Scotland are failing to take advantage of digital opportunities for growth, a senior Google executive has warned.

Peter Barron, Google UK vice-president of communications, visited the Mitchell Library to launch the tech giant's latest Digital Garage. Picture: John Devlin/TSPL

Peter Barron, the tech giant’s head of communications in Europe, said no firm could afford not to have an online presence in 2016.

Too many companies are relying on badly designed websites and failing to engage customers on social media, the former BBC Newsnight editor told The Scotsman.

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“There’s an urgent need to improve right across the board - whether it’s a guy selling waffles from a stand, or a kid that needs to learn coding as part of his aeronautical engineering degree,” he said.

The Digital Garage will be in Mitchell Library until January. Picture: John Devlin/TSPL

“There are thousands of small businesses across Scotland that are not taking full advantage of digital opportunities. We see when a business becomes web enabled, it grows at twice the speed and highers twice as many people as it competitors.

“Scotland is a huge tourist destination. Being able to advertise your bed and breakfast or restaurant to a global audience is vitally important.”

Barron was in Glasgow this week to launch Google’s latest Digital Garage - a free drop-in centre which offers practical advice to small businesses and start-ups on how to improve their online prescence.

The pop-up facility will be based in the Mitchell Library until January.

The Digital Garage will be in Mitchell Library until January. Picture: John Devlin/TSPL

Google said 88 per cent of businesses involved in previous digital garage events have changed the way they run or promote their business online, with 68 per cent saying they had seen positive results.

Run in partnership with Glasgow City Council, the digital garage will also host training events for charities and computing lessons for local students and teachers.

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Barron, who worked in broadcasting for 20 years before joining Google in 2008, said Scotland was ripe for digital expansion.

“A lot of businesses which aren’t fulfilling their potential probably have some sort of online presence,” he continued.

“But what we’re talking about there is having a meaningful online prescene. If you talk to people who have been through the Digital Garage, they’ll often tell you they had a website - but they weren’t really using it, it was terribly designed and didn’t engage with customers.

“That’s really what the Digital Garage is doing - it’s bringing small businesses up to speed in how best to use avaialble tools.”

With an ever increasing number of people browsing the internet via smartphones, a website which is slow to load or fails to display properly is likely to deterr customers.

But Barron believes a bigger problem is the number of small-to-medium firms which lack any identifable web prescene at all.

“It’s the same issue across Europe,” he added.

“Many small businesses think they don’t need to be online.

“A builder or a plumber, for example, might not think of themselves as being a digital business.

“But the truth is, if I was looking for an emergency in Glasgow, I’m clearly going to look online. You need that presence. Every business needs to be a digital business.

“This project focuses on small businesses but the digital skills gap applies right across the board.

“We need more kids learning coding in schools and feeding through to the high-tech companies of the future.

“In the next few years, 90 per cent of businesses in Britain are going to require digital skills.”