Gauging the Opportunity to Replace Local Merchants’ Websites
June 18, 2018
Fight’s director of research
Half of local merchants Street Fight
surveyed are open to replacing important features of their websites with
third-party sites and listings. Facebook and Google are their favorite options.
While local small business sites won’t go away completely, providers of local
technologies and marketing services need to help businesses implement complementary
Regular Street Fight contributors
David Mihm and Mike Blumenthal have been talking about small and medium
businesses using Google My Business and Maps as a homepage replacement for some
time. But lately, they’ve escalated the conversation to treating Google not
just as an entry point, but as the entire business website. They argue that the
addition of features to Google’s Knowledge Panel, along with robust support of
posts, shopping integration, and video, help make the case.
At the same time, Facebook finally
appears to be getting serious about local business features, if not solving its
local search problems. Beefed-up local page features like messaging, maps (from
Here), click-to-call, and email capture add to its critical role in reviews.
Facebook is also building out its Marketplace features,
recently focusing on home services. It has a growing collection of integrations
with suppliers like Shopify, MailChimp, Handy, HomeAdvisor, and Edmunds.
Remember when it was conventional wisdom
that half of local SMBs didn’t have a website? That doesn’t seem so long ago,
but nowadays the great majority (80%) do have sites. But Street Fight’s latest
annual Local Merchants Survey (300 U.S. small businesses with physical
locations and fewer than 50 employees) uncovered a potential for replacement.
We asked respondents what they used their sites for, and, considering the
functions they deemed most important, whether they could replace them with a
list of suggested companies and platforms. Just under half (48%) said, “I
couldn’t replace them.” The figure below illustrates the potential replacements
cited by the others. Facebook’s company pages and Google’s enriched listings
topped the list, with offerings from companies like Yelp, LinkedIn, Amazon, and
eBay not far behind.
The local merchants open to
replacements represented a similar mix of vertical industries to the other
respondents and, intriguingly, were not the smallest businesses. In fact, they
tended to be a little larger in terms of number of employees and locations than
the respondents who said they couldn’t replace those features. Similarly, the
would-be replacers appeared to be more sophisticated in how they used and
managed digital and traditional marketing tactics than the others.
There was a significant overlap among Facebook
and Google fans. Of the respondents that tabbed Facebook, 40% also noted
Google, and half of the Google group also listed Facebook. As I wrote earlier, Facebook’s negative
association with issues like customer information leaks, fake news, and Russian
political meddling hasn’t destroyed its marketing utility for most local merchants.
About one in five of the group of potential replacers who used Facebook for
marketing said they would be re-examining their use (15%) or cutting Facebook
out (4%). Those who named Google were more negative.
The figure above illustrates what
features could potentially be replaced. The functions the replacers use their
sites for didn’t vary dramatically from the “couldn’t replace” crowd. Most
local merchants are still using their websites for information discovery, rather
than for transacting business or customer service. It may end up the case that
Google, Facebook, and Yelp can address those functions well enough for them,
even as they start to do more business online.
But besides those who don’t see
third parties as an adequate replacement, there are good reasons for SMBs to
maintain their own sites even if they shift important functions elsewhere.
A Local Search Association 2017 consumer survey illustrated that an SMB’s
site was the second most helpful local media site after search engines. And in
commissioned by SMB website builder Mono, the LSA lays out the case for SMBs to
use their sites as an information hub: It’s actually owned and controlled by
the business and is thus less dependent on the whims of Facebook or Google.
Local sites should be optimized to supply data to search and other sources,
while remaining the core point for customer feedback.
Meanwhile, Street Fight used its
survey to look at characteristics of the potential replacers that should help
providers work with them to build complementary marketing programs. They’re
good target customers—more of them (45%) than the others (24%) said they’d be
increasing their overall marketing budgets, and that they were increasing the
digital portion of their spending. Some other characteristics to note:
They listed a shortage of expertise as their biggest digital marketing challenge, similar to the others, but they rated proving that digital marketing drove customers to their local store and a lack of time as tied for the second most significant challenge.
The potential replacers were more likely to list their site as the area where they needed the most help, but like the others, they also ratedSEOhigh on the list. But there wasn’t really a single, dominant area of need—similar numbers of local merchants called out social media marketing, paid search, and mobile as well.
Over half listed acquiring new customers as their top marketing objective, a little less than the others. More of the replacers also had generating sales and raising brand awareness in their top 2 list.
Similar to other local merchants, they rated social media and email as their most effective marketing tactics. They were more likely to cite Google My Business listings, paid search, and TV in their top 3.
Mobile wallets and payments was the new technology they were most interested in exploring, and one in five were interested in real-time customer location data. They also cited streaming, podcasting, and mobile push offerings as areas of interest.
They showed an above-average interest in integrating marketing and advertising with back-office functions.
Based on the survey, companies
selling to these businesses should emphasize customer references and peer
referrals. They rated demonstrations and documentation as slightly more useful
than product/service ratings and reviews, whether they were from independent
sources or the vendor. These prospects are more likely to work with multiple
suppliers already, and they don’t seem to rate one-stop shopping as any more
important than the ability to pick a best-of-breed solution.