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Ask HN: Do SMBs still care about their websites?
87 points by rodolphoarruda on Dec 20, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 58 comments
Do you see in your local market a movement of B2C SMBs shutting down their websites, leaving their web presence to Facebook/Instagram/Twitter only?

Edit: added "B2C" context to question.

Context: I own a CrossFit gym with my wife which happens to be the largest (both in physical size and active membership) in an ~80-100 mile radius. I also have a full-time job developing applications for enterprise and government clients and I used to be a full-time freelancer focusing on custom websites and custom WordPress plugins.

Our website is invaluable. We have all our ad landing pages there so it's a constant source of warm local leads. I think it's grown in importance since we tightened the integration with Facebook and Instagram. We don't really do much search/display advertising, it's all social proof, boosted posts, ads to get people to our events, "people whose friends have liked our page," etc.

If the website's importance is 10/10 I'd put Facebook at an 8 and Instagram at a 5. I'd take simple website + solid FB ad strategy over flashy website + leaky bucket ad strategy 100% of the time.

I've seen this. Google's changes to search over the years have made it increasingly difficult for an SMB website to show up in organic searches. Google seems to be biased towards big national brands in a way that they weren't in the past. That, of course, led to more bidding for AdWords, which drove the pricing up there.

So, SMB owners then try to find some other way to get a presence, many of which make it difficult to use your own website. Facebook, for example, is setup in a way where your FB biz page is highlighted, but the url to your actual site is obscured and buried.

Aside from your examples of Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter...I've also seen SMB's move their ecommerce sales to Etsy, eBay, Amazon, and the like.

What exactly do you mean by "increasingly difficult for an SMB website to show up in organic searches"? I just googled a dozen local restaurants, stores, rock gyms and for each either the official website was first in google or there did not appear to be an official website (for 3 or 4 of them). Only one of them had the Yelp page before their site, and that's a restaurant that heavily promotes its Yelp page because it has the highest rating among cheap restaurants in town. I was googling them by name plus city (if I thought it would be ambiguous).

So did you mean mean that they don't show up for other important searches like "Indian food in Seattle"?

SMBs used to more easily to show up for queries that did not have a locality modifier like "in Seattle". My experience is more around SMBs that aren't brick-and-mortar, but rather, online SMBs trying to sell nationally or globally.

Edit: A concrete example would be a seller that specialized in some niche. Like say, an online seller of thermal printers. Where they had specialized expertise, inventory, research, support, articles, and so on where there would be a valid reason to rank higher than Amazon for similar products.

Okay, that makes sense, thanks.

I think that "discovery" is the part that is implied to be broken. But in my experience if you search for "indian food" and Google knows your location, it returns solid results.

I read an interesting post just some days ago about Ads in Local Business. The site is horrible, but the content is good:


For what it's worth, Neil Patel writes some of the best pieces on content marketing. If you like those types of posts, I'd also check out his other blog, quicksprout.


> That site is horrible

That's an understatement. I wonder how can a site, that is so designed not to make you read anything, say anything of value.

I wondered if it could really be as bad as you were saying... And it sure is, but not in the way that I expected!

Neil Patel is one of those "major players" in SEO and content marketing. I signed up once to see what he kept pitching, and it was the most obnoxious chain of emails and hard selling I've ever experienced. I don't know how it's effective and his own site is terrible so I'm not sure how he became the messiah of this type of work.

Rand Fishkin (the founder of Moz) on the other hand understands the material better and I think truly is a good guy that is trying to make the SEO market a better place. He does some really nifty whiteboard fridays.

Neil Patel has always been a self promoter #1. He has some good info, but you have to filter through him talking about how awesome he is and the guru crap he's always hocking.

Rand & Dr. Pete/moz in general is one of the best places, along with http://seobook.com/ for a more cynical perspective.

>more bidding for AdWords, which drove the pricing up there

This situation for the local SMBs that I know is unbearable. They seem to see more viable prices in Facebook, for example, thus reinforcing the trend of moving their presence to social networks. Websites out in the wild seem not to offer any ROI for the dollar spent on adWords.

