Over at Search Engine Land, Hanan Lifshitz, CEO of local search provider Palore, asks: Do Small Businesses Need A Website? In his post, Hanan offers a case study showing how a New York cardiologist was able to make her way into Google’s 7-pack WITHOUT the benefit of a Web site. Instead, the cardiologist claimed her listings on sites like Yelp and used social media to gain search ranking. Does a small business need a Web site? The CEO ultimately says “probably, yes”, however, unless you read to the last two lines, that’s not really the message Hanan’s post gives off. It sounds like Yet Another Web Sites Are Dying post and he’s not the only one (intentionally or not) giving off that message.

The truth is, as social media continues its rise, there have been a rash of posts explaining how the shiny new marketing tactic can be used as a workaround to having your own site. Back in March, David Port wrote a similar piece for Entrepreneur.com, arguing that the need for a Web site is going away thanks to SMBs ability to create relationships through social media. I know we’ve had this discussion over here before, but it sounds like we need to have it again.

Building a social media presence without a Web site is like getting people hot and bothered over your product and then being too lazy to open the door when they attempt to come in.  What was the point?

As I tweeted yesterday, it’s both horrible and dangerous advice to tell a SMB owner they don’t need an actual Web site. Here are 11 things you can do better on your Web site than in social media. Maybe then we can put this discussion to rest.

Control it.

This is both the most cited and most obvious reason why putting all your eggs in a social media basket is dangerous. It’s true that you can create a presence on Facebook, use Twitter to build relationships and head to LinkedIn to build expertise…but what happens should these sites change course or go away? What if Facebook decides to again take away a SMBs owners ability to create custom tabs? What if Facebook or Twitter changes their Terms of Service in a way that limits your ability to market? What if there was no Twitter at all? Unless you have a way to save your relationships and bring them back to a site that YOU own, you’ve just lost all time you’ve spent there. Hope you don’t mind starting over.

Collect emails.

One of the most powerful marketing channels for SMBs owner is email. It’s cost effective, it’s intimate and it can come with twice the conversion rates of RSS for even the most popular blogs. However, social media doesn’t inspire people to hand over their email addresses. Having a Web site that you can use to build incentive does. Whether you offer customers an email newsletter, blog, exclusives, coupons, discounts, etc, you open the door to a more personal way of contacting and marketing to them. One that is proven to work. While you can use Facebook to collect emails, it’s far more cumbersome and people aren’t as inclined to give them up. Instead, you want to create a site that users can trust and then use it to build your email list. A carefully pruned and collected email list can be one of your strongest sales tools.

Have somewhere to point to.

If you’re a band (the ultimate small business, IMO) and you use MySpace as your Web site, where are you sending people for more information? Where are they going to buy tickets, merchandise, your album, or get your true story before it hits VH1? Stop sending people to third party sites. Your own site gives you a place to point people to so they can find out more and then become a customer of yours. If you’re just talking to people through Twitter, Twitter is all you have. That’s extremely limiting. Don’t let someone put you in a box. Claim your turf and then mark it.

Have somewhere for others to LINK to.

You want links, right? You know they’re important for brand visibility? Well having a Web site also gives the people who want to support you a place to link to. Not everyone feels comfortable linking to a Twitter or Facebook account because it doesn’t feel “official” enough. Give them a real Web site. Set up shop on the Web and let people know that THIS is where people should go to get information about what you’re doing. When people do a search for you, you want them to find the REAL you.

Set the record straight.

Having a Web site gives you a place to set the record straight when you have something to say. Have a small ORM fire you need to put you. As a SMB, you probably don’t need a massive online reputation management undertaking. You simply need a place to air what happened. You need a blog or a press section of your Web site to address your audience. Have you ever tried putting out a fire via 140 characters? It’s not pretty. Give yourself some more characters and the peace of mind of having a soapbox when you need it.

Leverage relationships.

If you’re not using social media to create relationships and bring people back to your site, then you’re not really using social media. The point is to go out into these satellite communities and use the relationships to build YOUR community aka the one that exists on your site. Use social media to find customers, to find blog subscribers, to grow your email newsletter and to sell product. Social media is the number one emerging channel for lead generation. You should be taking the relationships you formed on social media and the moving them off. If you never move your social media relationships off Twitter than you’re just out there making small talk about discussing your love for Glee. Fun, perhaps, but not exactly profitable.

Give people what they want.

Your Web site is your best sales tools because it allows you to specifically address your customers. It’s your place to answer their questions, to give them the information they’re seeking, and to make yourself stand out from the pack. Yeah, you can customize a Facebook page and add some new tabs, but your corporate Web site can be completely created around serving your customers without limiting what you can or cannot do. You can put different types of content and resources on one location. On your site you make the rules.

Sell.

Yes. Your Web site is the place where you sell. Not social media. Keep that in mind.

