As more and more information appears in search results—from snippets that answer searchers’ questions to maps and how-to videos—it may seem as if the humble business website is just an afterthought. When prospective customers can get directions to your store from opening a map, click to call your business directly from search results, or see your latest promotion on social media, you might be wondering, “What do I need a website for?”

While there are many other ways for prospects and customers to find your business, a website still holds a unique place. Websites continue to be the top marketing channel for small and midsized businesses, according to the Local Search Association (LSA). According to an LSA-sponsored Local Media Tracking Survey, more than seven in 10 U.S. consumers report using a company website in the past month to get local business information.

Going forward, business websites will be just as important—but in order to succeed, your website needs to transform from a static presence into a vital “hub.” That’s the conclusion of Local Data Hub: The Future of SMB Websites by the LSA. Here’s what the report found about why small business websites still matter and what you should do about it.

Small business websites give you control

A website is the only digital asset that your business actually owns. You can make your Google My Business listing or Facebook page as detailed as you want, but if Google or Facebook decide to change how they do things, your efforts could be wiped out. As any small business owner who’s active on social media knows, keeping up with the changing rules and algorithms of various social networking sites is practically a full-time job.

On your website, you have complete control of the content and ownership of the information. As long as you maintain updated registration of your domain name, you don’t have to worry about someone else making changes that will affect how your site looks or what information viewers can see.

One-quarter of consumers reported turning to websites when ready to buy, the highest percentage of the 13 media channels analyzed in the study.

Small business websites have depth of information

While search results, review sites, and social media offer “top-level” data such as your contact information, the hours your business is open, or your address, your website can go much deeper. Surface-level information is important when prospective customers are just deciding which businesses to consider, but for more complex purchases, customers generally need more information. For example, they might want to check your inventory, see testimonials from previous customers, or read about your company history.

The data on your website fuels search engine results. As search engines present users with more and more local information, such as featured snippets or the knowledge panel, remember that most of that information comes from business websites. In other words, even if your customers aren’t directly accessing your site, they’re still benefiting from the content on your website during the search process.

In fact, providing authoritative content to search engines is now a primary function for business websites, the report contends. “Local business data historically meant name, address and phone number,” the authors say. “But the definition of local data has expanded to include products and services, images and video, secondary business attributes and other types of content”—all of which come from business websites.

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Your website can capture customer data

While customers are using your website to learn about your business, you can (and should) use your website to learn more about your customers. Website analytics and performance metrics such as clicks, engagement and form fills can be used to see which advertising campaigns, social media profiles, and online content are most effective at attracting customers. By capturing insights about visitors, such as what pages of your site customers visit most and what products are most popular, you can fine-tune your website to make it more effective.

Add a customer relationship management (CRM) app into the mix, and you can use your website insights to reach out to customers with personalized marketing messages and tailored online experiences. A business website gives you the opportunity to capture the same kinds of data—and use it for the same marketing opportunities—as big companies do.

How to get the most from your business website

So how can you ensure your business website is doing what you need it to do?

  • Keep up to date on search engine optimization (SEO) trends and best practices. The data on your website (especially local data such as address, hours, contact information, etc.) should be properly structured and presented for maximum visibility in search results—both traditional search and voice assisted search.
  • Create high-quality, relevant content tailored for your customers’ needs. Useful content following SEO best practices not only helps your site get found, but also makes it into snippets and other top-level search results.
  • Be a source for local listings. Keep your data up to date and integrate your site with third-party listing management services to get found in local search directories.
  • Keep your site up to par. Stay on top of trends to ensure your site keeps pace with mobile developments and provides a consistent user experience (UX). Make it easy to use with click-to-call functionality, maps, online chat, online scheduling, or whatever will enhance your website visitors’ experience.

The key is to make your small business website more than a static “brochure.” A dynamic “data hub” that enables accurate business information to flow across the internet will help consumers find you. By helping convert prospects to customers, a better website leads to more sales both online and off.

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