Are SMB Websites the Key to Digital Success for Local Publishers?

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About a week ago I attended and spoke at the Asian Local Search and Media Association (ALSMA) conference in Shanghai. In attendance were yellow pages publishers and industry vendors from across Asia as well as India, Israel and Europe. Among other things I did an indoor location and marketing presentation.

I was struck at the conference, which had some excellent sessions, by two primary things:

  • The seeming universality of the predicament of directory publishers
  • The emphasis by some on websites as the core or center of the SMB digital offering

On the first point I was surprised by the degree to which publishers throughout Asia were confronting the same consumer behavior and declining print usage trends, challenges of selling digital (and related organizational challenges), as well as the search for digital margins. There may have been nuances of difference but the predicament was the same as that facing European and North American publishers.

France’s SoLocal was held out as a model for transformation. And Israel’s Zap Group (formerly Golden Pages) was also an example of dramatic change. The company has entirely killed print.

The second point about websites is more interesting in many respects.

Websites continue to be highly valued by SMBs. They’re often (incorrectly) perceived as high ROI investments/channels. And in a recent survey we fielded SMBs picked their websites as the top investment category if they had more money to spend on marketing.

I have discounted websites as a product because the quality of the basic site products out there has been poor. However upon reflection and review of the survey data it’s clear that websites (whatever their direct ROI) are very important to SMBs.

Publishers that offer a quality product at a reasonable price can and will have a defense against digital churn. I had been arguing that publishers needed to move into “facilitating transactions” and “operational support.” However building and hosting the website may be the most foundational of these functions.

What’s clear is that most SMBs have poor websites and want better ones. They are willing to pay for them as well. Indeed, in one way of looking at the world the SMB website is the replacement product for print display advertising.

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2 Responses to “Are SMB Websites the Key to Digital Success for Local Publishers?”

  1. Marketing Day: November 7, 2013 says at

    […] Are SMB Websites the Key to Digital Success for Local Publishers?, Screenwerk […]

  2. Will Scott says at

    Lately I’ve come to think of web sites as the SMB gateway drug.

    Even though some 60% of SMBs have web sites, most of them are not very good and lack the basics of local search and user experience, e.g. Name, Address and Phone Number prominently displayed.

    As an entry point to an advertiser relationship web sites make sense for publishers, the trick is to then upsell into higher value services like SEO, CRM, Online Ads, etc.

    But, it’s really hard to do a cheap web site that doesn’t suck.

  3. Greg Sterling says at

    I agree with what you’re saying. The challenge for these publishers and sales channels is to do good looking, effective websites for small business at some kind of scale

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