Are Web Sites Obsolete Yet?

26 Comments

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 (s goog) 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?

26 Comments

BH

Great points. I agree with much of what you said. As a consumer, I sometimes go out of my way to search for a company’s Web site. I have to say, the ones that provide some sort of interactive element to their online presence are the ones that tend to leave positive and lasting impressions on me. Not only does it allow the consumer to interact and communicate with the company, but it provides a way for the consumer to get real opinions from fellow consumers. Certainly, it depends on the type of business. But, in most cases, most businesses should and could be incorporating more dynamic tools to their campaigns (like blogs, social networks and microblogs as you mentioned).

siteducky

Have to agree with Boston Margy and Ben. Our clients are 80% “very small” businesses. They have a website, but we are recommending to many of them to find the time to carve their niche into social networking because it’s a great way to get their name out for very little actual dollar cost. SEO takes more time (= more $ outlay) yet provides increasingly poor results for that dollar. And of course we are working to ensure they can integrate their social networking tools into their website.

But, that said, it’s not for all of them. The personality, the curiosity and ability to grasp the technology and the desire to self-promote and think out of the box all has to be strong. So what mix of social networking we recommend depends on the client and their service or product.

I personally don’t want to go to a blog for information on a product to buy (unless maybe it’s a self-published book). I don’t want to scroll through archives and search for the information that is going to help me make a buying decision. I may like to see if I “like” the face behind the company, though – it’s culture, mission, truth, vision. Making a contact and judging the quality of that contact is what I use social networking for. The architecture of a well-designed website (connected to other sources of information) is still the best way to deliver, brochure-like, the succinct data I need for making a purchasing choice of the product or service itself.

So I see social networking as supportive to the process (either in a first or last stage), but not the core. At least not for the foreseeable future. Social networking is still ‘the cocktail party’ – essential for establishing relationships and developing brand loyalty, but not the business office where you sign the contract.

Spandan

Well, not yet. An website is still your window to the world. It is the door and it is the first one which welcomes. I think the primary reasons of why Websites are not good now a days are:

1. Too cluttered – Adwords, Banners, Too much info in a single page etc.

Make it simple and easy to understand. People will call up if they need more info.

2. Expensive: You have mentioned it. It is really getting expensive in a world of blogs, free sites etc. Why are they charging more for just 10/15 html pages (it is 15 dollars plus). Is it really that much worth? I really doubt?

3. Promotion:

Promotion does not happen exactly the way it should. Rather after launching, they are mostly silent. Now everyone is not a Google or Amazon.

Ben

I tend to disagree that websites, or rather static/informational websites are obsolete and that blogs are the future. It’s almost like saying print is dead or newspapers is obsolete.

Look at Gary Vaynerchuk for example, he’s great at social media, have a huge army of fans, but at the end of the day he still have a wine store for customers to find out more about his wine and buy wine from. The rest of the social media tools he uses are just weapons to supplement his business.

Look at Obama’s campaign, he and his team uses all kinds of social networks to reach out to majority of Americans and is one of the most successful social media campaign ever, but at the end of the day he still needs an informational website barackobama.com to let people find out more about him and his efforts, can we say that that is not necessary?

An informational or static site if you prefer to call it is not obsolete, in fact it is the most fundamental ground of any campaign or any business. You might not interact with it as much as you will with a blog or a site with dynamic content, but you still need it, if you don’t, you can tweet all day, facebook all day, viral videos on youtube all day, but there’ll be no centralized place for user to know what all the noise is all about.

Michael

Boston Margy is right.

There are more and more purpose-specific providers that offer easy-to-use yet visually customizable platforms: WordPress is great for blogging, Shopify for e-commerce, Ning for social networks, Fullseat for events.

I think that instead of building static pages, brands will mix-and-match these services (say, via subdomains) to create their online presence. And although it will look like a single web site, it will be a combination of cloud-based tools skinned to look like part of the same experience.

@photoportunity

This article may be a premature obituary.
I think the answer is it depends. Most photographers, for instance, now host their portfolio on a website. For them it’s an invaluable tool to show their talent to prospective clients.

Eileen Tuttle, ABC, APR

Let each business’ solution fit its needs!

For the lawn care guy or a consultant or a parts manufacturer the ultimate question is: What is the objective?

If a businessperson wants to build relationships with potential clients, you’re dead on. A page (or 3 or 5) is pointless. Even more so if that businessperson needs to appear tech savvy.

But my housekeeper may only need a promotional front page, a calendar of available dates and a form to request a service, all of which are achievable for minimal investment. She puts it up, prints the address on her cards and fliers and voila!

Ask first what your web site can do for you, before you do your web site, right?

