Google Websites — To Infinity and Beyond?

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In this regular Street Fight feature, local marketing gurus David Mihm and Mike Blumenthal kick around some of the biggest ideas affecting the local search ecosystem and the broader industry. Send us an email or leave a comment if you have specific topics that you’d like them to touch on in future columns!

David: Hey Mike, a very groggy morning to you from San Francisco.  Looking forward to the LSA Cloud Adoption Summit later today.

Mike: Well it’s a groggy morning in Western NY if that is any consolation. The first real lake effect storm is on the horizon… 2 weeks later than normal but coming on strong none the less. In San Francisco at least you won’t end up with 3 feet of snow. 🙂

David: Maybe it will snow-out the rest of the Bills season and we’ll all be spared from having to watch any more of their games.

I read your piece on the dramatic uptick in Google Websites yesterday at the airport. Seems like this product has gotten more, and more authentic, traction in the SMB world than Google+ ever did! The trajectory implies they might have a winner here.

Mike: The trajectory raises several questions for me. The first of which is the acceleration of uptake: What is causing that? Is Google promoting the heck out of it in the developing world (we are not seeing that in the US) or has the product reached lift off and it is going up the S curve on its own via word of mouth? Or is the increase in uptake just a one off for the quarter? I think it is likely a combination of promotion plus traction. Regardless the numbers are staggering eh?

David: The interesting data point (that Google will never give us of course!) would be what percentage of Sites are created from Google My Business (i.e. business owners with whom they already have a relationship), and what percentage are created directly?

Mike: I think that it differs by country and current internet uptake. Google tactics are different in the developing world than in the developed world where there is relatively high uptake of the Google My Business.

In the developing world, Google has a simplified path to the GMB where if a business first creates a website they can get verified more easily. Thus the website becomes the hook into Google’s data funnel. In the US, and most other developed countries, I would speculate that  it is typically the other way around: i.e., a small business that has already verified in the GMB is pitched on the idea of website.  

But both tactics have seen significant success as both primary developed and undeveloped markets are seeing growth over 100% a quarter.

David: Certainly it must be easier to reach existing customers; we’ve seen the volume of emails from Google My Business accelerate to near-spam levels this year. In both developed and developing markets, it must be trivial for them to segment GMB listings which don’t specify a URL, and market the heck out of Sites to those listing owners. I have to think that accounts for most of this initial adoption.

The latter scenario you describe would be an interesting twist: Sites almost as a Trojan Horse to get better business data for Google Maps in countries and regions with weak data aggregators.  But I’m curious how they’re reaching those business owners in the first place.  

Without any baseline data, direct mail surely isn’t feasible. Are there massive offline marketing campaigns that we haven’t read about in Western media?

Mike: The fact that is easier to reach existing customers would explain the strong growth in the developed countries. But in the developing countries I think Google has had a hard time getting uptake due to the low adoption of the broader web, the predominance of Facebook and messaging. In that situation Google had to develop the “Free Mobile Website” as the hook to attract the many businesses that skipped right over building a website.

David: I’m still genuinely curious how they’re attracting business owners with so little digital footprint in the first place. How do you sell to someone if you don’t know who they are or where to reach them? This seems like a great story for a major tech publication, with journalists spread far and wide, to follow up on.

Mike: That’s a great question and maybe one of our readers could answer it. I, for one, don’t know specifically but whatever they are doing seems to be working.

The other obvious question for this product is where does it go from here?

David: That’s an equally interesting question to me. Google Websiites are an excellent Minimum Viable Product, and my expectations for it are not unreasonable.  

There are some obvious next steps; for example, Bill Hartzer recently highlighted that Google Sites don’t even integrate with Google Analytics. You’d HAVE to think that’s coming at some point. And integrating other GMB products like Posts, Reviews, and Messaging would probably follow.

Mike: Analytics is a tantalizing use case as it is currently using Javascript. If they open up the product to Javascript it could be interesting. Could Google implement their own analytics product without Javascript effectively excluding broader integrations?

David: A lack of javascript support is limiting — not just for Google Analytics but any moderately-sophisticated functionality.

Strategically, I’m curious how well it will ever integrate with other services. GMB has shown a recent willingness to do this, but Google’s track record of playing well with others is poor.

Will they ever build an App Store for Google Sites, and allow third-party developers to build and monetize plugins in the manner that WordPress has?  Or will they maintain their walled garden, the way that GMB operated for the first 8 years of its life?

Without at least some additional functionality, these Sites will be abandoned by businesses once their marketing needs evolve beyond a bare-bones presence.  And I doubt that Google wants to build that functionality themselves.

Mike: Integrations of other third party products into Websites will be an interesting test of Google’s approach to the “open web” which they are always championing.

And will it stay as a single page product? The DNA of the product (Appetas) was a sophisticated multi-page product that Google purchased in 2014. I see no reason that as the product develops why it couldn’t reach into the hosted WordPress world. Given Google’s obvious ambitions, that is certainly possible.

David: Facebook has an incredibly deep mindshare in one of Websites’ most successful markets (Indonesia), so perhaps this is first-and-foremost a defensive mechanism to stem that tide among business owners. But I think long-term success of the product will require a more open platform and a longer-term commitment to building it than Google has shown with many of its products (including Plus).

Mike: Obviously any business that commits to using a Google product has to look over their shoulder and worry that it will be discontinued. One would think that with Websites’ current rate of uptake we won’t have to “worry” about the product being deep-sixed any time soon. 🙂

I am not one for thinking that Google wins every market they enter but given the obvious corporate support that the product currently has, it might actually someday end up being a “contenda.”


After more than a decade in local search, David Mihm now runs Tidings, an email newsletter platform for small businesses that leverages their everyday social media activity, and his own weekly newsletter, Minutive. In 2012, he sold his former company to Moz, helping over 3 million businesses get better visibility in Google and other search engines. Along with Mike, he’s a co-founder of Local University. 

Mike Blumenthal is a co-founder of GetFiveStars, a feedback and reputation platform, and LocalU, which provides small business and agency training in sustainable local search marketing. His motto: All Local All the Time.  He writes at his blog and does a twice a week podcast about Local marketing. 


Got an idea for what you want Mike and David to discuss next time? Send it to either [email protected] or [email protected], or just leave a comment below and we’ll put it in the hopper!

After more than a decade in local search, David Mihm now serves as VP of Product Strategy at ThriveHive, leading the direction of the company’s search-related product offerings. He’s also the Founder & CEO of Tidings, an email newsletter platform for small businesses that leverages their everyday social media activity, and his own weekly newsletters, Minutive and the Agency Insider. He’s the former founder of, Director of Local Strategy at Moz, and along with Mike Blumenthal, he’s a co-founder of Local University. Mike Blumenthal is the co-founder and analyst at Near Media where he researches and reports on reputation, reviews and local search. Mike has been involved in local search and local marketing strategy for almost 20 years. He explores the online to offline local ecosystem and helps businesses understand it and benefit from it through writing, speaking and education.