5 October 2017
A reader recently asked me this question. My initial (internal) response was, Of course! Any creator or business needs a website.
But I realized how woefully inadequate that response was. It’s a reaction, not a justification.
So I turned to our web developer, Dave Hewer, to see if he had a more robust answer. Dave builds and maintains websites (and he’s also a great graphic designer)–he’s done a lot of great work for Stonemaier over the last few years.
Dave was very kind to write this guest post, and I’m going to sprinkle in some commentary at the end of a few of his main points. Thanks Dave!
There have never been more ways of communicating with people online, aside from actually having your own website. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Board Game Geek, Reddit; the list goes on.
In the distant far-flung past (early 2000s) an internet user would want to know something, choose the relevant website and read its content. Nowadays, more and more content is now pushed dynamically at people, without them even needing to go looking for it.
Very clever algorithms are used to generate “recommended” videos or posts that users will be interested in even though they haven’t asked for it. (How many hours have you spent watching YouTube videos that you had no intention of viewing?) The world of social media enables this kind of intelligent linking in a way that a single business website can never replicate.
So with all the other clever and popular options out there to get your content to your customers, do you really need your own website?
Let me give you 5 reasons why–despite the ever-changing online landscape–a website is still essential for getting your message across.
1. Be trusted
Anyone and their pet gerbil can start a Facebook page, record a YouTube video, or post obsessively on forums. To create and regularly update your own website (with your own domain name) takes a degree more investment. Users know this. If I come across a business (in almost any market) that doesn’t have its own coherent website, I’m instantly cautious.
Here in sunny Britain, we are apparently twice as likely to trust mainstream news outlets over social media. News is a unique industry but the prevalence of sharing “fake news” and misleading “clickbait” via social media has resulted in the general lowering of trust in these sources of information.
A website by itself is not enough to instill trust; but the lack of a website is a sure-fire way of causing your customers unease.
[Jamey: I think this is an incredibly powerful point, especially for crowdfunders. So much of Kickstarter is about trust and credibility.]
2. Be found
Search engines, such as Google, work very hard to generate results from a lots of different sources such as news, micro-blogging (Twitter) and video (YouTube). Because of this, someone can find out about you from searching even if you don’t have a website. However, your SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) presence will be in much better shape if you’ve also got a website with top-notch content thrown into the mix.
Doing a Google search “Stonemaier” brings up lots of relevant results (Board Game Geek, Twitter, Facebook) but nothing is going to carry the kind of SEO weight that stonemaiergames.com does, which is precisely why it ranks in first place.
[Jamey: This is why I recommend routing people through your website to your Kickstarter project page using this method. That way, when the project is over, search engines weight your website over Kickstarter for the long run.]
3. Be read
The next two reasons to have your own website essentially boil down to the same thing: control.
Firstly, you need to be able control your content and organise it how you want. The fancy web designer terminology for this is information architecture but you can also call it (probably more helpfully) structure.
For as long as you are leaning on third-party websites and services you are bound by their structure and system. For example, what content do you want on your Facebook page and how do you want it organized? Can you change how users navigate the content? Sure, you’ve got options but they’re limited.
Whereas, with your own website you have a new plot of land with no planning restrictions. Build your website just how you need it to be structured to get your message across to your customers. The quite brilliant A List Apart commends us:
We need to teach people to look past the way the rest of the web is structured and consider instead how their corner of the web can be structured to support their own unique intentions.
Your product is unique (if it isn’t, you’ve got bigger problems) and so your website needs to be uniquely structured to showcase it. This can only be done in the context of your own beautiful, distinctive site.
[Jamey: Beyond organizational beauty, I think this touches upon why I believe every creator benefits from creating some kind of ancillary content, whether it’s a blog, podcast, YouTube channel, etc.]
4. Be admired
Your brand is your perceived identity and as such you surrender it at your peril.
Social and third-party websites will let you add your logo and if you’re lucky a colour scheme but they can never be the kind of stage that will allow you to comprehensively showcase your business identity.
This is also the point where I will warn you to avoid any platform that will let you build your own website. Let me warmly encourage you to use the services of a competent and experienced web designer who can give you the website you need. “Drag and drop” templates will give you a website but not one that is truly yours.
Just like structure, your visual style shouldn’t be squashed into a predetermined mould. A good web designer will work with you from a blank sheet, making every decision on the basis of what’s best for you and then code you a bespoke website that is as unique as it is robust.
Just as no two people are the same so every good website is tailor made.
[Jamey: I agree with Dave that effective web design is best served by a professional. However, don’t let that serve as a barrier to prevent you from starting a website to get your feet wet. I really like WordPress, and it’s fairly easy to transition from WordPress.com (free, super easy to set up) to a custom WordPress.org website when you’re ready.]
5. Be central
What’s the latest social media hotness? Snapchat was a flash in the pan, Twitter is ancient and Facebook is now only used by cats. I jest, but what one minute can seem like a firmly established platform is the next ghost town. Yahoo! anyone?
The world of the internet is an ever-changing landscape but that doesn’t mean you can’t establish solid structures, and your landmark structure should be a website you have complete control over. That website will change and adapt with the internet, but it’s existence should never be in doubt.
By having a firmly established, beautifully unique website, you can then have a central hub which all your online spokes connect to.
For example, use Facebook to get likes but you want to lead those fans back to content on your website. Facebook might one day be a closed book and you don’t at that point want to have lost half your audience.
A spoke on a bicycle wheel can brake and the bike will still work fine, but if the wheel hub rips clean off you’ll find yourself in urgent need of a helmet.
[Jamey: An extension of this is the power of using your website as a way to convert one-time visitors into e-newsletter subscribers. That’s called “permission marketing,” and I would put it really high on any priority list, even if you’re just starting out.]
The internet is not what it once was as a collection of static individual websites. Those days are long gone and will not return. Embrace the new means of dynamic, social communication, but don’t forget you need a home to welcome people in to.
If you don’t have a website or want to improve your current website, feel free to reach out to Dave to find a solution. I mention this not because I get any benefit from new clients Dave gets, but rather because I want you to benefit from a web designer as good as Dave.
What do you think about Dave’s points? Do you think a website significantly increases your chances of success as a creator or entrepreneur?