Web 2.0 brought significant changes to the World Wide Web that shaped its current and future forms. It’s predecessor, Web 1.0, introduced the building block of the digital world: the web page. It introduced the radical idea that people can consume content beyond the printed media. Web pages are easier to update, cheaper to produce, and present content better compared to its precursor. Businesses quickly noticed that the World Wide Web is the new space to interact with their market, build their brands, and showcase their products. Websites became one of the staples of being a business in the modern world.
The following evolution of the Web further refined and improved the underlying philosophies and ideologies running through its digital veins. The seemingly countless “new things” in Web 2.0 can be condensed into three major concepts: usability (or ease-of-use), interoperability (the ability of the Web to work with different devices, systems, and products), and user-generated content. The manifestation and combination of the three concepts changed the “DNA makeup” of the humble web page.
From Static to Dynamic
Largely static elements such as texts and images are combined to make a static page. The combination of several static pages is a static website. The collection of websites eventually became the World Wide Web. Web 1.0 presented information as ‘content’ which is consumed by users. Content creators are few in numbers with the vast majority of people becoming the consumers of content.
Web 2.0 gave birth to dynamic elements such as multimedia, animations, scripts, inputs, etc. which are combined to make dynamic pages or dynamic HTML. Several dynamic pages combined become websites, web apps, platforms, mobile apps, and other technologies. Users evolve from passive consumers of content to actual sources of content. Websites became more interactive as well. These developments eventually led to solutions that became a threat to websites.
Effects of Non-Website Solutions
The dynamic nature of Web 2.0 made business tools available to non-programmers. It is now possible for business owners to create a Facebook Page, set-up an Amazon store, and develop a mobile app without touching a snippet of code or hiring an expert. The popularity of such solutions strengthens the motivation to ask an important question:
Do businesses still need a website?
But first, let’s take a quick look at how these solutions compare and affect the existence of websites.
Facebook Pages vs Websites
Facebook Pages is one of the most popular modern business solutions around. It is easy to set-up and manage. Pages exist in the most popular social media platform to date ensuring easy market reach. The developers of Facebook Pages improved it to become an effective marketing tool for brands. Now, it is part of the Facebook Business family of products making it a formidable business solution. It is the strongest candidate thought by most to weaken and replace websites.
Ironically, Facebook and other social media platforms introduced the concept of the “Share” function to websites. The ability to share a URL in just a few clicks propelled the humble website to the Web 2.0 space. Nowadays, it is essential for business websites to have social media share buttons which consolidate the share functions of most social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, Pinterest and more.
Amazon, Ebay, and Etsy vs Online Stores
E-commerce is one of the solutions brought by the Web 2.0 era. However, during the early years of Web 2.0, if you want to have an online store, you will need to hire expert web developers to create an in-house online store for your business. This proved to be expensive, difficult to maintain, and unfit for small to medium enterprises. The arrival of Amazon, Ebay, and Etsy (and many others) allowed anyone to sell their products online. They eliminated all the overhead expenses, technical requirements, and market cultivation which intimidated a lot of entrepreneurs from setting-up their online stores. Nowadays, creating your e-shop is just a matter of signing up, uploading your product inventory, adding your bank information, and you are already set to sell.
The ease of setting up an online store in any of the e-commerce platforms is more than enough reason for Amazon, Ebay, and Etsy to kill business websites. However, just like social media, e-commerce influenced the next evolution of websites. Solutions like Shopify, WooCommerce in WordPress, and BigCommerce allow anyone to create their own stores without relying on the giant retail platforms. Business owners can have their own online shop that they can customize.
Mobile Apps vs Web Apps
Of course, the surge of mobile and smart devices affected the almost all aspects of modern society. In the early 2000’s, it was difficult to imagine that mobile devices will ever overtake desktop computers. Today, countries like India, Mexico, and Indonesia have four times more mobile device users than desktop computer users. The growing market size of mobile device users is a compelling reason to have both web and mobile presence.
Mobile apps are not direct threats to the existence of websites or web apps. Rather, they should be an extension of each other. The web and mobile markets, while closely related, are two distinct worlds. Businesses should now assess whether to have a presence in both or focus in one. The early years of smartphone popularity created dilemma among businesses as mobile apps are quite expensive to develop. Developing native apps require knowledge of mobile development such as Swift for iOS or Jave for Android. The traditional website layout is barely usable in a small screen. But, developing an app that will function exactly like the website but on a smartphone is a waste money and efforts.
The emergence of Responsive Web Design and Material Design helped businesses maintain their identity in both web and mobile. The flourishing market of mobile apps creator such as Ionic Creator, React Native, and Firebase makes app development less intimidating for businesses.
Why Maintain a Website?
Yes, that is right.
Businesses still need a website.
In fact, now more than ever, businesses should invest significant efforts in making their website reflect their business identity. Whether to consider the solutions mentioned in the last section will depend on the needs and resources of the company. But, a website is still a necessity.
A website should reflect that business that it represents. Attention should be given from the domain name down to the font style. Websites provide consistency to your brand image. You can even match the atmosphere of your brick-and-mortar stores and your online presence. Solutions like Facebook Pages, Amazon, and eBay would only allow branding to an extent. In fact, Amazon Marketplace will not allow you to mention your own company in any way. These services are provided by companies which are also protecting their brands. You are basically under their rules when signing up for one of their services.
On your website, you can sell BOTH your products and your brand.
Better Customer Engagement
Facebook can be considered a powerhouse platform for customer engagement. The available tools under the hood allow effective analysis and accurate strategies without leaving the social media platform. However, a website is still the best way to engage your customers. Your business’ website is basically an interactive catalog of your products and company. There are very little limitations on what kind of content element you can use. Having this flexibility makes sure that you are engaging your customer even when they are just reading a blog post on your website.
Nothing is stopping a business from having a website and maintaining a healthy social media presence. In fact, every company should.
Content and SEO
Most businesses often forget to consider content and SEO during the planning phases when the decision to set-up a website is being decided. The ad campaigns in Facebook, existing market of buyers in Amazon, and viral YouTube marketing videos are amazing marketing efforts. However, your website’s content and SEO are still the best way to attract customers on the web at no extra cost!
Ranking higher on the Google Search results is still the best marketing efforts that a business can make. Not to mention enjoying the results beyond the marketing campaign. Consistently producing high-quality content on your website will not only boost your business’s web presence, it creates compelling reasons for your customers to engage. Moreover, website content can be used as the basis of social media campaign efforts. Using content from your website on social media allows you to redirect potential customers to your website. When done right, it can have double benefits: higher customer engagement in social media and increase of website traffic.
Maintaining consistent and efficient SEO habits will only bear fruits in the long run. You also control company branding and customer engagement while producing interactive content. This saves a significant amount of time and efforts.
Flexibility and Control
The amount of flexibility and control in creating your own business website is a double-edged sword. On the positive side, you can control all aspects of the website. You are only limited by your imagination during the development. However, it can get overwhelming and intimidating as you become responsible for every minute details.
Remember that any presence of the business in any medium should be an extension of the company vision, value, services, and products. It is easiest to do that in a website than on a third-party platform.
A business website should function as an anchor of the company’s web presence. Other solutions, such as those mentioned above, should redirect audience to the website. Marketing campaigns can start on your website pages. Social media can capture your customer engagement efforts but your website will help you maintain a long and meaningful relationship with your existing and potential customers.