I would say the absolute opposite.

Google has grown to be incredibly targeted. For instance , when you search "pizzeria" or "gym", it will return the shops which are close to your current location.

This is a big improvement for SMB owners. They're way easier to find for the local population.

I mentioned this elsewhere, but that's for local search. I have no experience in that space. My experience is SMBs that aren't local brick and mortar, but rather, ones that are trying to sell to a national/global audience.

Facebook is a real juggernaut. Google is getting less effective because all of this information is moving to AOL style walled gardens.

It's sad.

Not in my case, our website is VERY important.

I opened an escape room business in Idaho about 3 months ago, and we have a website, facebook page, google (+,mybusiness,etc), twitter, and instagram account.

Our website is so important because it's how we connect people to our booking system, and for ranking in Google and we link our Adwords account to it as well.

Then we send people to our website first and on our business cards, promo materials, signs, and more, because it has our FAQ, email contact form, photos, the format we want, Book Now link, the message we want at the top, details about our services, and more.

I couldn't imagine just trying to manage all this with just a Facebook page or Google stuff. People would be very confused.

If I said, just got to our Facebook page, you'd be surprised at how many people say they aren't on Facebook. If I say go to our Google+ page they don't even know what I'm talking about. People call all the time to book because they say "I don't do the Internet thing" (not kidding)

Asking people for reviews is easiest through Facebook. I don't even know how to tell people to review me on Google. Not many folks here appear to be on Yelp it seems. But having a "Review us on..." section of our website will be nice when I add it, and then again, I can just send people to the site.

Lastly, the website is where I can put company specific information like our downloadable flyer, rules and regulations, orientation info, faq, specific details about each of our rooms, some player stats, and official info about our promotions.

So yes, a website for a small business is extremely important in my opinion.

That being said, I have heard of people just going to a Facebook Page, but I believe these are people who don't see the value in connecting EVERY aspect of the web to maximize their online exposure, and don't see the benefits they could reap if they use all these tools together effectively.

I had no idea "escape rooms" were a thing. Here's the Wikipedia page, for anyone else who is perplexed: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Escape_room

I wonder if the same Jigsaw doll shows up in the beginning to explain the rules of the game. Just kidding...

Yeap, and they're spreading fast. Lisbon alone has about a dozen now.

And while this is getting more and more OT from the original article... if you enjoy puzzles, it's definitely worth it to go and try it. Me, my partner, and two friends (also a couple) had a really great time doing one. There was a 1hr time limit, and we solved it with about 2 minutes to spare.

I suspect that how much fun it is is going to be pretty specific to how well the room is put together; ours was great. The puzzles were tuned so that the difficulty progressed nicely; a couple quick wins, and then they got harder. It was a mix of searching (find the hidden key) and thinking (from these clues, figure out the combination for this lock). This results in a great mix of individual effort and collaborative problem solving.

Anyway, I'm rambling. Great fun with the right group of people and well-done puzzles.

I've seen and have encouraged small business to move their web presence to Facebook and Google Local Business.

We've built a solid amount of websites for small businesses, and in most cases they don't care about maintenance. So in the end they spent a solid amount on a website and hosting, don't change anything for four years and build a new site. Having gained nothing in between.

Having a Facebook page doesn't cost you anything, and on the plus side, if you maintain it you will get free exposure by appearing alongside organic posts on users' timelines. You'll have to work for your likes, but it's your responsibiliy to provide fresh and interesting content. The more users engage with your posts, the more visibility you will get as well.

Twitter seems to be mainly for support and quick updates when you have service problems and Instagram is nice if you have something more in the graphics or design sector. In my country it's also mostly used by geeks and doesn't work if you want to reach a general crowd.

However, as a customer it all depends on what I'm looking for. Want a new tap for the kitchen sink? I'm not going to look for that on Facebook, you'd best have a website with some examples and pricing. If I want to go to a restaurant I only care about their contact information and the menu. If I can find that on Facebook or the Google sidebar, I'm happy.