Establish your own authority.

All the effort you’re spending building Twitter or Facebook’s kingdom, turn some of that into building your own. You want to take the connections you make out in social media and use them to build a community on your own site. Because that’s how social media is going to really benefit you – when it’s used to build your own authority. You want your site to become the Must Read hub on your topic. You do that by attracting people and then siphoning them over to your Web site and into your real community. That’s how you grow your brand’s authority and become a major player.

Provide the bigger picture about your company.

While social media is great, it doesn’t give someone the full picture about your business. It doesn’t tell me who you are, how long you’ve been doing what you do, what you specialize in, etc. I get that from your Web site. Your Web site is where I have been trained to go when I’m looking for the full picture about your company.  If I have a customer service problem, I may hit you up on Twitter. However, your site is there to woo me. That’s how you get me swooning enough to do business with you.

It has real analytics

Social media analytics are improving every day. There are ways to track conversions and funnels. However, it’s still much easier to track a conversion that happens on your site than one that happens off-site. You can somewhat track on Twitter and Facebook, but you have a much better ability to follow people if you can get them on your site.

Can you get your site visibility by making sure that your listings are claimed, building out your Google Place Page and partaking in social media? Yeah, you can. But by creating a genuine Web presence (one that doesn’t use a cookie cutter Web template) you give yourself control you can’t get simply by relying on social media alone. Having a Web site provides you a way to speak directly to your audience, to control the terms you’re ranking for and to leverage the relationships that you create on social media. Without it, you’re writing a check you can’t fully cash.


About the Author

Lisa Barone

Lisa Barone co-founded Outspoken Media in 2009 and served as Chief Branding Officer until April 2012.


31 thoughts on “11 Reasons Your SMB Still Needs A Web Site


  • Hugo from Zeta on said:

    Well done, Lisa.

    Leveraging social and local channels without having a core website is truly ass backwards. You’ve got to get your house (e.g. website) in order before you start mingling on the social scene.

    Well, actually, in this case, you need to have a house (e.g. website). Otherwise, you don’t even have anywhere to invite people over to.

    P.S. I’ve actually spoken to one large org that decided to make their official Facebook page their core site/hub. It made a little bit of sense because they were in the Facebook gaming business, but I still found it odd that they would be willing to lend all of their marketing equity to a third party (Facebook) that could be here today and gone tomorrow.


    • Lisa Barone on said:

      I totally agree with the “getting your house in order” idea. It really makes little sense to go getting people excited about what you have to offer…and then not having anything to actually show them. It seems completely dangerous that a SMB would put their entire business onto a site that they have no control over, be it Facebook, Twitter, whatever. Yes, claim your listings and your presence, but you need something to stand on.


  • Josh on said:

    While it is free to setup a social media account, the point you’ve mentioned should be good enough for any SMB to invest in a website. It doesn’t have to be grand or fancy, just something to accomplish what’s been listed.


    • Lisa Barone on said:

      You’re right in that it doesn’t have to be “grand” or “fancy” but I’d advise SMBs to stay away from the cheap templates sites. Because at that point, you’re not creating a real Web site anyone. Or at least not one that will differentiate you from anyone else. There’s difference between a one page Web site with your hours and a site that will actually answer a customer’s questions and make them want to do business with you.


  • Alan Bleiweiss on said:

    Welcome back Lisa!

    It’s really sad how business owners are constantly looking for the easy ticket based on what they read. Sure, I understand that there’s an expense in development and maintenance costs that come along with a web site. Yes, I get it that in today’s economy, business owners are looking more than ever for ways to cut expenses.

    Yet it boggles the mind to consider how much they’re losing out on by not having a proper web presence through a site. Do they not grasp how many people conducting a search for the products or services they offer will NOT find them if they limit themselves to Google place pages and social media?

    Pure insanity…


    • Lisa Barone on said:

      Google Place Pages scares me a bit. I think SMB owners are going to view that as their ticket to visibility. However, with all the time they’re spending creating these profiles, you would think they’d dedicated SOME of that time to building something that will last and that they’ll be able to leverage.


  • Andreea Townsend on said:

    Josh. Well said. And if a company can’t afford a fancy website, there are certainly some good templates out there that are fairly easy to use that just require good content.


    • Lisa Barone on said:

      I’d caution SMBs to be cautious of the templates just because I don’t think you’ll really get the full benefit. Oftentimes those templated sites come with a lot of restrictions or an inability to customize things to your liking. Again, it’s a bit like creating a presence without being able to control it.


  • Todd Mintz on said:

    While I certainly agree with you, you failed to address the important question of whether a “Suck” website is better than no site at all…since many small businesses left to their own devices are incapable of getting a site created that will meet the objectives you listed above.


    • Hugo from Zeta on said:

      Ah, valid point.