Jillian

I agree with Darryl. I would prefer my lawnmower guy to have a simple brochure website with his prices and contact details on, and to cut my lawn nicely rather than sit around and blog all day. What would he blog about anyway? Peering in people’s windows as he mows their lawns?

Michael Hiles

I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle. I agree that it comes down to business model and goals. It would be difficult for Dell to sell PCs from a series of interconnected blogs. Some business still actually require the POS front-end to be wired to some form of ERP system on the back.

Darryl Parker

Does no one even recognize the painful amount of time social media requires along with the technical affinity? What does the lawn care guy do? If he is Twittering all day and not cutting lawns (or dispatching those that do), he’s out of business. If he comes home at night and Twitters, he’s out of a family.

Sometimes I think social media gurus/twits need a big slap to the back of the head as a wake up call to the real world.

If you guys are talking about major brands that have people looking around for things to do better than chatting at the water cooler, then whatever. But if you are talking about the 95% of businesses in the US that make LESS than $5M a year in revenue, you had damn well better be selective with whom you encourage to pursue such a time intensive campaign.

When did time stop equaling money?

A static website can be built and deployed and maintained for a few hours a month and be VERY effective in establishing credibility with your client base. I haven’t seen a social media product yet that doesn’t require dozens of hours per month to even make a dent in the space.

I hope social media doesn’t get remembered as the “Great Distraction” in the maturing of the web…

ben

Good grief, same song, second verse.

The question is not if standalone sites, running a CMS or not, are obsolete.

Rather, the question is if a site operator can afford to build it, then let it go to seed.

That’s NEVER been the case. However, with the advent of social networking, a company’s refusal to invest their own man hours in online content is becoming more evident every day.

As for CMS deployment… if a site operator doesn’t plan to make a habit of blogging (which is a big mistake), I can take the time that would go into installing and configuring a decent CMS and use it to build a static site with a scope beyond anything that anyone on the long tail needs. I’m sure I’m not the only one who could say this.

At the bare minimum, I would expect a real world storefront to have a single page with their store address, hours of operation, phone/fax numbers, a link to some sort of e-mail, links to Yelp/CitySearch/etc., and links to whatever social media profiles they’re keeping out there. At the bare minimum, answer the six basic questions: who, what, where, why, when, and how.

As much to the point, I use Google BEFORE I use the telephone directory, and I imagine the same is true of anyone under the age of 30 (or so) who has any Internet literacy to speak of. If I only get one source (third party content or a static site) on the first SERP instead of both, I think to myself, “you’re not doing it right.”

Baron

I would like to know which magazine it is so I can watch for the article, even if you’re not the subject expert who is written about.

David Skarjune

Are [Static] Web Sites [for Marketing] Obsolete Yet? seems to be the actual question discussed. Of course, CMS web sites offer more functionality and value. Of course, social media propels networking opportunities. That doesn’t make static content obsolete. At a non-web conference yesterday, people in our industry repeatedly offered that they love a particular section of our web site, highly recommend it, and link to it all the time, as the best resource on the topic. It’s just static pages developed by experts and churning interns crammed into Drupal with simple navigation and search. Quality, comprehensiveness, and reputation still matter, and no amount of user dynamics and tweets can buy that. It’s not just scalability–what have you got to scale?

Jeremiah Staes

Are static websites obsolete, without a CMS of some sort behind them? Absolutely.

However, I think you’re missing where the vast majority of businesses are and where their clients are. Although I think social media integration is important – including bookmarks, blogs, etc., I disagree on some points.

The reality is that the solution is in the middle, in my experience. I think there’s definitely a role for the consultant/developer to maintain branding and stay on message while giving the ability to make regular changes (which, many times, clients still don’t do). And then, as the client is ready or time allows, start walking them down the social media path, together. If they’re not even updating their own site regularly, they may not have the time for social media, or it’s not really a priority for them in their eyes.

But we stopped building static, hard-coded web pages as part of our solutions a couple years ago – it doesn’t serve our clients properly to do so and creates more headaches than money it saves – on both client and consultant side.

Many businesses (at least that we walk into) were told and think you need to pay $20k-$50k for a CMS and pay $2000-$5000 a year in carrying costs (without hosting) – and that’s why they never implemented one. Those rules are out the window now for many, many places but they don’t know it.

Erik

I think you actually DO need at least some HTML know-how to put up a good blog. If you don’t customize it, it comes off looking like … “a templated site”. And if you don’t have that know-how yourself, you should give a professional designer some serious thought.

Boston Margy

I disagree. It depends on the business, since that’s what most websites are designed for. If you’re an online retailer you need a place to display and sell your merchandise and a blog won’t do that. I believe you need a combination of static and dynamic presences online and the mix is going to be determined by the type of business you’re in.

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