The End of SMB Websites

The SMB website business has become a commodity business, even something of a loss-leader for those seeking to sell marketing services. Increasingly companies providing those marketing services to SMBs offer landing pages optimized for SEO and conversion.

And directories or local sites offer enhanced profiles that often (or usually) rank higher than the business websites themselves. Thus the profiles and landing pages are “better” than most SMB sites.

A email exchange with Ahmed Farooq prompted me to think that in a few years most SMBs effectively won’t need sites at all because their data will be online through third party efforts (they might need to update or correct information however). Richer profiles with more local data will make SMB sites potentially obsolete. They might want and/or have them, but they won’t need them.

Anyone disagree?

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39 Responses to “The End of SMB Websites”

  1. Mike Says:

    I don’t believe any of the SMB ‘profile’ sites offer a free dedicated experience. That is, where the SMB primary profile page isn’t also heavily peppered with advertising, competitive cross-selling or ‘suggestions’ as part of the provider’s experience selling advertising and aggregating end-user eyeballs.

    An SMB should really aspire to having a ‘core’ location that is definitive, and where screen real-estate isn’t leveraged to sell against their brand/product/service/location/content. That remains an opportunity, I believe.

    I also think that some who are tackling verticals, and showing quantifiable ROI for SMB participants, are probably the long-term winners in becoming the SMB primary ‘website’ for SMBs who choose not to invest the time to create and maintain their own.

    I do agree that directories and local sites should be part of the basic SMB marketing toolkit, given a positive ROI of time and/or money to participate.

  2. Constantin S. Manta Says:

    Hi Greg, I totally agree with you. I was actually shocked last year when Intuit purchased Homestead for $170 million. The problem we all have as small business owners is that it is to technical and time consuming for us to keep our sites optimized, looking fresh and current. My feeling is that the IYP/business social networking industry (yellowpages.com / merchantcircle.com) will expand their product offers to SMB’s and provide them with tools that will rival the personal social networking sites. I think within the next few years all SMB web sites will be either a contact page or actually a link back to a social business profile site. One advantage that business social networking sites have is the community. Customers more and more want to see and read reviews and get opinions of friends and family. Greg, I have been following your blog for over a year…thank you for all the great info on the IYP/local search industry.

  3. AhmedF Says:

    Actually I think the need of SMB websites is on the up – in its current form they may not work out but a newer generation (more evolved) will do pretty well.

  4. David Mihm Says:

    Greg & Ahmed, it’s an interesting idea, but I disagree with it. As Mike said, the templated sites are rarely free of competitive advertising, and, at least for my clients, there’s a) still plenty of profit for me on the design side and b) plenty of ROI for them on both the design and SEO.

    The 10-pack is pushing the IYP/Homesteads/Local.com’s of the world further and further down the page & folks will always want a website that converts once people click through from the 10-pack.

  5. Greg Sterling Says:

    No single strategy will be effective and SMBs will need to use several strategies and have content in several places. I’m just thinking that the role of “websites” will diminish over time — that’s no the same as saying that will happen to “landing pages.”

  6. Andrew Shotland Says:

    Not sure who I agree with here.
    1. The “profile page” is going to get better over time and become a better lead gen tool but…

    2. The SMB website will get better over time as localized online inventory systems develop, niche providers build great localized experiences (e.g. Market Hardware, Creating Your Space, etc.), and the Web becomes a more dominant and measurable source of leads.

    3. The cost of great smb websites will fall, smb websites will get better and better at outranking IYPs and profile pages in search.

    So ipso facto I think the profile page builders out there are going to become more and more about driving leads to the SMB website and controlling the conversion experience on those sites so that they can get paid for the leads.

  7. Greg Sterling Says:

    I think that in the case of a specific business search, business websites have chance to outrank others, but not generally in the case of a “category search.” However, they may come up, in Google’s case, as part of the so-called “10-pack,” which is not so much about websites per se as correct data and can come from third parties.

