SMB Websites Can’t Be Replaced by Earned & Paid Media – Here’s Why

Last year a survey from Capital One found that 61% of SMBs were utilizing social media for their business while only 56% had a company website. Furthermore, the survey found 32% said increasing advertising and marketing efforts would best improve business, with only 14% saying the same about creating a website.

SMBs’ social media pages serving as stand-ins for a company website, and other earned (social mentions, shares, reviews, etc.) and/or paid media (online ads) may be minimizing the perceived need for a website among some SMBs. But when considering consumer behavior, it becomes clear that using earned and paid media to try and replace a website isn’t an effective strategy.

Websites are critical to the purchase path

In a study of over 8,000 US consumers, the LSA found that 63% of consumers used a company website in the past week to find local business information. This was the second most used channel for past week usage, behind only search engines (80%). More importantly, websites were the top source consumers turned to when ready to make a purchase.

Additionally, the LSA study found websites were the third most trusted among consumers behind only search engines and word-of-mouth, and were the second most accurate channel for finding local business information. Consumers clearly value websites when seeking local business information and making purchase decisions, in turn driving real business to SMBs.

Websites complement earned and paid media

Furthermore, websites complement earned or paid media. For example, a 2016 BrightLocal study found that 54% of consumers said that they visited a website after reading a positive online review. In this context, the existence of a company website is incredibly important as it helps establish credibility and trust of the SMB in the mind of the consumer. It is essential that local marketers understand the interplay between media (owned, earned and paid).

To that point, one of the biggest challenges in the local marketing space is a siloed view of channels, where discussions around websites, social media, email, etc., all happen separate from each other and thereby fail to take into account how they connect. A more holistic view will reveal how earned and paid media are in many ways drivers of owned media traffic, making websites the meeting place for many of these digital activities.

Websites are the only truly owned media opportunity

More important still, websites are the only owned media opportunity available to SMBs. In an extremely fragmented and noisy digital landscape, it is the one place where the SMB can own the message and data being presented to customers. This is extremely valuable, as a company website acts as the most authoritative source and allows SMBs to control the way that their brand is represented online.

So while many small businesses are using Facebook (part owned, part earned) or other channels as stand-ins for a website (100% owned), local marketers need to emphasize that a website cannot be fully replaced by earned or paid media. Consumers are actively seeking company webpages on the path to purchase, and rely on them as the most authoritative source of information and representation of the brand.

One Response to “SMB Websites Can’t Be Replaced by Earned & Paid Media – Here’s Why”

  1. Jesse says:

    Concise and timely message. Great article, Matt.

    Extending this argument even further introduces more arguments for why serious and growing businesses should consider “owning” their data with open-source software like WordPress instead of hitching their long-term wagon to the likes of Wix or Shopify.

    Unfortunately many business owners never make the transition from thinking like a consumer to thinking like a true producer, who controls their brand.

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