So, do you really need a website?
Absolutely. Next question?
That really is the short answer. But I’m always happy to elaborate for those who want more.
Large businesses, and small businesses that get a lot of clients or customers online, obviously need a website. But you may wonder if you need a website if you have a storefront, an office, or some other physical place of business. You may also think that social media or other listings are enough. You may not think having a website is worth the time, expense, and upkeep. You may feel that same way if your business gets all or most of its customers/clients from means other than the internet, and that is unlikely to change much if you had a site. What benefits will you gain from a website?
The Internet is Today’s Phonebook
For one thing, the internet now is rather like a phonebook was a few decades ago. No business would neglect having a listing in the yellow pages. If possible, they’d opt for ads–full, half, or quarter page, or at least (if not in addition), a small display within the listings. The phonebook was where people would turn to find out what businesses existed in the area, what they offered, their hours, and how to reach them.
These days, people find that information by going to the internet. This is becoming even more the case as people use smartphones for everything. If they do a search for “plumbers/lawyers/restaurants/financial planners in [your city],” will your business come up? If you aren’t on the internet, you are invisible to many people.
Credibility and Authority Builds Trust
People do business with people and companies they trust. If they don’t know you, they look for clues that you are trustworthy, such as your ads, client testimonials, and other indicators. Your website can be a huge factor in encouraging people to trust you and use your services or products.
A website also lets you present your message fully. Your space is unlimited, quite unlike an ad. You can share your history, tell your story, explain your philosophy detail your process. No, not everyone will read everything, but it will be there for those that do — and more will than you expect. Especially if your site copy is well-written and focused on the customer. (Consider professional copywriting.)
A well-done Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section can establish your expertise and authority, demonstrating your knowledge about a subject. It can also explain to customers what to expect when they do business with you, which will help assure them.
If You Don’t Get Clients Online
You may have a specialty business that people do not seek out, on or off line. I know such a company. The owner has a handful of clients, and he got them – and will get any new ones – through referrals from people in the industry, networking at conventions and meetings, and ads in trade journals. Why should he have a website?
The website helps people take his business seriously. They can look at his site to find out the services he offers, how to reach him, learn about his background, and read testimonies from satisfied clients. Plus, it shows that he’s living in this century, and embraces technology.
Simply put, a website gives a business credibility. Even if the website never brings in a single customer, just having it gives your business a legitimacy it would otherwise lack.
Another Source to Consider
Sean Platt and Danny Cooper note in The Beginner’s Guide to Building a Powerful Website:
Yes, your business can get by without a website. It might even thrive. If you already have a loyal customer base, you could probably stay profitable doing what you’re already doing for a fair wedge of forever.
But why would you want to settle for fine when you’ve never had more latent potential? . . .Sure, you can be the rare business that makes it without a website, or you can be the business that makes it BIGGER because of one.
Another thing to remember is that your competition is probably online. You can stand firm and perhaps do okay, but as Platt and Cooper ask, why? If you build a quality site and put some effort into making it an attractive resource, it could bring in more customers than you’d ever expect.
Social Media and Online Listings
What about social media? Do you need a website if you have a Facebook page or LinkedIn profile? We talked about phone books before. What if you are listed in online yellow pages or other listings – isn’t that enough for those looking for local businesses?
Sure, more exposure helps. By all means, be in online listings, especially industry-specific directories and local directories (but don’t pay for extras unless you will clearly benefit). I encourage my clients to make the most of these options, getting on every credible free list. But remember, every one of these lets you list your website — so why not have one? An online consolidated listing cannot have the depth of information your own site has (and doesn’t help with the credibility issue at all, since often anyone can be listed there).
Yes, you probably need social media. Depending on your business, you may do best on Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, or Instagram — each one has a different focus, and some will be more suitable than others. But do that, if you choose to, in addition to having a website, not as a substitute. Not everyone cares for social media, and on some sites people won’t see your page unless they also have an account.
And remember, your social media sites do not belong to you. You are at the mercy of the provider. Your site could be taken down or disabled at any time.
When you promote your Facebook page, you are promoting Facebook, not your company. When you promote your website, it’s all about you, and you have control. On social media, your competitor’s ad could very well be shown to your visitors — and they have a variety of distractions beckoning them away.
You also surrender substantial rights to your content. They may be miserable reading, but do look at the terms of service.
What About the Cost?
An effective website is an investment, and it may seem like a huge expense to a small business. But consider, please, what you are getting. Your information is available 24/7 to anyone looking, and a well-done site provides all the information a prospective customer needs, along with the credibility and authority so crucial to gaining consumer trust
A high-quality website with engaging, persuasive copy, a thoughtful design, and good attention to the user experience will cost a bit of money to create. Once it is up, however, you’ll only incur your hosting fees — as low as $5 a month — and the time cost to keep it current and relevant.
Putting up a website should be a key start-up component to any new business, and should be factored into the start-up costs. For existing businesses, not having a website is going to be an increasing liability as the internet matters more and more. A website is going to become as necessary as a phone number. The sooner you get online, the better.
One caveat. Beware services that advertise how you can build a site with them using their software for free or for a small monthly fee. There are hidden costs and drawbacks you need to be aware of before considering that route.
Two Other Reasons to Hesitate
There are two other situations to address. You may not think you need a website…yet. I know a lot of authors who don’t have websites. Some of these writers have not yet finished their books, and they don’t grasp the concept that marketing the book should start long before it is published. If you are a creative person who plans to sell your work in the future, start making a name for yourself by setting up a website now (ideally with a blog).
Finally, you may not think you need a website because all you want is a blog. You can go to WordPress.com or Blogspot or other places where you can get a blog without having to pay for hosting or web design or worry about maintenance.
While the benefit of low cost and no maintenance is certainly appealing, you need to realize these come at a cost. You may not be able to have your own domain unless you pay for premium service. You may have to allow ads on your blog. Can you control the ads, and do you get payment for them? I doubt it. You’d also want to check the terms of service to make sure you aren’t surrendering any of your rights by posting your content on these services (as you do with some social media sites).
There’s one more thing to consider. You cannot easily transfer your content from these sites if you ever want to have your own website and blog. If you do choose to have a blog at one of these sites, be sure to keep documents of your writing. You still may not want to re-post them on your own site, but at least you would have that option.
The One Exception
Do you need a website? Yes, absolutely.
BUT there is one key exception. You cannot just set up a website and forget it. You must plan to maintain it and keep it current, whether you do it yourself or hire someone. Make sure your website is up-to-date and well done.
Old dates on material, past events listed as pending, and other signs of a neglected site diminish your credibility greatly. A frustrating interface will drive customers away. Flawed writing can damage your message. Poor copy will be ineffective.
A bad site is worse than having no site at all. Your willingness to put the money and time into a good site shows clearly how much you value your business — and that you are part of the modern world.
Make the smart move. Invest in a quality website with all the necessary factors for success – technology, pleasing design, effective copy, great usability – and keep it in great shape. Yes, it will cost something, but it is quite worthwhile.
For a PDF copy of Why You Need a Website, click on the link. (Right-click and select “Save target as” to download.)
Find out about The Word & Web Smith’s website design and maintenance services.
You may want to read our other articles:
Beware the High Costs of Free Website Services
Choosing a Host for Your Website
About Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Page Content and Usability — More Vital than SEO
What You Should Know About Using Images
The Website Workout Collection
You might also like to check out The Smithery, The Word & Web Smith blog.