  8. ahmedf Says:

    Right David – that is what I said. More ‘developed’ SMB/listing pages. Non-IYP.

  9. David Mihm Says:

    Wow, what a great conversation, guys!

    @Greg – For ultra-competitive phrases like “lawyers” and “dentists” you’re probably right, Greg, but I do have some clients who organically rank ahead of national players like Craigslist and Yahoo for certain category phrases “service + geo”. I also agree that the 10-pack is going to artificially bump the bigger players down the page. Also, IMHO, an entire website experience is going to be important on click-through from the 10-pack, not just a landing page, especially for more service-oriented businesses where research is required.

    @Andrew – Agree completely. Profile pages will be used to drive traffic to larger, free-standing websites.

    @Ahmed – Cool :) In re-reading Greg’s article I see that you didn’t necessarily agree with what he was saying, only that you were discussing it with him.

  10. Tim Flint Says:

    For some businesses and industries I do think this is all you need. But, for industries with heavy competition and for businesses who really want to extend their brand online and find new revenue streams they will still need a website.

    Having your own website will allow a business to do things like having online appointment setting, customer forums, and other ways to continue the interaction for the customer. And these kinds of small business websites will make life easier for their customers. There is just so much a small business can do to help create loyal customers that a directory and profile page cannot.

  11. troy Says:

    I believe video will be the next generation “website” for small/medium businesses. A picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth a thousand pictures.

  12. Scott Says:

    I agree with Ahmed and think the SMB websites are on the way up. I think having one page with all the info about a business along with photos, text and video will eventually be the main place people click through to when searching a local directory site. As a comparison, imagine if brands didnt have websites. They wouldnt capture half the value of the web as they do now since there would be no way to control their imagine. The beauty of the web is it allows a business to communicate directly with its customers (and very cheaply) and I find it incomprehensible that any businesses would shy away from this opportunity. I also agree woth Troy and believe that video profiles will be yellow page listing of the future.

  13. Paul Says:

    Man, some great thoughts here!

    I first read this a few hours ago and will stick w/ my initial impression. Third party data is definitely on a huge rise, although I think most businesses will still feel the need to have their own site for branding and/or design purposes who don’t know or care about SEO factors.

    Did I just say that?

  14. Scott Says:

    Keep in mind that Google gets all of its data by crawling the web and thus from EXISTING websites. If brands, merchants, people, etc. didn’t have their own sites, there would be no Google. Also, most of the differentiated content on directory sites (i.e. everything other than a phone number and address) is coming from those sites extracting data from the local merchant’s websites. Even if you believe that no one will go to a merchant’s site (which I strongly disagree with), it would still be in these businesses best interest to have a site because the content could be scraped, indexed and included on local directories and make the local business listing stand out more. The more I think about it, the more strongly I believe that most small businesses will have websites in the next 10 years. Greg, aren’t you an advisor to Palore? Their model is essentially predicated on more local content coming online and most of the sites they scrape in fact get significant content from local merchants sites, correct?

  15. jehutson Says:

    I will tend to favor the “most local businesses will not NEED a website” in 10 years outlook. As a publisher of local directories, we have been adding clients to our site by showing them how our SEO will still get their business listed in searches (with pictures, contact forms, coupons, etc) without investing in their own website. We have clients whose only concern is the link to their website (these people are missing out on valuable calls to action) and we have clients who can’t afford/don’t have time to create their own website.

    I believe that some businesses will maintain their own website in order to maintain some sort of inventory, direct sell, e-commerce or showcasing elements, but the NECESSITY of having a site will degrade as directories improve and develop.

