“Company websites will be gone in the next two years.”
I heard this statement uttered at an event not too long ago by a marketer I know well, and I was taken aback. Sure, I thought, maybe she was just rabble-rousing a bit—trying to get a rise out of people on a shuttle ride to our next event. But whether she believed it or not, it struck me as amazing that we would even consider the topic. While much has changed since the early days of “brochureware,” the corporate website is still, and should remain, the linchpin in the arsenal of most B2B and B2C marketers. In fact, a Gartner survey reports that marketers still rank the corporate website as the most important tool for a successful marketing campaign. For many companies, the website is one of the first and most important touch points a prospect or existing customer will have with your brand. In fact, seven of the last 10 new Right Source clients have asked us to address their website before we jumped into anything like content marketing, search engine optimization or social media.
Now, a little history about how websites got here.
The Dawn of Websites
Websites have come a long way from where I remember them in 1997, coding static HTML and many an animated GIF. If you want to have some fun, look back in Archive.org, the Internet’s way-back machine. At the time, there was a land grab of sorts—it was important to get something up on the web that looked as much like your printed collateral as possible, so that whoever was using this web thing might be able to find your business. There were no real Content Management Systems (CMSs) to speak of, which meant that most marketers who wanted to update their sites either had to wait patiently for IT or rely on outside firms to make updates.
The Rise of the CMS, Search and Social
Fast-forward a few years to the rise of the affordable CMS, and with it the growth of the technology-enabled marketer. Marketers no longer had to rely on outside firms or that overburdened IT staff, giving them freedom to publish more remarkable content—and to experiment more. The corporate website evolution—and the rise of brands as publishers—was beginning. At the same time, the importance of search engines was multiplied when we needed a way to organize this exploding amount of information.
But the corporate website was truly tested with the growth of social media as a channel. Why pay for a website when blogs, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other properties were all free—and already had a built-in audience?
RIP Corporate Website?
Here’s where the crux of the earlier referenced debate comes in—why shouldn’t companies just build their presences in social media and kill the website?
Many brands look to not just leverage social media but put all of their eggs in that basket. Social media properties offer the opportunity for brands to build their presence without having to worry about the technology at all—free blogs hosted on Blogger, free brand pages on Facebook, etc.
Why worry about your own website, self-hosting a blog, paying for servers, etc., when somebody else will do that all for you, and all at no charge? So, why is this such a bad idea?
The Re-Imagined Corporate Website
By now, many of us have read the Gartner research stating that by 2017 the CMO will spend more on IT than the CIO. Whether you believe this to be wholly true or just directional progression (I believe the latter), there’s no question that marketing continues to rely more and more on the core components of content, data, and technology. An effective, modern corporate website helps marketers in each of these areas.
We cover content marketing in amazing detail on our blog, so I won’t go too deep in this post. Suffice it to say that a great many of the benefits of content are lost if they never live on a property that you own. The content (and links to that content) don’t directly help your domain from a search engine standpoint, don’t live in an environment where you can control the brand, and are subject to somebody else’s whims. If Facebook decides to change the rules on you, you’re stuck. If Google shutters Blogger, you are out of luck. If Yahoo decides they want to run Tumblr differently, too bad for you. You get the idea—a significant portion of your content needs to live on properties you own—whether that’s a blog on your site, a resource center/content library, etc., or you are taking a huge risk with all of that content that you consistently work so hard to create.
Data and Technology
From the ubiquitous use of the term Big Data, to the importance of website analytics, to the rapid growth of data-driven (and content-driven) marketing automation tools, marketers are now being asked to serve as data scientists. Marketing budgets are determined based on metrics, analysis and ROI, not who has the prettiest creative. Corporate websites, and their associated technology, serve as the central station for the collection, analysis, and delivery of many of those data components. The re-imagined website serves as the main marketing hub, handling everything from housing lead generation forms and managing lead scoring activities, to coupling your web usage information with Big Data initiatives. Your website is one of the best sources and destinations for your data-driven marketing. Are you really comfortable with this repository of information and data being outside of your control? Would you be 100 percent certain that you could get the data you wanted when you needed it to show results?
Long Live the Modern Website
We’ve come a long way from the days of static brochures serving as the corporate website. The explosion of content as a primary marketing channel, the increased importance of Search Engine Optimization, and the use of technology and data in marketing have evolved the website into a critical central marketing hub. “Company websites will be gone in the next 2 years?” I think the exact opposite. While off-site channels will continue to have their place, the most successful marketers will continue to understand that the modern corporate website is here to stay.
Is your website equipped to deliver on the powerful intersection of content, data and technology? Drop your thoughts in the comments below. If you’re unsure, consider executing a web presence audit – contact us for more information.