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.
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.
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.
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.
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.