There are over 45 million small businesses that maintain a page on Facebook (FB 1.18%). Earlier this month, Facebook made those pages even more useful for businesses with its first major product update since 2012.
Page owners will now be able to showcase products and services, create a clear call to action, and start interactions with potential customers via Messenger. What's more, pages will be optimized for mobile, the way 844 million people access Facebook every day.
With increasing competition for small business ad dollars from Amazon.com (AMZN 0.25%) and Google (GOOG -1.29%) (GOOGL -1.34%), Facebook's new features should help it maintain its strong position with small businesses.
Facebook as a service
Pages are largely seen as a way for businesses to establish a presence online. Small businesses, in particular, can benefit from the ease of setting up a page on Facebook compared with developing a website from scratch. That's because pages are built just like Facebook profiles, so there's no learning curve.
But businesses and individuals are different (regardless of what corporate tax law has to say about it) and have different needs. The revamp is focused on selling goods and services -- one of the key aspects of business. Some pages will be equipped with buy buttons that allow users to purchase items without leaving Facebook. Businesses that require more customization will receive a "Message to Buy" button.
In fact, the new page redesign has a much bigger focus on messaging than previously. A few weeks ago, Facebook rolled out new messaging features around pages, encouraging page owners to establish a larger presence on mobile. The new page design features the option for users to contact businesses through Messenger front and center.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has noted in the past that the first step to monetizing Messenger as a platform is to get more businesses using it. He likens Messenger to how Facebook began monetizing once it built up a large number of businesses on its social network using pages. It should be no surprise that Facebook is leveraging pages' popularity to push businesses toward Messenger.
Overall, the new design enables businesses to do much more than before. Many small businesses looking to establish a presence on mobile could be well-served by the new pages. After all, it's a lot easier to ask customers to check out a Facebook page than to download and use a new app.
The competition is fierce
Google is also dependent on small businesses for a huge portion of its advertising revenue. Some might say even more so than Facebook, since Google relies on a network of small-time publishers for its display-ad inventory. Google has been working to appeal to small and local businesses recently as well.
The company is leveraging its search lead to push its products such as Google+, which allow businesses to establish a presence. More active pages with more reviews often find their way to the top of Google's local search results in both Web search and Google Maps. That's quite an incentive for small businesses.
Amazon, meanwhile, entered the home-services market last year with its Amazon Local business. With the amount of commerce Amazon already conducts through its website, extending to local services represents a significant threat to other companies in the business of referring services. It could also affect Facebook, which benefits from businesses advertising those services on its platform, not on Amazon's.
Making Facebook indispensable for businesses
The ultimate goal for Facebook is to convert businesses with a presence on Facebook into paid advertisers. So far, it has about 45 million active businesses and just 2 million active advertisers. That's about in line with Facebook's historical performance in converting businesses into advertisers.
The new page design ought to attract more businesses to Facebook's platform and, more importantly, give them more ways to interact with customers. Each new customer touch point is an opportunity for Facebook to monetize. As a result, we could see that conversion rate improve. But even if it doesn't, I expect the changes will keep businesses flocking to Facebook, despite the strong competition from several tech leaders.