  16. Neil Street Says:

    I have a local catering client with a website that I have been working on for several years. He gets a couple thousand visitors a month, many of whom spend upwards of 5 minutes on his site. His website is the primary driver of his business. The more we have packed his site with content, such as recipes, testimonials from satisfied clients, more individual pages about different services, etc, the more successful the site has been. We added a blog about a year ago, and greatly expanded traffic that way also. His site is his core destination on the web. He also has tons of directory type listings (almost all of them unpaid) which contribute to his overall excellent search engine rankings. There is of course a place for structured data, and will continue to be so, but I have a hard time seeing how all the benefits of his site can be replaced by directory listings, even more extensive ones. In many cases, his organic listing is adjacent to a listing in a directory, be it a vertical or other type of directory. I can’t see how dropping his website would help his business! I happen to think there are tons of smb’s out there who are really missing the boat, by not spending the money on good, local SEO, which combines a quality site with a proper local SEO campaign. There are still many niches in good markets that are begging for someone to dominate the category.

  17. Greg Sterling Says:

    There’s no question that everyone needs an effective web presence. The question is what is that and how effective is that. Rich, well-designed websites are very helpful provided they’re SEO friendly and effective at communicating and converting users. But many, in the case of SMBs, are not, that’s the genesis of my post above: can somebody else put content up there online, more effectively, on behalf of local SMBs?

  18. Brian (market hardware) Says:

    A Custom SMB Website = Local Business Differentiation.

    In an online sea of commodity sameness that is the Search, IYP, Landing page world – each SMB must give the consumer a reason to choose/call/email them over someone else.

    An SMB’s website that can be independently controlled by the SMB (that is, NOT controlled by a 3rd party) is a necessary tool that will become even more essential as the website becomes the central hub for the SMB to manage its own ‘published’ info.

    Our research (which we’ll be submitting to Greg shortly) and our sales show that more folks are interested in Upgrading exisitng websites than are interested in de-commissioning sites in favor of other methods.

    The view from inside the trenches is that today’s SMB is still ‘crossing the chasm’ to websites rather than away…

    let’ have this same talk in five years, ok>? ;-)

  19. Greg Sterling Says:

    Hey Brian:

    The issue is quality. Can the site do a better job than someone else can with the same data. Now, very often, the answer is no. Hopefully SMBs will all have good sites with rich information five years from now.

  20. Scott Says:

    In many case (and even more so going forward), the SMB probably has a MySpace or Facebook page so they understand how to add content into a platform provided by a 3rd party. I think the SMB website will move in the same direction with companies like Brian’s (market hardware) being the platform by which local businesses can create high quality sites with very little effort AND still have high SEO ranking since a 3rd party will be controlling this and it will become a selling point for that platforms. I agree that not all local businesses will participate, but those that don’t will be at a significant disadvantage.

  21. Scott Says:

    btw, the above post was meant to say that the SMB today (and definitely of the future) will have a personal myspace and/or facebook page and thus will be quite adept at adding content to a platform.

  22. Greg Sterling Says:

    High quality templated site design is an interesting hybrid between the free-form “brother in law” site and rigidly structured landing pages now used by many Local SEM firms.

  23. Brian (market hardware) Says:

    Greg, I agree that the issue is quality, and so perhaps I should say that the ability for SMBs to do a better job on their own vs. the more structured approaches of 3rd parties is a great way to frame this…

    So, the SMBs who can do a better job will do better – and will beat their competition, because they’ll be better positioned than those that cannot and who default to the structured world of 3rd parties, landing pages, and Facebook.

    NOTE: I always lost all my points in ‘reading comp’ on the SAT/GMAT/LSATs, and I am a notoriously crappy blog poster, so, at this point I will leave everyone alone and go back to selling SMB Vertical websites and marketing. Have a great weekend. BK

  24. Dave Oremland Says:

    I’ve had smb sites with some killer marketing that we know just whipped the competition. We could not get that in any sort of IYP, vertical, any type of advertising.

    We continuously heard from customers that they chose these businesses because of these marketing “efforts” on the websites.

    As a business operator I want every advantage possible. Get me directories that can drive business my way……I’ll pay for advertising….but that site is an opportunity to differentiate my services from those of others. There is no better place to do that on the web than with your own site.