For your kitchen sink example, as a customer, I'm far more likely to go to the local eBay/Amazon equivalent (here it's Mercado Libre, an eBay subsidiary), than to google the web (of course in the U.S. you might find more relevant pages).

For most non tech SMBs a website was a necessary evil, like all advertising. Then they get caught up in an SEO scam or two and talking of promotion or online advertising is like suggesting tax fraud.

Google could have dreamed up an Adwords Lite for SMBs and stop defaulting to broad match. If done well it could have made Adwords worthwhile for those who can't just hire an adwords consultant and spend 4 figures. I know several SMBs who would never touch Adwords again. The two I know who use adwords well both have someone pretty technical around. One of those does more on Etsy than their site.

As @tyingq says Google's updates have mostly promoted brands and large businesses. Now add the freshness updates and they're hurting all the mainly static small sites. Facebook did much the same when they hugely cut the views pages can achieve. FB went from hugely helpful to almost a waste of time for many.

It's little wonder so many aren't seeing the point.

Google does have a much simplified version of AdWords tailored to small/local businesses. I'm not sure how keywords work in there as I've only seen it a handful of times and don't remember.

I'd think broad match modifier works how someone new to search ads would expect normal broad match to work.

I do. It is happening everywhere in Brazil. Small companies see no reason in keeping a stand alone website with very low visit figures whereas their fanpages, profiles in massive social networks leverage engaged visitors. I can see many companies not renewing their domain names registrations simply because it does not matter to have a domain name. Custom branded email address? Pointless, since all comms are made inside the social network.

Here in Ecuador I see the same thing. Part of the reason is that carriers compete by offering free social network access even for plans which don't have any data (there is no net-neutrality here).

So if you are targeting consumers, a big chunk of those consumers cannot even access your website at all, but they can find you on facebook.

Yes, that's one step farther into the darkness. We are not there yet in Brazil. You still need to pay for data, even if it's for 100MB a month, which would give you access to the open web. But, of course, the preference would be to browse Facebook and likes with no limits.

Same in Mexico. The web presence is mostly through Facebook. SMB do not care about custom domain or website. Facebook is free, gmail is free. And WhatsApp as a business channel is HUGE here.

Only a few samples, but:

- Restaurants seem to keep them up. They need to post menus, and links to OpenTable and other reservation sites.

- K-12 Schools keep their own sites

- Other small businesses (martial arts schools, dry cleaners, etc) seem to be leaving their old sites on standby. Big drop in forum activity.

All I want from restaurant websites is a grid of pictures with prices, and a reservation button with hours of operation prominently displayed. I don't care about anything else, but the food, price, and when I can go. Amazingly this is hidden under nonsense mission statements, and other fluff no one cares about except the chefs.

What is even weirder is that many restaurants actually don't contain that information at all. I have been to many places that did not have opening times or wrong (old) opening times. Weird.

Amen brother!

I have seen this happen a few times. Sometimes businesses switch to turnkey/template sites, but if all they need is an address in Google Maps it isn't necessary a lot of the time.

Conversely, as a web developer, I have stopped working with this segment completely. Non-tech organizations of 1-2 people are way more hassle to deal with than larger organizations.

> Conversely, as a web developer, I have stopped working with this segment completely. Non-tech organizations of 1-2 people are way more hassle to deal with than larger organizations. reply

I'm seriously considering doing the same. What keeps me working with the 'small guys' is that on some level it's more enjoyable to me. I like making people happy, and when things go right these small clients are very happy, and they care, whereas no single individual in the typical company I work for really gives a shit in isolation.

With the small clients, I get to advise them about every step of the project, and they care about the result because it affects them directly in some way. As a contractor for a bigger company, however, easily half the decisions come from up the hierarchy and lead to work that I truly consider unnecessary. Usually this doesn't matter and they don't mind paying and nobody ultimately really cares about any of it. It's just work.

