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The online presence of French VSEs/SMEs: 2019/2020 results of the Afnic “Réussir avec le web” study

January 27, 2021

A clearer understanding of the benefits to trigger uptake of digital tools


Afnic, the association responsible for .fr domain names, has published the 2019/2020 results of its annual “Réussir avec le web” [Succeed on the web] study which analyses the online presence of over 3,500 VSEs/SMEs across France*.

Afnic has devoted part of its activity to supporting French VSEs/SMEs develop an effective and controlled online presence for several years now. Over 30,000 were trained in 2020 thanks to the Foliweb workshops and the Ré [Succeed with .fr] programme.

What are the take-aways from this edition?

  • Respondents are well aware of the stakes involved in an online presence, which they consider both essential and a source of benefits for their company (even if they are unable to quantify these benefits or specifically identify them). 100% of respondents consider this presence useful to their business, while 70% consider it essential. SMEs seem most convinced.
  • They are also highly vigilant regarding the problems of managing their online identity, preferring to use their own domain name (90% have their own domain name).
  • Regular publication of interesting content, piquing visitors’ interest in the company and/or encouraging them to purchase its services or products could be improved. Although 95% of respondents present their business, only 40% propose value-added content and 9% publish content every day. SMEs stand out in this area, as they have more resources to allocate to this dimension of their online presence.
  • Developing visibility and e-reputation are lagging far behind other actions: 67% of respondents do not use any advertising. Practices are slightly better in terms of managing interactions: 53% of respondents say they monitor ratings and comments and reply systematically; but 64% never carry out customer satisfaction surveys.
  • Search Engine Optimisation (SEO): a logical consequence of the points already mentioned, SEO is most often natural (65%), meaning that only 35% of respondents consider that they appear on the first results pages of the leading search engines.
  • Types of presence: in keeping with the previous point, most respondents "settle for" a website (67%) and/or pages on leading social networks (79%), but do not look to make themselves known or referenced on other websites or platforms, nor to introduce online sales. Presence on social networks, often deemed essential in order to effectively reach intended targets, seems to have significantly grown since 2017, but only 26% of respondents consider it profitable for their business.
  • The notion of investment and return on investment: budgets remain globally low (62% at less than €300 per year), with respondents making up for a lack of investment with man-hours (46% spend one hour a day or more). But the general impression of respondents is that these investments in terms of time and money are only marginally profitable, with 54% considering that they generate less than 10% of their turnover through the Internet, or are unable to evaluate this figure. SMEs stand out with higher budgets, but only 32% say they generate over 10% of their turnover online.

The findings of the two previous studies remain largely valid in this new edition: essential nature of an online presence but a somewhat unclear understanding of benefits, business culture still very anchored in the real world, lack of digital strategy, skills and often insufficient resources.

All these factors are inextricably linked. The lack of vision in terms of what companies can hope to gain from an online presence results in relative caution when it comes to investments, consolidated by an often justified view of the Internet as too technical despite the increasing number of turnkey offers to create a basic or e-commerce website. And yet there is an acute awareness of the stakes involved, which leads to time spent on online presence despite the belief that the ROI will be low or uncertain.

VSEs/SMEs appear to adopt an Internet presence because you "have to be online" but not yet knowing how to combine it with concrete business development. It is this persistent mismatch between motivation and the system in place that creates most of the obstacles identified.

In order for an online presence to be effective and lasting, it requires support, uptake and autonomy. Digital technology can enable company managers to develop their value proposition and their customer relations, and to reconsider the basic elements that make up their corporate culture. Therein lies the key to incorporating digital technology, and more particularly an online presence, into a company’s day-to-day activity.

Download the study

*Methodology: Data gathered from 3,500 VSE and SME managers via an online questionnaire completed between 1 September 2019 and 31 August 2020

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Afnic is the acronym for Association Française pour le Nommage Internet en Coopération, the French Network Information Centre. The registry has been appointed by the French government to manage domain names under the .fr Top Level Domain. Afnic also manages the .re (Reunion Island), .pm (Saint-Pierre and Miquelon), .tf (French Southern and Antarctic Territories), .wf (Wallis and Futuna) and .yt (Mayotte) French Overseas TLDs.
In addition to managing French TLDs, Afnic's role is part of a wider public interest mission, which is to contribute on a daily basis, thanks to the efforts of its teams and its members, to a secure and stable internet, open to innovation and in which the French internet community plays a leading role. As part of that mission, Afnic, a non-profit organization, donates 90% of its profits to its Foundation for Digital Solidarity. Afnic is also the back-end registry for the companies as well as local and regional authorities that have chosen to have their own TLD, such as .paris, .bzh, .alsace, .corsica, .mma, .ovh, .leclerc and .sncf.
Established in 1997 and based in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, Afnic currently has 80 employees.