There’s a scary trend going on out there suggesting that websites are going away because more people are focused on social networks or apps. There are even some experts out there recommending that you forgo the website and just focus on a Facebook page or operate your entire business from a mobile app.
While I don’t think a totally unique website with all the bells and whistles (Remember when everyone HAD to have a Flash intro?) is a necessity, the concept of building a business without a website disturbs me. And not because I build websites for a living.
I believe the notion of eliminating a website stems from not having a clear idea of why a website is needed in the first place. It’s like removing your appendix because you don’t think it’s needed. Could you function without one? Sure. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t have a unique purpose for being there in the first place. So let’s explore the different roles and functions a website can play.
If someone wants to learn more about your business, where do they go to find it? These days people go straight to the internet. Sure you can add short and long descriptions to Facebook, but that is limited. You need space to describe product usage, services, team members, FAQs, provide manuals and support.
It is also where you can display thought leadership in your area of expertise through blogs, eBooks and other content forms. Social media, email and other digital channels provide you a way to share that content. I know there is a movement on social networks to be able to store that content (think long form posts like blogs and video content), but the issue of control becomes really serious when all your digital assets are stored on a third-party platform. More on that later.
Shopify gives you the ability to add buy buttons to Facebook and Pinterest. But you still need an e-commerce storefront. You still need to upload products somewhere. And that somewhere is typically a secure website. You can do so through Facebook now through 3rd party apps.
Websites are a good place to offer your clients more in depth support. Social media also does this rather well. But nine times out of ten the goal of the support specialist on social is to take the conversation off the public page and into a private message. If the answer is already found on the website, you can simply provide the client with a link. The key with support is to have multiple points of touch. If they’re on your website you want them to find what they’re looking for.
You can create sophisticated lead capture mechanisms on your website – from contact pages to pop-ups. You can use tracking pixels for retargeting. Database-driven websites can even rearrange content based on visitor data. They can allow for password protected content, separate landing pages and forms that collect little or a lot of data.
You might be on Facebook. And they might make billions off your data. But violate terms or get reported or who knows what else and they can yank your page. Just like that. Everything. Gone. We’ve already seen that your exposure on the platform decreases as your fans get more friends and likes more pages, and Facebook adjusts their algorithm to show people what they really want to see (which consequently ends up not being your business). You’re all but invisible as it were apart from paid advertising. You’re really going to leave your brand’s exposure dependent on pleasing (or paying up to) the Facebook gods?
Unless you’re doing something illegal or are the victim of hacking, hosting companies typically don’t take websites down. There YOU get to control content, branding and layout.
Facebook forces all brands into a template. While this can help give the appearance of a level playing field it limits your ability to be creative. Sure you can upload graphics and videos, but let’s not kid ourselves, you have much more latitude with a website that you control vs Facebook. I’ve had several clients ask if I can rearrange the layout of the page. Nope. Facebook doesn’t allow it. You are stuck working according to their rules. And we know that can change whenever – rendering your neatly sized graphics to amateur-like posting.
I say all that to say that the website is still relevant. It’s still very functional and important to your business. Exchanging your own slice of the internet for a corner of social network territory is a sketchy place to be. Websites have a purpose. So do social networks. The point is not to try to focus on one and not the other, but to use them to compliment each other in an overarching marketing strategy.