I started blogging in 2005, and started consulting companies on their digital marketing strategies in 2006. From 2006-2009 my world changed a lot. I got to work with some of the top brands in the country, and started speaking at top industry events like South By Southwest and Blog World Expo. But while my consulting career was taking off, I was hiding a deep, dark secret.
I only had dial-up internet access. And believe me, trying to load websites and social networks all day on dial-up is just as exciting as it sounds. In 2010 I stepped up to a Mifi card and today have a wifi network that allows me to do any of the work I need to.
The reality is that for many rural areas in the US, dial-up internet access is the only viable option. Cable companies have to run the lines to an area to allow internet access, and when they see only a few dozen people living per square mile in a rural area, well that’s not a lot of potential customers. As a result, rural areas are typically left without access to wired internet connections, and even in 2017, a $9.95 a month NetZero account can often be the most affordable internet access option.
But a very surprising move by Verizon earlier this month to bring back its unlimited plans may change that.
Consider this: In 2013, 9% of rural US residents had one source of internet accesss; Their smartphone. By 2015, that percentage had increased to 15%. With Verizon and AT&T now engaged in a price war, that number could soon increase dramatically. Both Verizon and AT&T are now offering phone lines as low as $45 with unlimited data, talk and text.
As someone that lives in a very rural area and who understands how limited internet access can be in the country, I am thrilled with these announcements. It’s going to mean a lot of people living in rural areas will now have a new option for more affordable, and faster, internet access.
And that also means they will be doing more shopping on their smartphones. Which means it’s more important than ever to make sure your website has a responsive design and can easily handle orders on a mobile device. Over 70% of the United States is considered to be ‘rural’, and in 2015 the percentage of people in these areas that had a smartphone as their only source of internet was 15%. If that trend continues, that percentage will be over 20% in 2017. So that’s a lot of potential customers that you are ignoring if your website doesn’t display correctly on smartphones.
An additional consideration is the more limited retail options available in rural areas. Shoppers in rural areas are hungry for more choices, and will happily buy from retailers that will let them buy online. Also, being in a rural area means being further away from those limited shopping items. If a rural customer wants to buy a new book, does make sense to drive 30 minutes ‘into town’ to buy it from Barnes and Noble, or order it with a couple of clicks on her smartphone with her Amazon app? And with free shipping with Amazon Prime!
The reality is that shoppers are increasingly moving to mobile devices for convenience, and for rural shoppers, it’s often out of necessity. If your website isn’t set up to meet the needs of rural customers, you can best believe your competitor’s website will happily to their mobile business.