If you tell me you’re creating a website for your startup, I’ll ask you if your dial-up internet and fax machine are installed too.
You might think I’m exaggerating, because well, I am. But only a little bit.
That’s because dial-up internet was once seen as the cutting edge development of a digitally empowered business, and there was a time when replacing the fax machine as the go-to for inter-office communication was unimaginable.
The website, as we’ve come to know it, is on the same path as these business relics. It is an outdated format that was created for the needs of a different digital age and audience.
A little history
In June 1993 there were only 113 websites. Back then, the ‘web’ was still an experimental idea that crossed the paths of tech whizzes, hobbyists and scientists rather than the general public. By 2019 there were an estimated 1.5 billion websites on the world wide web.
Early iterations of the website were kind of like digital libraries or data bases (I’m looking at you IMDB). They were novel, but they were also primarily places to store information or hunt for answers and services. We used library-like language for them too as we ‘browsed’ the ‘catalogue’ and ‘archived’ material.
Then along came Amazon and Google.
Getting down to business
While the term ‘e-commerce’ was already in circulation by the ’70s, it wasn’t used in the same way we use it today. In 1979, internet pioneer Michael Aldrich connected a television and a real-time multi-user transaction processing computer to create the first online shopping experience. It wasn’t until the 90s that we started considering a world where shopping didn’t necessarily mean turning up to a physical shop front and walking away with your goods in a bag.
In 1995, Amazon.com started selling books online, popularising the concept of internet shopping, and fundamentally shifting the global retail landscape. Meanwhile, Google was influencing website design as businesses looked to optimise layouts for the search algorithm (one of the reasons so many websites look the same).
It was at this point, having an online presence essentially meant selling from a website that could be found on Google (hopefully high in the ranking). The website made a lot of sense for that digital economy and culture.
Where are we now?
Social media is more than a decade old. In that time, it’s changed how we network, communicate, campaign, shop and, crucially, it’s changed marketing.
The average Australian spends upwards of five hours a day on mobile, consuming huge amounts of social content, both branded and unbranded. Any strong marketing strategy starts with understanding the customer — their needs and behaviours.
Your potential customers are out there, debating politicians on Twitter or joining the latest wholesome meme sweeping TikTok or shopping directly from links on an Instagram post while scrolling through a feed of vivid imagery, personalised to their tastes. They’re not as inclined to simply ‘browse the web’ and they aren’t particularly moved by the prospect of digging through a digital database.
This transition is an opportunity. Social media opens up avenues for creative storytelling in marketing that weren’t necessarily possible on websites. While a website might restrict you to a splash, blog, or banner, on your social channels you can consider the best medium for your message. Should it be an image, text, or video — should I say this to all my audiences, just some of them, or just one?
The website might not disappear for some time, but its purpose has already shifted. Any successful marketing strategy should consider the website in relation to social channels. Capturing the attention of customers through creative content and then sending them to a specific section of your website is a lot more effective than hoping they’ll find their way there organically.
If you’re a side hustler, creator or entrepreneur looking to grow your audience, don’t just default into what’s been done before. Always put your audience, the kinds of content they consume, and the places that they do it at the centre of your marketing strategy.
If you’re going to create a website, then make sure it exists in relation to other healthy customer communication channels. While there is a chance that websites will linger on – driven by the same internet nostalgia that means Neopets just.never.goes.away – the smart money is on standalone websites being well on their way to fax machine status.