For most organizations and projects, it may seem 15-20 years too late to ask the question “Do I really need my own website?” but it’s a question I hear with some regularity, often for reasons that make a certain amount of sense. Pointy-headed intellectual that I am, I enjoy answering honest questions that don’t take anything for granted and address fundamental principles.
You might assume most of these folks say things like “I don’t even own a cell phone” or “I’m not computer literate” but most of those people don’t reach out to a website consultancy in the first place. The ones I’m interested in lean toward the tech-savvy end of the spectrum, and they pose the question thusly:
What will a custom website do that I can’t accomplish on Facebook? Or if not Facebook, they say Instagram, LinkedIn, Snapchat, Yelp, or whatever industry/demographic niche they’ve spent a lot of time developing and/or is the buzzy site of the moment. Some folks believe that if they have a large and lively following on [insert social network] that’s good enough, less work, cheaper, and so forth.
This isn’t a dumb premise. Some people are self-aware enough to realize they don’t have the time, budget, skills, or dedication to maintain a website, and piggybacking on a social network is an easy and affordable way to have an online presence—sometimes even a thriving online presence that’s getting good results.
So why isn’t that good enough?
For your consideration, here are three indisputable reasons that having your own website is worthwhile:
- you have total control, so it’s the only way to ensure a permanent foundation for your online presence
- you receive the benefits of all your hard work, and as your site evolves, the value of this asset increases
- having the content on your site helps drive more traffic to your site via SEO and links from other sites and networks
That’s the short answer. Let’s dig a little deeper into each. . .
Facebook has recently announced that they’ll roll out yet another tweak to the algorithm that drives their News Feed. This one’s major, promising to respond to users’ constant (and justified) complaints that posts from friends and families are buried under a relentless deluge of spammy posts from businesses and organizations. This is welcome news for most users, but it’s potentially disastrous for businesses that rely on free Facebook posts to rally their followers. Zuck & Co. explicitly state that businesses not paying for ads will have a much harder time showing up in users’ feeds. Of course, the point is to increase ad revenue by preventing organizations from getting lots of free visibility by becoming experts at the art of posting.
Every social network wants to build a massive user base, then monetize it by selling expensive ads. They change their algorithms, terms of service, features, display methods, and anything else they want, whenever they want. They don’t have to justify their actions, and all of their actions are driven by business math that benefits them, not you.
This means that if you’re willing to study a given social network, you may become accomplished at regularly getting highly visible posts. We advise clients on how to do this all the time, and some get great results! That said, the rules can change out from under you at any time, and you can’t predict how or why, or what effect it’ll have on your project. Sometimes changes can be fatal to a certain approach, and it can take a long time to make the adjustments that get your marketing back where it was. . . sometimes organizations never recover and have to start from scratch.
Owning your website, and using social networks to leverage content that you own and control, assures that you have a foundation that is always under your control. Any changes made to the platform will be to your advantage, not someone else’s business. If you decide you’ve had enough of [insert your current favorite social network here] and want to move to [the next big thing] all you have to do is start posting somewhere else. You don’t have to move all your content, because it’s always right where it’s always been. . . on YOUR site.
This is especially important because popularity of websites is so volatile, seemingly changing completely every few years. Where is MySpace now? What about Friendster? More recently, how did G+ work out for you? Snapchat was once the next unstoppable powerhouse. . . now it’s not quite circling the drain, but it’s probably at least eyeing the drain nervously. One of these days, Facebook and Instagram and Twitter will all be doing the same. If that’s where all your content is trapped, it’s tough luck for you.
Creating interesting, useful website content is hard work, and it shows when site owners spend a lot of time and brain power to that end. When you make a great site, it’s like building your own house, or harvesting the flowers or vegetables you planted in a garden last spring, or making a painting: you’ve accomplished something you can look at with pride and satisfaction.
A good site is also an asset with value, i.e. it can be sold. Just as a thriving restaurant can be sold—and the new owner can keep the same decor, chef, and front of house staff—business owners can factor a fantastic website into the selling price of a business. You can’t sell your 8000 Facebook followers and your 12000 Twitter followers, because you don’t own Facebook or Twitter.
If you take the time to regularly post to a blog, maintain a calendar of events, or add new pages to your site, you’ll slowly (or quickly, depending on your level of motivation) accumulate an impressive body of knowledge and creativity. If you do that with care and foresight, this body of work can be one of the most important things you do to drive traffic to your site:
- people will link to your content from their blogs, post it to whatever social network is ascendant at the moment, and so forth. this leads to more visibility on all those other places without you doing any more work.
- all those inbound links will radically increase your visibility on search engines, as the number of people who reference you is another of the very most important factors in all contemporary search algorithms. and if you’re crafty about using good keywords and phrases in all of your blog posts, the search engines will increase your page rank by virtue of all the occurrences of those keywords on your site, surrounded by great content.
If you do all that work on your own site, it’ll drive content to a permanent asset that you control and cultivate as long as you want to. If you do it on Twitter (or wherever) it’s owned by an ephemeral organization that could disappear in a month or twelve months or five years. . . but almost inevitably will sooner or later.