Are Web Sites Obsolete Yet?

I was recently interviewed as a “web expert” for a national women’s magazine. The reporter kept trying to get me to explain how a professional could build a static web site on the cheap to effectively “manage online reputation.”

“Web sites don’t really actively manage your online reputation,” I countered.

“Yes, but aren’t there free templates that people can use to set up cheap web sites? And what about hiring someone to create a one-page site?”

“I’m sure there are templates, but I would never recommend to a client today to build a web site like that,” I explained. “And I’d never recommend that anyone just put up a single page.”

My comments didn’t faze the writer, who was determined to present me as a “web expert” recommending cheap and easy web site building solutions for her article.

That exchange got me thinking: How did I – a former web developer – become so anti-web site? And why is a national publication promoting an article advising that businesspeople build web sites for themselves to manage their online reputation, especially when their chosen web expert was telling them, “Don’t do it!“?

Why static web sites don’t really cut it any more

I don’t really think web sites are obsolete. Clearly, blogs are fundamentally web sites, but they are more dynamic and have more interactive features.

My feeling is that static “plain vanilla” web sites:

  • have limited impact on your online reputation. Basic web sites, as I’ve defined them, just don’t have as much influence as they once did. They’re being replaced by an array of social media, where your reach can be exponentially greater, with much less effort on your part.
  • have limited interactive capabilities. Blogs and blog engines are much better suited for integrating interactive features, embedding widgets, and interconnecting social media accounts.
  • are too expensive compared to other available solutions. A simple three to five page web site can still cost at $300-$500, or more, through a web developer. That’s if you can find a reputable one willing to take such a small project. Then there are the “hidden” costs of web hosting and fees for site updates. It all adds up and “affordable” can become “nickel and dime nightmare.”
  • are still too complicated for most non-technical clients to build, much less manage. Unless there is a built-in CMS, even a five page site can be nearly impossible for someone without the required  HTML and graphic skills to update properly, even if they have an  expensive authoring tool tool like Dreamweaver.
  • have less of a positive professional impact when templated. Let’s face it, a templated static site site almost always looks like…a templated site. Strangely, there doesn’t seem to be a bias against Twitter and MySpace pages that look “templated.” Yet.

What works instead of static web sites today

  • blogs or blog engines behind sites. Blog engines are much more flexible these days and for the most part allow easy integration of “widgets” and other tools to incorporate other social media into the blog. You don’t need a developer or designer, or even HTML know-how, to use many of today’s blogging tools. You still end up with a clean, professional-looking blog that you can use to manage both content and comments with ease.
  • social networks. Google my name and my Facebook, FriendFeed and LinkedIn accounts show up on the first page. Until blogs and social networks, only my web site showed up and the rest were mentions of me on other people’s sites. It’s nice that other people mention me, but when it comes to managing my online reputation, I can’t control what they say. For businesses, Facebook Pages and Facebook Advertising add a great deal of power to building and managing online reputation.
  • microblogs. Soon after I joined Twitter, my account showed up on the first page of Google results for my name and has never left its lofty position. Twitter appears often and high on Google searches.  So people can find you via your Twitter page and then link over to your static web site or, better yet, your blog.

Yes, there are very specific cases when only a web site will do for a client, and static web sites still make good archives and basic information destinations. Even I use a five page static “placeholder” site as a destination for my new consulting company.

However, whenever possible, I recommend integrating a blog, microblog and some relevant, strategic social network visibility into the mix to manage your online reputation have a far greater impact on awareness-building.

The main caveats, of course, are make sure there is consistent monitoring in place and a solid policy on how to handle negative statements or conversations about you or your company in the social media. But if you are not there in the first place and are, instead, twiddling your thumbs with a “plain vanilla” static web site waiting for people to come to you, you’re about to get lost in the shuffle.

Are static, “plain vanilla” web sites obsolete?

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