Landscape designer Conway Hancock searches for the perfect stones for one of her customers at Bourget Bros. building material store on 11th Street on Tuesday afternoon. (photo by Brandon Wise)

DOWNTOWN — Whether looking for a restaurant, an electrician or a clown for a kid’s birthday party, chances are you’ll search the Internet.

But despite consumers’ heavy use of the Web to research purchases, just 41 percent of Santa Monica companies have their own Web sites, and only 4 percent have online ads, according to data compiled by online marketing company Palore.

“It’s very well known for everyone when the consumer looks for a business, be it a plumber or another business, nine times out of 10 they will use the Internet versus old print directors,” said Hanan Lifshitz, Palore’s CEO.

“Especially in today’s recession, if you don’t show up on the search report when consumers search for a business, you are missing out on a lot of new businesses and consumers who could be new clients.”

Santa Monica designer Murray Mintz, of Beluga Web Design, agreed.

“There’s no question that local Internet presence is more important than it ever was,” he said.

Palore’s statistics were generated by a Web site it operates called, which assesses companies’ online profiles. The data for Santa Monica was compiled by using online search engines to look at every business in the city, according to Palore. Businesses can also use the Web site to compare their online exposure with that of competitors.

Simply creating a Web site, however, is no guarantee of creating an online presence that will boost sales.

Lifshitz said sites need to be optimized so they generate hits from online traffic at popular search engines like Google and Bing.

“So many [companies] have a Web site but don’t optimize,” he said. “The flipside is if you do invest a little bit in online visibility, you can get to the top of the search results quite easily.”

Coming up on top in Internet searches, though, can also be a struggle that requires near constant tinkering, especially for small businesses that are targeting a niche customer base.

For Leonard Bourget, who handles marketing for Santa Monica building materials company Bourget Bros., the Web is the main avenue for reaching out to new customers. The family-owned company was quick to recognize the importance of going online, designing its own site about 15 years, Bourget said.

“We started right at the beginning in the ‘90s when nobody else was doing it,” he said.

The company gets about 10 calls per day from people who first viewed the company’s Web site, which has about 80 pages and 2,000 pictures showing inventory of natural stones for indoor and outdoor surfaces. Bourget said he frequently uses Google Analytics, a service that provides statistics on Web traffic, to try to improve his company’s standing in online searches.

“It’s just like a hobby. To me it’s like a game,” he said. “Every six months you almost have to re-think your strategy.”

Not every business, however, sees the Internet as the wave of the future.

At the Pico Barber Shop in Santa Monica, owner Lino Lares said he occasionally sponsors a Little League team but otherwise doesn’t invest in advertising, online or otherwise. A friend created a MySpace profile for the barbershop, but Lares said he doesn’t see any need to invest in bolstering his online presence.

“We just don’t believe in a whole lot of advertising, to be honest. Pretty much word of mouth is the best,” he said.

Melody Hanatani contributed to this article.

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