Small businesses are the lifeblood of the United States economy, but for any business to grow, it needs advertising. And these days, advertising means the web – people are using their personal computers and mobile devices more than ever before, so there's no better place to find them. But according to the Boston Consulting Group, small businesses aren't taking advantage of digital advertising opportunities quite as often as they say they are.

BCG recently surveyed 550 small business owners in the United States and found an alarming business banking trend – only 3 percent of these companies' advertising budgets were being poured into the online market. The overall national rate sits at 15 percent, as larger corporations are much more willing to tap into internet-based marketing campaigns, but smaller enterprises are still content to stick with traditional advertising avenues, such as broadcast and print media.

Awareness is key
BCG also found that many small businesses, defined as companies with under 100 employees, are not fully aware of what digital advertising opportunities are available to them.

"Most small businesses operate the old-fashioned way, with little recognition of the internet as a channel or a source of leads," said Sebastian DiGrande, who co-authored the study. "Many small business owners are not even aware that they have an online profile that they could be actively managing on many popular sites."

For example, DiGrande noted, only 15 percent of small business owners know that they have a Yelp profile. Just 11 percent have claimed it.

The trouble with web ads
Digital advertising is a risky medium to enter at this time, though, since some lawmakers are seeking to enact restrictions on where and how companies can target individuals with ads. West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller, for instance, is seeking a federal "do not track" law, allowing consumers to opt out of advertisements that spy on their web-surfing tendencies.

Rockefeller's initiative comes in response to a growing problem in the United States – according to Politico, the vast majority of all interest-based online ads, more than one trillion per month, are flagged to show surfing data is being used.

There are a lot of risks associated with advertising online, especially for a small company that might not have the budget to protect itself legally in the event of a conflict. But there are a lot of benefits as well – consumers are online now more than ever, and companies everywhere should look to find new leads using computers, smartphones and tablets. It's the way of the future in American business.