Google has transformed. Created as a search engine in 1998 with the mission to find relevant websites quickly and send users on their way, it has changed into a narcissistic, answer-generating machine that wants to keep people glued to itself.
Enter of these search queries in Google, and you will notice that you can find the information you want right on the search engine results page (SERP). You don’t even have to visit the website where this data was taken from.
- [Plumbers in St. Petersburg]
- [Chinese dumplings recipe]
- [The tallest mountain in the world]
- [Events in St. Petersburg]
- [Isaac Asimov books]
- [Miami-St. Petersburg flights]
- [Distance between San Francisco and St. Petersburg]
- [Area of California]
- [Hotels St. Petersburg]
- [Timer 1 hour]
While a convenient feature for searchers, Google’s emphasis on providing immediate answers—instead of leading people to the websites that have them—leaves local businesses with a problem.
Many are asking if it makes sense to invest in a website in 2017. After all, Google can simply scrape their content, find the bits of information that it considers relevant, and shows those bits on its search result’s page. As a consequence, fewer customers land on your website.
Local businesses cannot afford to spend time and money to occupy number one rank for their most profitable keywords, and then barely witness a bump in traffic. They want to know what Google is doing to their customers and how they can best adapt to changes because real money and real clients are at stake.
Is Google Biting the Hand That Feeds It?
Google’s recent emphasis on Rich Snippets (answers provided right on the search page) are hurting organic traffic.
Wikipedia felt the pain first-hand in 2015 when, soon after the launch of Knowledge Graph (KG), page views on the online encyclopedia declined 21 percent.
A more recent study (August 2017) shows that only 52.89 percent of searchers click to read a ‘how to’ article, the remaining searchers apparently content with the incomplete information they find on a Google search results page.
The second study also discovered that the top websites ranking for seven search queries—translation, population, definition, stock price, standings, birthday, and restaurants—do not even achieve a click-through rate of 50 percent.
For a further 30 terms—including flights, hotels, showtimes, news, and treatment—the click-through rate is less than 100 percent.
That means Google has gotten so good at providing answers right away that people do not see an incentive to click a website.
Indeed, the situation seems more ominous when you try to grasp the scale of the problem.
In 2015, a digital marketing agency conducted studied over 850,000 search queries and found that “Google offered some form of a rich answer (AKA a knowledge box) 19+% of the time.”
For a search engine answering 3.5 billion search queries in a day, that translates into serving 665 million Rich Snippets every day and costing millions of visitors in organic traffic.
Google of 2017 is not the Google of 1998. Old strategies are not going to work. It’s time that local business owners accepted the challenge head-on.
Three Big Changes Being Introduced by Google
Here are the three big changes that Google is testing on a small scale before rolling them out nationwide. Local businesses cannot ignore them.
- Personalized News Feed. “We hope to roll some version of the feed experience to Google.com on the mobile web,” reads a recent company statement to Ars Technica.Say goodbye to a minimalist Google if you are using a smartphone. Google’s homepage is going to look more like Yahoo, Facebook, and Twitter news feed. News right on the Google homepage will remove another incentive to search.
- Reserve with Google. Is your business listed on Google My Business? Do you run a salon or a fitness center? Consider yourself fortunate if you answered “yes” twice. Google has just made reservations easy for your clients.Your customers can find you on Google Maps and reserve an appointment. That will be good news for StyleSheet, and other appointment book apps and websites.
- Google Home Services. Imagine how effective your online ad campaign would be if Google threw its weight behind it! That’s precisely what Google’s doing with Google Home Services.Google is doing background checks for local plumbers, gardeners, and other local businesses and embellishing their ads with a “guarantee” from Google. All you need to do is download an app, and you are good to go. The downsides? Google Home Services is currently available in only 17 U.S. cities, and you will be visible just for as long as you are paying.
Adapt and Thrive — Get a Website
In the 19 years since its founding, not only the appearance but the entire concept of what a search engine is supposed to do, has changed.
Initially, the emphasis was on finding relevant websites and sending users to them. Right now, the focus has shifted to providing answers right away.
If it was “plumbers” you are searching for, you will find several local plumbers’ phone numbers and postal addresses right in the Local Pack. To connect, all you have to do was to click a phone number. No website is needed.
Now, let’s consider the second scenario from the table, namely temperature in St. Petersburg.
If you are AccuWeather, or a similar website, having Google scrape your data and show it right into its search doesn’t make good business sense for you because almost no one will bother to visit your website.
What is true of plumbers and weather websites is also true of many other types of local businesses. That may lead you to think that websites are unnecessary today. We are convinced that they are not and here is our argument.
You Need a Website Because
Many reasons to own a website.
- Your website is your private property. You don’t own Facebook, Google, Twitter, and other popular online platforms. Being present on them is like running a business from a rented property. For anything long-term, you need something substantial, an investment in your digital property, your website.
- Your website compliments new Google features. Although Google SERPs provide more information in 2017 than a few years ago and Google Home Services and Reserve with Google are making it easier to do business, your website can complement those features. Someone may want to learn about you before booking an appointment. Or, a lot of searchers will want to visit your website after reading the first two-four steps of a how-to article.
- You can rank better than number one. A Rich Snippet is your chance to rank higher than the number one website in your niche. A private website is a powerful way to be included in a Rich Snippet.
- Your website educates customers. Not everyone likes to call right away. A lot of your customers will want to learn about you—your history, client testimonials, certifications—before contacting you.
- Your website protects you against other companies going out of business. When you have a website, it becomes easier to adapt to changes in Google. Imagine if your web presence was on now-obsolete Google+. Your website will stay relevant as long as you wish it to be.
Google’s focus has shifted from sending users to websites to providing them information right where they are. This has lead to a drop in organic traffic. Local businesses are suffering. Even the likes of Wikipedia have not been spared. Google’s new services—Google Home Services and Reserve with Google—are competing with local websites for customers’ attention, which has led to many local business owners thinking websites are obsolete. That is not true.
Local business websites remain relevant. They are your property and, with the assistance of a digital marketing agency, you can turn them into profit-generating machines that complement—rather than compete—with Google’s new services.