Websites – Still Important in a Social Media World

Candice gave the following talk at the Women’s Business Council in Marion today. Ok, so she went off script a bit as all great speakers do, but this is the write-up. As always, we’d love to get your feedback, just leave a comment.

Today it’s more important than ever that businesses and organizations have a web presence. Having a website allows your business to be open 24/7 without you actually being there. It allows you to showcase your business to a wider audience, advertise on a limited budget, and so much more. Customers are no longer opening up a phone book to look for a business – they’re using the internet to not only find a name and phone number, but also learn about the exact services and pricing a business offers.

Many businesses, particularly small businesses, find it difficult to find the time and money to put into their online marketing, or they simply just don’t see the value in a website. More and more businesses are turning to social media as their primary web presence and forgoing a simple, basic domain name and website. And while it may seem like a good short-term solution as far as cost and time, it can really be a hindrance to your business.

Let’s talk about ownership first. Imagine there’s a fire that completely wiped out your business. Everything is gone – the building, the equipment, the product – everything. You have nothing left and you’re stuck starting from scratch all over again. Now imagine that in terms of your online presence. Imagine you’ve spent hours perfecting your marketing campaign, tweaking your website, uploading photos, etc and then the free service you’re using just goes up in flames. They shut down their servers without notice and no chance to back up or retrieve all that work you’ve done. How would that affect your business?

This can and does happen. Just last year Blogetery.com, which hosted over 73,000 personal online blogs, was shut down without warning by the US Government because a handful of users had posted terrorist-related information.Because of the government’s involvement, the hosting company providing the server space refused to even let innocent users access to back up and save their files.

Ownership is incredibly valuable to a business. Ownership of your business’ domain name and website ensures that your online web presence is exactly what you want it to be. It also ensures that it stays there for as long as you foot the bill.

Control- All of us see the complaints on Facebook whenever they change anything. What if your business relies on Facebook as your sole online presence? What if suddenly Facebook decided to severely limit the ways businesses use their pages and interact with customers, or do away with them altogether?

As a user of a free service your scope of control is incredibly limited by the provider. You’re limited on what you can and can’t do, how you can and can’t interact with customers, etc. Having your own website means having complete and total control. It can look and feel the way you want it to. You can interact with customers how you want to. You can have a website that is flashy and really catches the customers attention. As far as websites go, you’re only limited by your imagination (and budget, of course).  You know your customer base better than Facebook does, and you shouldn’t be letting Facebook tell you how you can and can’t market to your customers.

Limited Audience - A website is a universal marketing piece. Anyone can see it anywhere in the world. Facebook and other social media, however, limit your audience. While it may seem like everyone is on Facebook, the truth is that onlya little over 50 percent of the U.S. population has a Facebook account. Worse, Facebook’s own statistics only state that 50% of active users log on to Facebook in any given day. So take your amount of fans and divide that number in half. On any given day that you make a status update to your business page, an average of only half of your fans will see it. And that’s if Facebook even deems it “important enough” to show up in your feed.

Social media isn’t limited to Facebook – there’s also Twitter, Google+, Yelp, FourSquare, etc. Users that aren’t on one may very well be on another. Also, look for niche marketing opportunities – those ‘underground communities’ that are specifically geared towards your business. Ravelry, for example, is an online community geared towards people like myself who knit, crochet, weave, etc. It’s a huge community of people interested in fiber arts, and it’s a great place to advertise if you’re in that field because it’s exactly your target audience.

Insights - One of the most important things in online marketing is to know where you stand in terms of visits, page referrers, search engine key words, etc. Google offers a free tool called Analytics. In a nutshell, it’s a system that tracks how many people visit, how they got to your website, what key words they searched for to get there, what city/state/country they’re in, and so much more. Everything you want and need to know about your customers is right at your fingertips in an easy-to-understand format. Free services for websites and social media don’t offer you the ability to take advantage of this. Facebook does offer page administrators access to some of this information, however it can’t tell you what search terms were used to find your page, or what specific city in Ohio your visitors are from.

Ultimately, social media is a marketing tool and should be used as such. Use your website to make the sales, and use your social media to direct people back to your website. When you add a new product to your online store, or a new blog post, or a new coupon, link it up on Facebook!

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