Hot on the heels of the results of our recent poll, in which we asked whether local businesses need a blog (spoiler: 68% think every local business should have one), I thought I’d ponder a similar, though far broader, question: in 2018, do local businesses need a website?
Two years ago, this question would have elicited a resounding ‘yes’. Today, the issue is somewhat less than clear. Increasingly, Google is drawing conversions and interactions away from your own website and into the main search results, leaving some to question whether it’s really worth investing in a local business website at all.
There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that consumers are becoming increasingly less likely to seek out a brand’s website before doing business with them.
Our own research shows that while 86% of consumers read online reviews for local businesses in 2018, not all of these go on to visit a businesses’ website. In 2017, we saw a drop in the proportion of consumers visiting businesses’ websites after reading reviews, though this reverted in 2018.
In an analysis of our 2017 Local Consumer Review Survey, I gave a reason for the downwards trend, noting,
“While visiting a business’ website remains the most common next step (37%), consumers are now more likely than before to get in touch directly. A significant 17% of consumers will now visit the business after reading positive reviews—a huge jump from 7% in 2016. And what’s more, 10% now contact the business as their next step—up again from 3%.
“One element that may have affected this change in 2017 is Google’s growing ability to replace the business website. With so much business information now available in SERPS and the Google environment (including opening times, location, bookings, Q&As, showtimes, and much more), the necessity of visiting a website is decreasing.”
What’s Fuelling The Belief That A Local Business Website Is Optional?
The 2017 CNBC/SurveyMonkey Small Business Survey concluded that almost half (45%) of small businesses don’t have a website. Of those who do have a site, just 37% actually use it to share news with customers and potential customers. Speaking to CNBC.com editor, Eric Rosenbaum, Netsertive’s co-founder Bill Nagel says many small businesses use alternatives to their own website, such as a Yelp listing or a Facebook page.While this may seem unthinkable to some business owners, digital marketing agencies and SEO firms, it is possible to argue that a local business website isn’t totally necessary.
Wordstream research found that the median click-through rate for the number 1 ranking on Google was down 37% last year, suggesting that fewer search users are clicking through to local business websites. Why bother having one in the first place, then?
Writing for Search Engine Land, the Local Search Association’s VP of Public Affairs, Wesley Young also admits,
“There is a fair argument that websites are no longer as effective in the local market… websites must compete for relevance in a market with many other media platforms—social media sites, directories and review sites—that are often viewed as proxies for the face of the franchise.
“Other ‘proxy’ home pages include directory listings that are sophisticated enough to contain virtually all the key information customers are looking for. Third-party sites can integrate multiple functions such as e-commerce, online booking and reviews, and attract a bigger and broader audience than an individual website. And even Google profiles, knowledge graphs, and snack-pack listings can suck huge amounts of traffic away from a website.”
The Google Effect
Google My Business and the changing face of Google search and mobile micro-moments also play into the belief that a website may not be necessary.
With the development of the local pack and the addition of myriad new features, there are numerous ways for consumers to engage with a local business, and perform many of the actions that would traditionally take place on site, directly on the search results. In fact, this is something Google appears to be encouraging, with a host of introductions which make it easier than ever to do just that.
Business owners can now create their own mobile-optimised Google My Business website for free. This is essentially a mobile version of the existing Google My Business listing.
Within this, Google announced in January that it was possible to add action buttons, such as ‘get directions’, ‘message us’, and ‘call now’ to the free Google My Business website, seemingly making a traditional website even less of a necessity.
Google My Business has been showing wait time estimates on restaurant listings since November 2017 and allows predefined business descriptions such as ‘kosher food’ or ‘some kosher food’ to be added. While customers would previously have needed to go to the website and view the menu, this information can now be found directly on Google My Business.
Links to carry out specific actions such as ‘make a reservation’ or ‘order online’ can be taken directly from the Google My Business listing, so it’s no longer necessary to go to the website to convert.
Posts were activated in July 2017, allowing small business owners to share news and offers via their Google My Business listing. With this, the search engine takes away another reason a consumer may visit the local business website itself, while adding yet another alternative to engaging with consumers on social media.
Bars and restaurants can also upload menus to their Google My Business listing, so visitors don’t need to visit the website to browse options. And only this month did Google expand this functionality to work outside ‘food menus’, now allowing businesses to list their services.
Questions and Answers
With Google My Business Q&As, common questions and answers can also be displayed, removing a layer of interaction with the business that would typically take place on a website or over the phone.
Despite All This, You DO Still Need a Website
If you’re on the fence about having a website built for your local business, it’s easy to read all of the above and decide that there’s very little point. However, there are a multitude of reasons why every small business should have its own website, regardless of its Google My Business listing, directory listings or Facebook page popularity.
Reason 1: It’s (almost) a pre-requisite for local SEOWhile it isn’t impossible, it’s far, far more difficult to rank in the local pack listings without your own website.
With the continuing advancement of mobile search and the increasing popularity of voice search, local search visibility is important for every local business. If you don’t have your own website, your local SEO agency will find it almost impossible to give you the level of visibility you need to drive footfall to your local business.
Reason 2: Consumers expect it
While consumers are increasingly able to find the information they need and take an action directly from search results, research from the Local Search Association confirms that most consumers expect a local business to have a website.
In The Digital Consumer Study, the Local Search Association found that 63% of consumers used the website to find a local business or interact with it.
Reason 3: It’s needed for link buildingLinks are the web’s currency; essential for SEO but also important for referrals. A business website is more trustworthy, and also more useful when it comes to sharing the link yourself. If you’re a local marketing agency, say, a business URL is more professional and useful to share with sales prospects during the pitch process versus a Google My Business listing.
Likewise, if you run a pet store or a nail salon, having a business website means you can direct potential customers to your images, videos, price lists, and products quickly and easily from a single location.
Reason 4: Content improves relevance and links
If you’re serious about local visibility, you not only need a website to give yourself the best chance at a local search presence. You need the site as a vehicle for hosting your content—which improves relevance and makes it easier to accrue the links needed for better visibility.
Reason 5: A website is essential for brand building
No matter your niche, it’s impossible to craft a professional image for your brand without your own website. A website is your virtual office or storefront and, as an owned media channel, it’s something you retain full control of. Both B2B and B2C clients will look to your domain to get a feel for your brand. This is where you showcase your authority, values, and culture.
Reason 6: A website is a great tool for customer service
Most modern consumers turn to social media for customer service, but it isn’t always practical or efficient to reply in detail to each request. Having your own website means you can take control of your customer service process and direct customers to a tailored, up-to-date FAQ page or customer service contact info simply by sharing a link.
While the developments Google has rolled out make Google My Business a valued tool for both local businesses and their customers, the rich experiences that it offers should not be considered a substitute for a professional website.Google My Business (along with other portals, such as directory listings and Facebook pages) is undoubtedly an asset for any local business and offers plentiful opportunities to furnish consumers with the information they need about your firm.
For the six reasons listed above and many more, local business websites should still be considered a crucial and vital asset in your marketing arsenal.
We’d love to hear your thoughts
Why do you think your website is important to your local business? Would you ever be tempted to rely solely on a Facebook page or Google My Business? As a consumer, would you be put off doing business with a local firm that didn’t have its own website? Share your opinions and experiences with us in the comments.