Is a website still necessary for small business?

Google Places

In the last few months Google has been making numerous updates to their local search engine called Google Places in order to compete with other local search services like Yelp. There is also the social sharing aspect of Foursquare that Google is looking to take advantage of as part of Places Hotpot. With a well optimized Places listing appearing atop organic search engine results when local search terms are used, does having a Places listing become more important these days than having a company website? Do Places listings give local businesses an advantage over national retailers? Yes and no.

Local companies should still maintain or plan to build a website in order to promote their business online. Websites can still generate targeted web traffic for even smaller companies and provide 24-7 customer service that a places listing cannot. Websites also provide a more clear brand message to help set your services apart from the rest of your competition. Places listings should be considered a competitive advantage to smaller local companies that would otherwise not have the same exposure for much broader keywords. For example, “Men’s Suits in Cleveland” will return larger retailers but also local companies.

What local strategies are you using for your business or SEO clients? Do you feel having a website today is as important as it was in say 2005?