By Tom Sandford on March 18, 2016

Are websites still important?

Are websites becoming less important? I was asked this question at the end of last year and, having reflected on it, I believe they are. Not in a ‘quick, let’s ditch our websites’ kind of way - websites are still really, really important and will remain so - it’s more about a growing market that relies less and less on websites.

And what growing market am I talking about? Mobile, of course.

Ben Evans

We all have one. And we use them a LOT. It’s a massive, expanding market - far bigger than the desktop/laptop market - and a different beast in all sorts of ways.

In the digital marketing space, we’ve always thought of mobile internet as a subset of the desktop internet. This makes sense, the majority of us work on PCs. Design, web build, creation: PCs are built for this kind of work.

We’re unlikely to design websites on mobiles, but we are increasingly less likely to access websites on our mobiles because, in the main, they don’t work well.

This is the context in which websites are of diminishing importance. Mobile IS the internet, not a watered down version of the desktop experience, and a few companies, and a few apps, are defining what a good mobile experience is.

Tweet: "Mobile IS the internet, not a watered down version of the desktop experience" - by @ContentFuture

So, what are the problems our websites face compared to Facebook, Medium et al, and how can we adapt our content and customer journey so we can begin testing?

Website speed vs app speed

When we initially talked about mobile-first we focused on the screen size - make it responsive, we said, that’ll make it mobile friendly. As users, we know that having a site that’s readable and usable on our phones is 101. What really matters to us is speed.

How often have you clicked through from Twitter, waited 2...3....4 seconds? No one waits 4 seconds on mobile. The slowness of our websites contrasts greatly with the speed of the apps we’re leaving behind to get there - be that Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter or even our email apps.

As a user, I find myself second guessing how slow a site will be before I click on a link. And it doesn’t look like I’m alone.

Messenger pic

Content distribution and publishing in the stream

Buzzfeed is the publishing brand synonymous with the social web. With the $100 million they raised in 2014, they’re not likely to let their site speed lag. And yet they’ve recently switched their focus to publishing “in the stream”. Why? Well…

“Content produced by BuzzFeed, for example, attracts 18 billion impressions per month in aggregate across Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. But that translates into only 420 million clicks back to the website. While few publishers enjoy this kind of scale, the drop-off between impressions and clicks is a well-known problem.”  - Fast Company

Buzzfeed can make this switch because, unlike most publishers, they don’t make their money from display advertising. The use of native content or sponsored posts means they’re able to charge advertisers to access their audience, regardless of where the posts come from. This diagram shows the business model…

Buzzfeed Image 2


So, what are we to make of this move? How should we think about the websites that we’re involved with? How can it help with our content marketing efforts?

To answer those questions, let’s first look at why we don’t publish in the stream by default...

The argument against publishing your content on someone else’s site is well documented. I’ll repeat Paul Jarvis’s argument here...

  • You don’t have full control
  • You’re limited by rules someone else has set (e.g. Twitter’s [current] 140 character limit)
  • They may advertise around your content (Facebook)
  • Sometimes they close (see Digg, Myspace)

The argument for publishing in app is clear

  • Ease of publishing - If you’ve published a post on Linkedin or Medium recently, you’ll know just how easy it is to create something beautiful.
  • Paid promotion - Facebook’s Power Editor is a marketers dream come true.
  • Non-paid promotion (Medium recommends, Linkedin Pulse).
  • You could even become a star (YouTube)

However, I’d like to add the following to the list

1. Optimised mobile experience

  • Your dev team does not compare to Evan Williams’s or Mark Zuckerburg’s.
  • Even better distribution
  • These apps have your audience, targeted
  • This takes us upstream, ahead of search
  • You will have to pay, but as with all advertising, if you have your audience nailed (and your marketing metrics) this offers a terrific opportunity

2. Readablility

  • The feature set in these apps is incredible.
  • They’re designed specifically for it. If the guys at Signal v. Noise have switched, why aren’t you there? 

3.Richer feature set

  • Differing channels, more CTA’s, more options. More work - but greater possibilities
  • Mobile features - cameras, mics, geo-location, fingerprint recognition - how can these help us achieve our goals?

What can we do about it?

As I said in the intro, this isn’t the time to cancel the direct debit to your hosting provider; it’s a call to look beyond the website as the place where you have to drag everyone. I think the best bet for the next few years is to diversify where we publish and think creatively about how we can move the buyer along the marketing and sales funnels.

LinkedIn - Is there any need to pull someone out of Linkedin when they’ve read your first article? Those follow and connect and message buttons are a great next step for a prospect. Could a smart use of groups be an interesting next step for an engaged prospect?

Facebook - Facebook pages can do everything - do we need to drag them to the website? They feature ‘buy now’ and ‘call now’ buttons. With 800 Million people on Facebook messenger, we can move away from email to deal with inquiries. We can video call and even send money. The future seems to belong to Facebook.


via Facebook Newsroom

Medium - Medium is still in its infancy and the focus for marketers needs to be awareness on this platform at the moment. The ability to highlight and comment on a post is slick, but there’s no obvious way to take a public conversation private ‘in app’. Medium’s founder, Ev Williams, also co-founded Twitter, and the two work well together. A combination of Medium for publishing and Twitter for engagement seems a good option. I expect Medium to develop rapidly (they raised $57 million Sept 2015) and my hunch is that they’ll soon become a direct competitor to Wordpress.

Mobile is driving massive change in behaviours and, naturally, marketing, and it’s not something that any business can ignore. The app’s we all use everyday are defining the mobile experience and changing the way that we access content. As a result, we need to think beyond “get them to the website at all costs” and, for content marketing, that means more experimentation and more flexibility when it comes to formatting, publishing, distributing and monetising the content we create.

Websites are still a massively important asset - but they’re no longer the only asset.


Image credit:

Featured image - Public domain

Published by Tom Sandford March 18, 2016