With the small clients I hate 1) often working fixed-price, 2) haggling over tiny budgets and taking risks, 3) incessant micro-managing in my area of expertise, 4) managing the personal psychological make-up of the client because there is no organization to temper it (or being a manager, I guess). But these same things mean that what I do is cared about, and money I receive is worth something more than just a higher number on my bank account...

Of course, as far as 'just work' goes I'm pretty happy with my situation. The actual work is still challenging and the output can still be somewhat rewarding. But in the back of my head there's this constant little voice asking me if this 'convenience' is actually worth energy and creativity (at least programming-wise) that I end up losing just to pay for my lifestyle.

I mean, if I have so many options as a programmer, would it not be silly to 'just be thankful for how good things are right now' when I'm one part of a small group of people who can actually choose to do other things that make me happier?

Any suggestions for a next step or alternative?

(this is from the perspective of a web developer, although I've reached a point where I'm looking into other programming fields)

I get that it's more gratifying when things go well. Personally, I've dealt with enough assholes in the tiny end of SMBs to never want to go into that space again.

If you're wondering what else is out there, perhaps the work isn't that challenging to you. You have a lot of freedom right now though. Why not explore other forms of programming in your free time and see what piques your interest?

Yeah, I'm trying to do that. I guess I was just wondering if anyone had good suggestions, both when considering future work and considering the 'fun' side of it.

For now I've been having fun doing more serious app-development, I'm looking into native (mobile) development via React Native, and I'm eyeing chat bots in the context of psychology/health (CBT, lifestyle, etc.).

So I'm okay for now with not moving beyond the UI/app-ey side of things, but part of me is curious for more intellectually challenging stuff that requires a bit more 'computer science' (although I never studied that).

I'm in that discovery phase myself. I've found that some things which sounded interesting were interesting sounding achievements, but not actually interesting for me to do. For some kinds of open source projects, I completed some work then my interest died; I spent some time in the midst of my 2nd or 3rd issue not getting to the work and feeling bad about it.

So my suggestion is to just try different things out and see what you enjoy. Don't be afraid to put a project down and tell yourself it's okay.

True, but it's too hard to get work with bigger guys

As a previous web developer, I had the most success with the 1 to 2 person companies and with companies that were 20+ employees. It was the SMB in the middle range there that were trouble. The small-town-successful companies.

In my, completely unscientific but likely not that all inaccurate, observation SMBs are pushing hard on Facebook. Twitter is dead and people don't waste their money adversiting there. Google is still there but it's become such a mess that the difficultly of getting high rankings combined with the much less precise targeting (compared to say Facebook) has made it a lot less attractive recently.

Sorry, it would be nice if someone could explain what "SMB" means. To me, it's a network file sharing protocol, and a basic Google search confirms this as the top definition.

Small/Medium Business. SME is the more usual abbreviation, here in the UK at least (Small/Medium Enterprise).

Small and midsize businesses


"midsize enterprise is defined as organizations that make more than $50 million, but less than $1 billion in annual revenue"

So -- no -- businesses with $1 billion in revenue are not running off a Facebook page.

SMB = Small or Medium-sized Business

Small/Medium businesses I believe.

Small and Medium Business(es)

I know a small company that shut down it's Facebook page while keeping it's website (an old one, from 2005). Probably because it's not selling directly to it's end-customers, so the web site is focused on contact info (for store chains etc) + static web pages with product information. B2B doesn't seem to use Facebook very much at all.

Yes, I agree with your point. I have edited the question to add the B2C context around SMBs.

It probably depends if you use your website to generate income.

I currently work for a small business that sells dedicated lines, MPLS etc. They invest heavily in their website and use it to generate leads for the sales team.

Myself, on the other hand, I switched from a Wordpress powered blog to a simple, html "About me" website, mainly because I didn't use it and didn't want to keep up with the maintenance.

I can understand if smaller companies, that need nothing more than a business card on the web, use Facebook or some other hosted service for their presence.