  25. Mike Mertz Says:

    Gentlemen, excellent conversation all around! Based on my experience in local cable TV ad sales I can tell you that most of my SMB clients care about one thing and one thing only: growing their business. They don’t care if leads come from landing pages, websites, SEO/SEM strategies or from traditional advertising such as cable television, newspaper classified ads or any other form of marketing. SMB owners don’t have the time and luxury to formulate sound marketing/advertising strategies. If landing pages work, they will use that platform until it doesn’t. SMB owners aren’t terribly sophisticated when it comes to web marketing so I would thing that a 3rd party solution would be favored by most. A well designed website is an identity that separates you from your competitors but it also requires time and dedication, something that most SMB owner don’t have.

  26. Carey Says:

    Great discussion, everyone, and a very interesting topic indeed. I have to agree with parts of everyone’s assertions. Capitalizing on the web is about content, and content provides the differentiation. Current website creation is too hard, whether it’s a template or someone does it for you. But it’s worth the effort to make sure it is good, whatever a business owner does. We believe (and agree with Brian & Dave above) that businesses want advantages and differentiation, but are not always willing to invest in it today (mainly because it’s more than they can understand). It’s worth it, though, as our Nielsen research showed last year – 75% of consumers we more influenced by a good website from a business they didn’t already know, than from a similar business known to them which had a poor site. Perception on the web is reality, and a scary reality for businesses who have not invested in a strong web presence.
    This discussion and debate will continue for a long time, and present a lot of business opportunities and interesting experiments.

  27. Neil Street Says:

    “75% of consumers we more influenced by a good website from a business they didn’t already know, than from a similar business known to them which had a poor site.”

    Carey: do you happen to have the citation for that statistic?

    thanks,

    Neil

  28. Jon Seymour Says:

    Greg, you are right. About 10% of Fave’s local business customers use their video landing page on our site as their only web presence. I’ve provided a link directly to one of them above. This page has it all: compelling video, uncluttered presentation, low maintenance, geo-relevant links to neighboring businesses, organic indexing on Google, and, yes, PageRank. When you consider that 60% of SMBs have yet to invest in a web site…why would they?

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  36. Kathy May - Appointment Setting Girl Says:

    Hey Greg,

    Very insightful, In fact in some cases it’s already hard to justify the expense of a website for a small business these days. It started out being an idea to have a “living brochure” online, but then for a lot of businesses people don’t need fancy graphics and a new user interface everytime they look for the phone number of a local pizza joint,

    You’re exactly right that this is where directories and the likes come in (and Google Local Business) to provide the relevant information to the searcher.

    We’re also seeing more and more independent review sites of local businesses, so people can check up on them before they order.

    So, unless they’re selling a product or service online, or have an in-depth lead generation service there’s probably not much point having the website.

    The blog could be hosted at Blogger, the Social Media profiles could be used to interact and disseminate information to the masses (much easier for the customers to keep up to date rather than checking in on the website all the time), Review sites could handle testimonials, and directories for basic information like maps, hours, contact information

  37. Tivisiana Says:

    I don’t believe any of the SMB ‘profile’ sites offer a free dedicated experience. That is, where the SMB primary profile page isn’t also heavily peppered with advertising, competitive cross-selling or ‘suggestions’ as part of the provider’s experience selling advertising and aggregating end-user eyeballs.

    An SMB should really aspire to having a ‘core’ location that is definitive, and where screen real-estate isn’t leveraged to sell against their brand/product/service/location/content. That remains an opportunity, I believe.

    I also think that some who are tackling verticals, and showing quantifiable ROI for SMB participants, are probably the long-term winners in becoming the SMB primary ‘website’ for SMBs who choose not to invest the time to create and maintain their own.

    I do agree that directories and local sites should be part of the basic SMB marketing toolkit, given a positive ROI of time and/or money to participate.

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