      I would argue that a “suck” website is still better than no website at all. My “get your house in order” analogy would apply here as well (e.g. spend a little money to fix your “suck” website).


    • Lisa Barone on said:

      May I ask what exactly a “suck” Web site is? :) A thin site or one built off a template? I’m sincerely asking.

      Depending on how exactly you define that, I may consider a “suck” Web site the same as having no site as all, simply because if you can’t customize and control it, than what do you really have? For a SMB owner, you don’t need a site of hundreds of pages, you may not even need a site with 20 pages. If you’re serious about your SMB, it should be considered worth the investment to buy a domain, get hosting and find someone who can help you create something that at least holds its weight. You don’t have to get fancy.


      • Dawn Wentzell on said:

        How about one built by so-and-so’s 12 year old nephew? How bout one in Flash? Those are definitely “suck” websites, and don’t necessarily do the company any favours.


      • Julie Kosbab on said:

        As you say: buy a domain. I have seen it recommended to SMBs many times, far more often that I care to count, that they can just set something up on WordPress or Blogger.

        Obviously (to us), this sets them up on a custom subdomain.blogspot.com or subdomain.wordpress.com. So for promotional purposes, you have a dog of a URL, and if you ever care to pick up a ‘real’ domain name or change platforms, both services make it well-nigh impossible to migrate properly.

        I don’t hate the two services mentioned, but I think it’s worth the small amount of $ to at least associate the site created to a fully registered domain name. If you aren’t optimistic enough about your business to spend ~$25-35 bucks to get a website up and running, you need to rethink what you’re doing.


        • rick gregory on said:

          I’m not sure about Blogger, but wordpress.com does have a domain mapping service that’s available for a small fee as do Posterous and Tumblr. The nice thing about doing this is that it removes the issues of hosting, making sure your site is up to date (if it’s based on a CMS like WordPress), etc. It’s not as flexible as a site that you can fully customize, but it does reduce the barrier to getting a site up and running.

          The problem I’ve run into time and again is people who don’t maintain a site. The put it up there and, when it doesn’t magically transform their business, let it languish.


    • Julie Kosbab on said:

      The rude side of me would like to suggest small time drug dealers as one such exception. I listened to a member of my staff explain to a criminal defense lawyer why his website came up so strongly for searches by people seeking out houses of prostitution in his locale, as well. (Reason: Brothels aren’t legal in his state, so they don’t exactly design sweet custom websites.)


  • Chris on said:

    Hi Lisa,
    And one other really obvious, but often overlooked aspect of any business owning their own domain name is email on their own domain name.
    Again, much more credible in business than a “business-name@hotmail” email addy!


  • Heather Villa on said:

    Not to mention that consumers/client/customers expect you to have a website. If you’re a small business and a customer asks for your website address and you say, “We don’t have an actual website, but we are on Twitter and Facebook,” check out the face of the customer. You just lost some credibility there.

    Customers/clients understand, “We have a website, but we’re still working on it. Check it out and let us know how we can improve it.” But when you say you don’t even have one, I think they take you and your business a bit less seriously.


  • Michael Swartz on said:

    Don’t forget about the people (i.e. your customers) who will never join Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. I know many who haven’t or won’t join, but they use the internet quite frequently.


  • John Ashworth on said:

    Great post Lisa,

    Especially the comment about “what if any of these sites go away.” In everything I develop online, that truth is always living in the back of my head. What should I be making sure to do so that I am in control of my presence online.

    I have multiple sites with multiple purposes, and at least for me, I use my social media stuff to point there, not as an exclusive solution for my online presence. That’s ridiculous.

    John


  • Catherine Davis on said:

    This is a great post and really good conversation. I do think that many small businesses and brands don’t have the resources/expertise (more than dollars) within their current structures to do it all. There is a real need to prioritize and do a few things well. They need to find the right overall marketing mix on and offline to really build their businesses. I would argue that even larger businesses need to pick and choose the marketing channels that best support their objectives.


  • Christine Morris on said:

    These days, there really is no reason not to have a website for your smb. What’s almost as bad as not having a website is not keeping it updated. I think many believe it is too difficult to update or not as important. With technology today, it is very easy to keep your website updated either by your self or with the help of a dedicated virtual assistant.

    I will be sure to share this important post with my clients!


  • Melissa Andersen on said:

    This is a great post. I am currently new with a company that had the company that comes from a “traditional business” standpoint. They have a website but have been terrified of letting me tweek it to be optimized for using it with social media (which they also have a lot of privacy concerns with).


  • ted benson on said:

    With all of the great editing tools available today, it’s hard to believe that anyone would use a cheap template…but of course they do. Some have to learn the hard way, i guess.


  • Christopher J on said:

    One of my projects is to put together a business (and website!) to market my services as a web developer. So thanks, your points are certainly compelling, and helpful for me in trying to come up with convincing arguments to sell the services I intend to provide.


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