I used to work for an online booking company that supplied its SMBs with a business profile page, Facebook widget, website widget and reputation management. Almost universally, they all felt that their website was very important and spent an inordinate amount of money on it...some well into the 6-figures, which was much more than they spent on our service. However, also almost universally, they'd get almost no bookings through the website widgets. Customers overwhelmingly preferred dealing with them through Facebook and our business profile page. Also, our business profile pages showed up much higher in Google for non-name searches.

I'm sure there are some SMBs that really do have a need for a website and it really is important to them, but for the verticals that we dealt with, there was a huge perception gap between the perceived and actual value of the website and a profound misunderstanding of the preferences of their customers. The question of whether SMBs still care about their websites is, to me, less interesting than the question of whether SMBs should care about their websites.

During an "Entrepreneurship" class, some classmates started investigating about SMBs web presence.. and yes, a LOT of SMBs find their Facebook page to be a lot more valuable than their website, often forgoing the website.

It's been a lot worse for them since Facebook started asking for money in order to promote posts, but the ease of use and features of Facebook coupled with an audience beat a website hands down.

Companies included home cooking / office meals, small design and deco items sales, nail polish and beauty supplies, even a general hardware store.

I do think a website is important, but a Facebook page even more so.

Another huge channel here is WhatsApp.

Yup I've witnessed the same migraion... food stalls like The Poutinerie are facebook / twitter only.

I would've expected a website 5 years ago, but they seem fine.

Google "The Poutinerie" and their 'website' comes up top billing ( London based peep )

I had actually spent a lot of time researching this particular use case - creating and maintaining website as B2C SMB and their way of promoting themselves to customers. I came to the conclusion that if you are mortar-and-brick business, focused on local people, the current web is actually totally broken for you and the only feasible solution for ads are location based ad systems.

In this particular case I distinguished between businesses which are location based and businesses which are able to sell their goods and services on the Internet. For those who are able to sell on Internet, there is plenty of options for e-commerce solution etc, but for local businesses it doesn't make economically sense to maintain website.

During my research I talked with 50 local small-business owners in SF and each one of them had website. They all agreed that it is luxurious expense and half of them had problem to maintain the site and only 10/50 were able to update their website at least once a month. What was kind of shocking for me to find out was that around 60% of these people was paying $50+/month for shitty website and almost nobody was willing to spend more money on their website.

When asking about social media(Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, WhatsApp) - 95% had profiles there and were actually having them more updated than their business websites. Unfortunately, majority of the owners were pretty skeptic about the advertisement there and never tried, for example, targeted FB ads. Most of them never heard about this option.

Here is couple of findings:

- When asking, why do they have a website, some of them replied that it is must have in eyes of the customer - you don't exist if you don't have website, right?

- When asking what's their monthly number of visitors on their websites, 60% didn't know.

- When asking about the most used communication channel, almost everyone said phone. One barber was actually running WhatsApp group and worked pretty well for him.

- When asking how much they will be investing into a website - the majority said that they will not increase their costs for web and ads.

From my point of view, web is actually total nonsense for local businesses, it's unnecessary expense and the owners could do much better if they orient on social media and local advertisement. The real problem for them is that they are not willing to maintain 10 social network accounts and constantly update them, because they need to run their real business as well.

One funny thing I found out was that 10 out of 50 said that old-fashioned promotional flyer into mailbox still works best for them and has the biggest response and they will spent more money on that. Kinda surprise for me in SF in the beginning of 2016.

It's interesting that they're spending $50/mo on a shitty website. I wonder if they'd be happy with a static site with their location, hours, and contact info (something to prove to millennials that they exist) for google to scrape, with links to their social media profiles. This costs less than $2/mo on S3 after the setup.

Excellent bit of research. What would you call local advertisement then? Click to call social ads?

curious about things like thumbtack and homeadvisor for small service businesses.

I've heard of business using those as alternatives to their own websites. To me I'd much rather own my own website site, but I think I'm in the minority.

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