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Do I Still Need a Traditional Website?

I have a colleague who I have coffee with when he’s in Toronto. Recently he told me how although he had been skeptical about blog ROI, once he started one the traffic to his company website went from a few a week to hundreds a day. Wow – what a great result! Then he said ‘we don’t need a real website anymore and took it down.’ This was my introduction to this new phenomena: completely replacing all forms of traditional marketing tools with social media. I think it’s a mistake.

Skittles Tried It

Skittles is one big social media smorgasbord with their main navigation linking away but keeping the navigation present – kind of cool. ‘Products’ links to wikipedia, ‘Chatter’ to Twitter, ‘Friends’ to Facebook, Media to Flickr and YouTube. There’s none  of the usual corporate/product information. It was a bold move and is being discussed.

But, most of us know what Skittles are. What if you landed on a site like this and had no idea what they do or who they are? B2B companies are in a much different boat than popular candy.

The Risks of Going All Social Media All the Time

Since my intro to this notion I’ve encountered several websites that are essentially big blogs or portals to social media sites and I experienced confusion. There was one person who was promoting himself as one thing and when I checked out his website I had no idea what he actually did. It was disorienting and I never actually found any ‘services’ or description of what he did. It was just reams of random information. I eventually clued in via his tagline what he did, sort of, which was different from what he promoted himself as. Other sites have had regular navigation, but the home page content was still very confusing because it was all blog posts. Another I looked at today was so blog-like in grass roots design that I thought it was broken and I was looking at the default site chart. It was his navigation. I also had to scroll past a lot of text to even find any sort of navigation.

Blogs and other social media vehicles are wonderfully valuable assets to a marketing toolkit. They are a great way to build content, community, Google ranking and demonstrate your genius by providing useful information. However, I don’t think the above is a good approach for two main reasons. One, I believe all companies still need basic traditional marketing tools like websites and business cards to look legitimate. Two, this approach defies all the basics of usability and conversion.

Looking Legit

I’ve had clients who, for many reasons, have asked ‘do I really need an address on my business card?’ I always encouraged them to include one because there’s something suspicious about companies that don’t have one. Without, it invokes the idea that you’re a fly-by-night or working out of your mom’s basement. Maybe you are, or close to it and are wonderfully successful. However, when wooing new clients, especially any larger than you, an address implies a sense of brick and mortar, of longevity, professionalism, dependability. I feel the same about websites. They need to include basic information about your company, along with your brilliant insights and generous information sharing.

Keep a Level of Professionalism

The blog look is also amateurish in presentation, as it should be – on the blog. Although content is king, websites still need to be ‘designed’ to look professional. It should be consistent with the rest of your branding. Additional benefits of professional design are if it’s easy/attractive to look at, engaging, if visitors identify with the images it makes, the user experience is much more pleasant and they’ll probably stay longer. A professional look with organized type, images and colour versus a wall of black text. Hmmm.

Some of the basics of usability are to make information really easy to find and fast to get to. People have no patience anymore. When they arrive at your website they need to see something engaging and a short blurb with the basics of what you do to let them know they are in the right place and entice them to keep clicking. Traffic analysis repeatedly shows that when visitors arrive at a site with a lot of text and too many navigation links to choose from they are overwhelmed and leave. This is how I feel when I arrive at the type of sites I mentioned above. Especially when it’s all blog entries – it’s like joining in a conversation halfway through and being totally confused when I just wanted to find basic information.

The basics rules still apply: 5–9 main navigation items with short, sweet and concise copy especially on the home page. People also like threes, so three special links directly to the top things visitors are likely to be looking for works very well. This may be a duplicate of a main navigation tab or a specific page they’ll also find in your sub-navigation, but it helps them get there fast and adds visual interest to the site. One of them can be your blog.

Think of your home page like a first date: don’t give too much information or ask for too much commitment up front. Let them get to know you a little first. But, do make it easy to get to that fabulous content.

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