The Open Web Is Not Going Away
Mitch Joel and I don’t always see eye to eye. He thinks we need mass media and I disagree entirely. He also thinks print is sticking around, something I see having no relevance in tomorrow’s digital society.
Sometimes I think he just creates posts he knows people will link to, but I’m going to take his bait today as again I think he’s way off. Essentially, Mitch sees a future with no investment in your own open web presence, instead yielding this to other entities like social networks. Let’s go through his thoughts:
Are the days of big websites and long website builds numbered? It could well be. If you think about how people find and connect to most brands, it’s not just through a search engine anymore.
Agreed Mitch but your downplaying of SEO is missing the point. Search is still and will remain a core function of the web and plays a central role in all digital marketing activity, including social. Even as a marketing blogger who loves social media and has been an advocate since day one, I still do not drink the kool aid A-listers like Mitch Joel and Steve Rubel are drinking. Throughout every wave of social web innovation search still mattered and there are not any current trends that convince me otherwise. If anything, as web users become more literate in search, it becomes more valuable.
In fact, more and more people are having their first brand interaction on their mobile device. There are many people who are also connecting to brands for the first time in spaces like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.
Perhaps if your website isn’t findable and you’re that bad at marketing it. This advice steers marketers wrong by immediately pushing them into outposts (something ultimately tactical). Further, the comment of “in fact, more and more” without any data behind it is merely pontification (actually there is data behind it, but that data still only tells one side of the story).
While social media is growing, that does not denigrate the value of intent-based traffic such as search. For a majority of the consulting I do, proper SEO efforts send the highest quality traffic. Additionally, while I agree with inspiring conversations across channels, I do not agree with resting your whole web strategy in channels you do not control. You play right into the strategies of social sites by doing it. Those sites do not necessarily exist to help you as marketers, they are businesses and the popular ones have a design on your activity (and it’s not necessarily for the same outcome you want).
As an aside, I’m honestly a bit tired of those who are spreading the messaging of putting all your resources and content development into the products of other businesses. Other networks can and do fall out of favor, and time spent in them comes at the opportunity cost of your own home on the web. I’m not saying that someone couldn’t have their first interaction with your brand in something like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, but these channels are simply not robust enough to offer a unique experience you can create in the open web. Don’t mistake a first interaction with long term story telling and lead nurturing.
Does this mean that the website is going the way of the dodo bird? Not exactly, but it does mean that the overall Digital Marketing strategy is going to change dramatically in the next little while.
What? Smart marketers have been playing to the social landscape as it changed. Good digital marketers are fluid in their approach and shift with the times. This statement is made as if the digital marketing community sleeps under a rock – it does not. Social media is not new nor novel.
Instead of one, big and centralized website with many digital marketing outposts in the appropriate platforms, it is more than likely that we’re going to see more and more brands create multiple spaces and platforms to ensure that they’re connecting with the right people in the right communities.
Go for it and make the rest of our lives easier. Spreading yourself thin is a great way to minimize your impact and ultimately ruin your strong source of signal in the world. This is not a realistic approach for most brands and ignores the power of concentrating your forces along with network effects that kick in when you reach critical mass within one area. It could work with the right strategy behind it but ignores the SEO benefits of having one centralized, ultra-authoritative home.
Imagine a world where a Digital Marketing strategy focuses less on one big website and more on creating engaging “things” like iPhone apps, a mobile website, a Facebook page along with a Blog (or whatever), and it’s all supported with a simple website that acts more like a hub for all of the other spokes.
This advice seems tactical, doesn’t it? You could base your strategy on “things” like iPhone apps, a Facebook page along with a blog as Mitch advises, or you could base your strategy on something decisive and platform agnostic, like owning a certain vertical in the market or positioning differently/ahead of competitors. Also, where does Mitch plan on converting anyone? As much as I love blogs, they don’t convert visitors like a well crafted site designed for such a thing.
Yes, there are some (only a few) brands already playing with creating Facebook pages in lieu of micro-sites for promotions and experiential marketing initiatives, but it has not become a commonplace activity where you find a brand doing multiple things in multiple channels and focusing less on driving consumers to their marketing-riddled jargony websites.
Micro-sites? Ughh. The fact that is even mentioned here as an “in lieu of” as if they ever were ever a good idea bothers me: micro-sites are a mistake. As to Mitch’s other point, again I disagree with yielding your digital marketing returns to social sites external of your own site. If I know my “marketing-riddled jargony” website converts, I am damn well going to drive people there. If I build permission in external channels through thought-leadership or delivering value, especially in the B2B world, the authoritative, compelling website I’m funneling prospects to will be trusted and will already have the social proofing behind it to succeed. I find this ironic since Mitch runs a digital marketing firm which has one of those “marketing-riddled jargony websites.”
The “game” used to be about always driving people back to your own, controlled, website, and the truth is that the more vibrant community for a brand may be happening more through a mobile app or online social network platform… or something else or something in addition to it.
If you want to ignore search engines (which I do not advise) listen to Mitch. But ultimately search traffic is demand based, consistent, and profitable. Social traffic, while nice, has a high bounce rate and attracts users in a different kind of mindset. Ultimately I want both. This post just has undertones of selling out your strategy to networks controlled by others.
Does this mean we need to trim websites back to WordPress Blog-shaped platforms or micro-site sizes? Not really, but it does mean that if a brand’s vibrant community is happening in a place like Facebook, they won’t have much control or ownership over the content, but they might be able to do things (in terms of connecting and growing that community) that they could not scale to with a big, towering website of their own.
This is a blanket statement and without context makes little sense. If a brand’s vibrant community is happening in a place like Facebook that’s great – but figure out what it is about Facebook that makes it so attractive and apply it to your own strategy to grow visitors back to your site. Why should Facebook benefit from all the links, addition of content feeding the tail and attention? You spend time in sites like Facebook and Twitter at the opportunity cost of your own site. When did we as marketers decide we would allow others to tell us what we can and can’t do with our marketing (yes, there are rules, controls and severe limitations in those networks).
Sorry Mitch, I don’t mean to complain today (and I do like you) but ultimately you serve a disservice to marketers when you push them in the direction of giving up the value of the open web. Brand experience websites suck and should die, I agree, but content/resource based sites are valuable and will live on – social or not.
Additionally, different brands have very different objectives from their digital participation. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to digital. If you treat your digital marketing as this type of solution, you can’t ever create something unique or remarkable. It’s not remarkable to have a Facebook or Twitter page (who would remark about that? At this point, other marketers – but not real people). It’s not remarkable to have a blog by itself. It is content that is worth remarking on, and that content should live in a place unique to you. At least if your brand is unique.
There is another fatal flaw with this advice: not all consumers want to be social. To only have a social presence and no well-crafted pages speaking to your business may confuse or scare off some prospects. It’s just not for everyone, and it’s the wrong approach to think everyone is like you. I grew up using social networks and was in them long before most, yet realized from the days of being on my 9600 baud modem some users just want information without necessarily getting social. That has not yet changed to this day.
The social web would be a depressing and ultimate boring place it was ruled by horizontal networks. The most influential, profitable and ultimately valuable networks for brands and media live on the open web. Despite the attempts of sites like Facebook to commoditize the web, passionate users demand something “for” them. I see examples in the industries I’m passionate about like music and I see it in areas I market to for clients. The best players in each industry have a website worth going to and content/communities worth engaging with that don’t live within walled gardens.