With the expansion of so many internet platforms and the variety of ways a business can get exposure online, some people are beginning to wonder if the heyday of the business website is coming to an end. Here’s our overview for 2019.
I recently spoke to a business owner who runs a small bakery that creates specialty cakes. I asked about her website.
“Oh, I don’t have a website and I don’t think I’ll get one. I just use my Facebook business page for web contacts. I think it’s good enough, and it’s free”.
We had a consultation with a woman starting a plumbing business in the Portland area. We mentioned our website design services.
“You know,” she said, “I’m thinking of skipping the website design. It looks to me like most of my search lead generation is going to come through Local Service Ads, and they convert without going to a website. Why bother with it?”
Interesting – and not entirely invalid – viewpoints. With so many other online assets available for marketing and lead-generation, do these businesses really need a website?
Our answer is a resounding yes – they do! Let’s explore why business websites are still vital for 2019, and why they will be in the foreseeable future.
Skipping website creation is nothing new. Many surveys, including from Google, show that as late as 2017 nearly half of all small businesses still didn’t have a website.
The main reason for this is that established businesses got most of their leads through referrals. Many business owners were prepared to ride out their reputations until they retired and didn’t want to deal with digital marketing.
We never recommended this type of absenteeism from web marketing, but this differs from the issues we’re mainly looking at in 2019.
Like the comments above suggest, today businesses are thinking of skipping website design because they think they have better options for online lead generation. The three main considerations are:
- Zero-click SERPs: Google is introducing or modifying a number of products, including Local Service Ads and Google My Business listings, where the conversion action can take place on the search engine results page (SERP). Local Service Ads works this way exclusively. This also includes traditional click to call ads. In this way, Google is moving from website marketing benefactor to competitor. If searchers are going to convert on the SERP, there is less reason to have a website.
- Social media platforms. Social media offers many opportunities for businesses to publish online content, including images, videos, articles, reviews, and all manner of business updates. On most platforms, there are ways to convert traffic by capturing their contact information. A Facebook business page, in particular, has many attributes of websites, including calls to action, contact forms, review content, and messaging/chat.
- Review platforms. Today most consumers seek reviews of businesses they’re considering working with. Many of these platforms, such as Top Rated Local, offer not only reviews but a decent introduction to the business as well as the ability to convert leads on the review page itself.
Consider, for example, this Top Rated Local page for a roofing contractor:
There is a lot of information on this page. There are reviews, of course, but you also get an introduction to the business and you can click to call from this page. Most review platforms have website links, but a visitor can convert without them.
Also, consider all the content on a Facebook business page.
On this restaurant page, you have all their contact info (including a map), reviews, photos, an event calendar, their menu, and photos of the restaurant including their food. They have an introductory story, aka About Us page. You can call or message them directly from this page.
Between these assets, a business can do a lot of marketing and include calls to action that drive conversions.
So we ask again, why bother with a website? Let’s outline some of the most important reasons.
Website Design is Inexpensive
Most of the people who say they don’t need a website are really saying they don’t want to spend money on one.
As of this writing, it’s nearly 2019, not 2009. Website design used to be expensive and time-consuming. Today it’s inexpensive and fast.
In fact, it’s not too hard today to match pricing on a website with that of social media platforms. In others words, you can get a basic website, designed on a template, for free.
Some of these are DIY templates, but companies like Marketing 360® offer professional website designs for free for our marketing clients. We complete the typical project in less than 3 weeks.
The bottom line is you can get not just a functional, but an elegant, polished website design today for a nominal cost. Price is simply not a barrier for any legitimate business.
Branding and Message Control
A website is fully your business property. You can design the imagery, content, and layout so it’s an exact fit for your branding.
Social media and review platforms can provide the basics, but you can’t customize them to exemplify your brand or make your most important content stand out. Even website templates offer far greater latitude with design and content than other platforms.
You can make your website not only your own but more importantly, you can craft an experience that’s most likely to motivate prospects to convert.
In a way, it’s odd that Google is creating more zero-click SERPs because it flies in the face of so much of what is done with PPC advertising and website landing page content.
For example, a person might discover a general auto mechanic on Google My Business. But if they want a deal on an oil change, or they have Honda with a transmission problem, or they need brakes for a 4-wheeler, they’re likely to search based on those specific needs.
To run these types of ad campaigns, you need a website to host your landing page. That landing page is specifically designed for the ad, with strong message match and a call to action designed to convert that specific traffic.
To run varied ad campaigns, you need a website.
Website content is the anchor for executing the valuable tactic of retargeting.
We know that no matter what happens, be it a look at your reviews, a trip to your social media page, or a visit to your website, most of the people who interact with you initially won’t convert.
This is what makes retargeting so necessary. You build lists off of website visitors, then show them periodic ads that increase brand awareness and motivate them to…go back to your website and convert.
You can retarget on social media, but websites continue to be the most effective way to execute this tactic, particularly when it comes to creating targeted lists.
Data and Content Optimization
Websites and landing pages are ground zero for data analysis and content modification. This process is critical for optimizing campaigns and maximizing results.
Website pages and campaign landing pages are ideal for testing and modifying your content. You can’t execute this process to the same degree with any other online asset.
It’s on your web pages that you’ll dial-in your offer, layouts, images, word choice, and call to action to discover what combination yields the best results. This is where you develop a value proposition that gives you a competitive edge.
Facebook has many of the features of a website, but you can’t gather data and react to it to improve your marketing with the same agility you can on a website.
This last reason is possibly the most important, yet it’s one many businesses are not even aware of.
Data we’ve gathered in the last few years increasingly demonstrates that the highest performing search term (in terms of website traffic and conversions) is the business name itself.
In other words, if a business is named Walker’s Family Plumbing Service and they’re located in Phoenix, the search term that will convert the most is not “plumbers Phoenix”. It’s “Walkers plumbing”.
What we think is happening is that all of the online elements we’ve discussed – social media, reviews, paid ads, referrals, even local offline advertising – creates a level of brand awareness for local businesses. Because of all these different interactions, many consumers know of the businesses they want to hire by name by the time they’re ready to act.
The last step in this sales cycle is to search for the business by name and visit their website. In 2019 and beyond, this may be the crux of most business conversions.
It’s through your website content that leads are assured that you’re established and trustworthy. It’s on those pages that they learn about your products and services in detail. While your website is open on their browser they make the final decision to engage with you.
Today, business websites are certainly relevant and their low cost as a marketing asset makes them easily worth the investment.
It is still also true, of course, that you’re going to see an increasing number of conversions from other online assets. Facebook is clearly a valuable conversion channel, and Local Service Ads are effective, although we’ve seen evidence that people will search on a business name to check their website while they have the LSA ad open (there is no website link on an LSA profile).
But your website is where you maintain true ownership of your content. It’s your personal address on the internet and the place where you can most carefully craft a message that connects with your main audience.
And most importantly, it’s the go-to content for people who are already aware of you and have decided to give you a serious look. Those searchers not only have strong buying intent, they have strong intentions of buying from you.
That’s profitable traffic you don’t want to miss.