Is Google Playing the Long Game with SMB Websites?
David: Hey, Mike. Congrats on your re-brand last week! Love the new name and the rationale behind the move. I can imagine that must have been a long time coming.
Mike: Thanks!! It has taken 18 months to get all of our GatherUp ducks in a row to make the change, but thanks to a great team, it went smoothly.
I know you saw my recent article about Google My Business websites and their hockey-stick growth. On Twitter I wondered if in fact this was a “classic” disruption play for the web industry. What say we discuss that idea?
David: I did see that article. I personally think Google’s ambitions do not yet extend into the Content Management System industry, but the growth they’ve demonstrated so far has to be of concern for some of their “partners” like Duda* and other starter platforms like Wix and Womply.
*Ironically, the HowToGoMo.com website featuring those partners now 404s.
Mike: Disruption theory predicates that a low-cost, low-featured entry that sits below most incumbents’ radars rises up and continues to grab market share until some tipping point. In this case, Google is starting small and focusing on Asia and South America.
David: I don’t disagree on the addressable market size and the natural product-market fit for Google Websites in Asia and South America.
It’s a worthy investment for Google, particularly since few of the starter-type “incumbents” have any measurable market penetration. As my friend and former colleague Tim Resnik would say, those countries are “blue oceans” for SMB websites.
Mike: While Google’s major impact has initially been focused on Asia, we are seeing good uptake in Southern Europe as well (although nowhere near what we are seeing in Asia). There, the businesses are actively engaging with Posts as well.
The ability to increase the content and focus on promotions that Posts/Website integration offers seems as if it might the warning shot in this regard. Spain is growing its Google Websites activity at 22% a month. That, while small compared to the 200% a month we are seeing in India, is still significant. However, 31% of those sites include Posts.
David: No doubt, although our experience in Spain at last year’s SIINDA conference was that there were far fewer claimed Google My Business profiles and seemed to be a lower digital sophistication among small businesses. So, in that sense, Spain (and perhaps the rest of Southern Europe) is much closer to a “developing world” digital economy than a G7 digital economy.
Mike: Yes, it certainly shows SMB engagement with the product and moves beyond the set-and-forget reality of the early Google Local Business Center. In India, Posts uptake is very low, but Google’s definition of success there is different than in Spain. Just Google’s ability to get basic business data and user analytics in India is probably a huge win for them.
But for this to be truly disruptive it would have to move out of the Brasils and Indonesias of the world into Germany, the UK, and Canada.
David: Right. Whether you view Websites as a “loss leader” to get businesses’ core data, fresh content, or even as a lead-gen into Ads, all of those are much more limited intentions than replacing a full-featured CMS like WordPress (not to mention a commerce-enabled Shopify or Square-Weebly combination).
Mike: Well if you consider that Facebook was getting all of that previously, 4 million new websites in India seems like a victory to me. And no small feat. And interestingly, Google is remaking the so-called “open web” there into its own image where the search giant gets the bulk of the benefit.
But the question remains as to whether Google can play in the world of full-blown websites. Perhaps their initial goal in the US and other developed countries is to go after that 40-some percent of very small businesses that have yet to produce a website? That would still be disruptive.
David: I think that’s right. The limited SEO potential alone of Google Sites should scare any reasonably ambitious small business into another more full-featured platform like WordPress or Squarespace. That’s a completely different customer.
Mike: Well, the SEO potential doesn’t appear to be as bad as I originally thought. In fact, quite the opposite. These Websites can and do rank.
I am doing a case study of a new local business that started up in May with a “Facebook only” web presence. I convinced them to get started with Google My Business and Google Websites to see which provided more value, and within 4 weeks they were ranking on the first page for some key phrases. The only business activity to push this along has been Google Posts.
David: Wow, that’s surprising. Guessing it’s a small, relatively uncompetitive market.
I have to think that, purely for SEO, a barnacle strategy of review acquisition (let alone link-building) to Facebook Page or Yelp Profile would take them a lot further.
Mike: For sure, but it demonstrates that there is no intrinsic limit to the success of these Websites.
David: Websites might evolve into the CMS world eventually, but I see them as only disruptive to “single-page” type website providers in the near- and mid-term.
Certainly, Google could pivot into that space, but it’d take years of development and I think a different strategic home in Mountain View. That development certainly aligns 100% with their mission to organize the world’s content (a lot easier to organize it when you’re the CMS provider), but it feels like they have more urgent needs around basic SMB engagement at the moment.
Mike: We have seen that Google is operating on multiple fronts in Local for the first time ever. So while it might take years, Google is very patient, very competitive, and very ambitious.
When you look at this Website growth + the Local Knowledge Panel with Posts + AMP + Progressive Web Apps, we are starting to see the outlines of an “open web” that Google totally controls. Or at least they control the profitable parts.
Obviously it would take years, and there are many forces arrayed that might prevent this (government intervention being just one), but I would not put this grandiose vision and long-time horizon beyond Google’s desires.
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 GetListed.org 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.