Why Have a Website?

[About two years ago, I gave a presentation to a business group about websites and their effectiveness as a marketing tool. I’ve had this sitting in my “drafts” section forever, so I figured it was time to actually post it.  -Ron]

When I ran my own web development company, I often asked potential clients “why do you want a website?” On face value, this seems like a very simple question, but so many times, the people I discussed this with didn’t have an answer. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it is awfully important to answer before you actually commit to building a new website. Obviously, I have a bias towards marketing your business online, and I think everyone on earth should have their own website. But bear with me here—I think I have a pretty strong case.

Websites are an incredibly powerful way to market your business, but it’s not as simple as just building a website and then walking away, saying “mission accomplished.” It takes time, money, thought, effort, and even trial and error to get to the point that you could call your web presence “successful.” Having said all that, let’s compare some of the other non-web-based advertising formats that you could use for your business:

  • Phone Books: advertising in local phone books can cost anywhere from $500-$7,500 per month (annually, that’s $6,000—$90,000 per year, respectively.) Most phone book companies have unbreakable contracts for long periods of time, (something like 1 to 3 years) that are impossible to get out of, even if the phone book company is purchased by another corporation or your own business takes a dive. Also, there are so many variables: what if you move buildings and are forced to change your phone number or address? What if there’s a typo in your ad? What if anything about your contact information changes? You’re stuck for at least an entire year—and can’t do anything to change your ad.
  • Television: TV ads are almost obsolete for the average businesses. They’re very expensive, you have to be very lucky, and it’s a dying industry altogether. Video has moved online. Youtube, Hulu and other video sites have stolen almost all of the thunder from television advertising. Plus, getting the right combination of station, audience, and time of day takes a lot of trial and error. Know a small business that’s succeeded in using TV ads? Great—that’s fine by me. But I don’t.
  • Billboards: where I live, billboard advertising generally costs $1,000—$5,000 per month on the low end and costs are highly dependent on the location of the billboard. They promise a lot of “eyeballs,” but “eyeballs” per se don’t directly translate into business. Why do billboards even exist these days anyway? Usually, for one reason: to send customers to your website. Am I right?
  • Direct Mail: in the $0.25-$1.50/piece range, your mailing is targeted to people who may—or may not—be in the market for your product or service, and even the industry experts say that a response rate of 1-3% is great. That means that you have to send out over 97 printed pieces that end up in the garbage can in order to get one or two people to call you. I asked a direct mail salesman once why it was so difficult to get direct mail right, and he told me “it’s more art than science.” No wonder. I’m sure there are companies who love direct mail (pizza joints, for example), but I think by and large, most local businesses should not use direct mail. …at least until they have a website.
  • Radio: getting a radio spot costs thousands of dollars for teeny, tiny little bursts, and (like with TV) you have to hope you get in front of the right audience, at the right time, on the right station, with right message. Even if you’re successful, there’s often a very significant lag time. The companies I’ve worked with that gave radio advertising a shot had to wait at least six months to get a single bite. Is it worth it? Potentially. But you’ve got to have a website to refer people to in your ad anyway, right?

So what’s my gripe against radio and television? Nothing, really. I’m not complaining and I would never bash the industries as a whole, or any of the salesmen involved. I’ve just noticed that for three years, before I ever took on a new client, I always asked what kinds of marketing they’d tried in the past, whether it worked or not. Most businesses have tried some of all of the “old media” in the past, with mixed results. I always recommended that if a business had found an effective marketing strategy using a phone book, for example, to continue using it. I would never have told them to drop it just for the sake of getting a website. But again, almost all the businesses I worked with were wanting to beef up their web presence for one of two reasons:

A) They’d been advertising in the phone book for decades, and found that all new business from their phone book ads came to a halt a year or two ago.

B) They’d tried TV and/or Radio and didn’t get the kind of “pop” they were looking for.

So while my opinion is by no means scientific, I’ve seen the trends and that speaks volumes. If you haven’t noticed, there’s been a paradigm shift in the way businesses market themselves, and the transition to websites is the best example of this. How so? With billboards, radio, direct mail, and TV ads, you’re trying to put yourself in front of lots of people and hoping that at least some of them will be interested. With a website, on the other hand, your potential clients are looking for you because they want your products or services. That’s a MAJOR difference!

In addition to the awesome, low-pressure way you can hawk your products and services with a website, the best part about it all is that you can track everything. With even the most basic website, you can track:

  •   …the number of visitors you’re getting
  • …the ways people are finding your website online
  • …what other websites are linking to yours
  • …where your website visitors live (country, state and city)
  • …how long people are spending on your website
  • …what they liked, and what they didn’t
  • …what kind of computer or mobile device they’re using
  • …and much, much more

How can you pass this up? No other marketing efforts come even close to being able to give you this kind of information. And it’s all free. Finally, if, for some strange reason, you’re not convinced that you should have a website, ask yourself this question: when’s the last time a prospective customer asked you “do you have a direct mail piece?” or “do you have a billboard?” Probably never. Right? Now ask yourself the obvious follow-up question: when’s the last time someone asked you “do you have a website?” This one’s easier, right? I’ll be presumptuous here and assume that this  happened to you last week, or even this morning. And I’m probably right.

So if you’re in business, you have got to get a website. Your website is a salesman that never sleeps, never gets sick, works twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, never takes vacation, can talk to several prospects at the same time, and never complains. Go get one!

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