The Website Imperative For Small Business

Social Media Should Not Replace Your Small Business Website

It’s shocking that there are so many small businesses that do not operate their own Internet web site on their own unique domain.

It makes no difference what kind of business you operate. If you do not have your own website, you are missing out. Let’s look at why.

What A Website Is For

These days you probably have some sense of the purposes of your own website, since chances are you are both a business owner and a website visitor. Let’s go through them anyway.

  • To provide basic information about your business: location, what you sell or provide, and how you can help potential customers.
  • To establish a branded “image” for your company that is consistent with what you do, your values, and your unique selling proposition.
  • To provide a means of customer contact, so you can answer questions, and interact via two way conversation publicly and to communicate special events, discounts, etc.
  • To sell directly to customers over the web, if your business type is consistent with web shopping.
  • To create a community around the function of your business, where people can interact with each other, so there is an opportunity for customers to sell “you” to potential customers.
  • To serve as a venue YOU control to which you funnel people from social media, to a place that is custom designed to reflect your business.
  • To show off your knowledge, skills, abilities and personality.

Why A Website? Why Not Social Media?

Many small businesses believe that it’s sufficient to have a presence on social media (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Pinterest) and that a web site is no longer required. It’s easy to set up on social media; it requires no technical skills, and it’s easy to be seduced by the hundreds of millions of people that “hang out” there.

There’s no question that businesses should be on social media – every bit of exposure helps, but not as a replacement for your own website. Here’s why:

  • A small business should never rely on a third party with whom they have no legal, binding contract. You never want your business held for ransom if a social media platform changes its policies, decides to restrict what you want to do, closes or is taken over by a company with a different agenda. It’s not unheard of for the major social media platforms to suspend accounts, often without having an actual human being to verify there is valid reason for suspension or cancellation.
  • You can customize your own website as you see fit. You simply don’t have the control over look and feel of your Internet material if you rely on Facebook, or LinkedIn. If you want to stand out in the crowd, you need more customization than social media platforms allow. Any data you gather, follower lists, newsletter subscribers, and customer data belong to you.
  • You control what the visitor sees. Specifically, in social media, the platforms will place ads, since that’s how they make money. You may see ads from competitors, or ads that you might deem detrimental to your business. That’s not an issue with your own site. You can place ads, if you like as a supplemental source of income. Or not. It’s up to you, not the social media company.
  • Portability. In the event that something happens to your social media account, or that you decide you no longer want to maintain it, you can’t take your followers with you (at least in some cases). When you run your own site, and collect data, you can move that information anywhere.
  • Uncluttered Interface. Typically, social media account pages are extremely cluttered with lots of user generated content, links, etc., that can make it difficult for customers to find the information about your company that they are looking for at that moment. A simple, clearly organized website makes it easier and faster, and users are less likely to get distracted by all the other material they see on something like Facebook.
  • Your website is more “permanent”. Social media is like a stream. Posts move on down the stream past the person observing, and then tend to never be seen or accessed again. Your website is different. What you put there can be featured, found in search engines, and read forever. You want to build a website that has content that will be “evergreen”, or, in other words, can be as useful to customers today as it was ten years ago.

The Downside To A Small Business Website

The biggest difference between using a website vs. using social media platforms, is that you need to have some technical skills that you may lack. Social media, at least once you get used to a specific platform requires no coding, and basically no technical expertise.

There are some ways to get around this if you don’t want to pay someone to create and maintain your website, or learn the skills or develop them in-house.

You can set up a website free of charge or for a nominal fee on a blogging platform (WordPress or Blogger). You can even have your account accessible at a specific domain name you purchase, which is important.

While you don’t NEED technical skills to do that, you will be somewhat limited in terms of customization, and control of ads that might be shown.

There are other hybrid models for having a website that may reduce the need to have technical skills. Many web hosts will allow you to auto install (free) a blogging platform that lives on your own site. That’s a nice half way alternative, since once it’s installed, you don’t have to worry about customizing it until you feel the need. Having that software installed allows you to focus on content, rather than technical issues.

Closing With An Example

It’s absolutely amazing that so many restaurants do not have their own websites. That means that if potential customers looking for a specific cuisine in your area cannot find you, or they may be lead to blank pages on various websites that you have not made and over which you have no control.

There are countless restaurants where a search for the name of the restaurant yield blank pages, or pages on Yelp or review sites, again, that they haven’t set up, and lack the information diners want before deciding where to visit.

Or, if restaurants are relying on, let’s say Facebook, it’s often the case that they can’t find specific information they want — e.g. whether vegetarian meals are available, or gluten free dishes, or, even finding directions to get to the business.

Part of the difficulty is that restaurants (or any business) do not take their social media presence seriously, and simply don’t anticipate the need.

The other part is the nature of social media.

The bottom line: You want customers and prospective customers to go to YOU first, and you directly. That way, you control their experience with your business, in an uncluttered and focused way, and avoid losing customers who get distracted by all the other stuff on something like Facebook.

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