A question that most business owners have asked themselves in the past is “does my business need a website?”. If you’d have asked yourself that question 15 years ago or even 5 years ago the answer would have been dependant on what type of business you were in. Today however, I genuinely cannot think of any business that can answer “no” to the question. Why is that? What has changed and why is it that every single business now needs a website in order to survive?
In the mid to late 1990s very few businesses had harnessed the internet. Only a small percentage of people were actually using the internet for personal use and I think that the business community watched it with interest wondering if it was just another fad. As applications took advantage of what the internet had to offer such as email, relay chat and other instant forms of communication, so the internet began to gain momentum. Websites and web design stood on it’s wobbly legs and we started to see web addresses appear at the foot of the TV screen during an advertisement. .com and .co.uk started to gain interest around the world and the UK. The rest was simply evolution.
Communications companies began to see the potential and started to offer faster and faster internet connection speeds, one development lead to another, more applications, more technology, more and more large companies began to take advantage as this was a great way to communicate with their customer base. Banks started to encourage us to bank online, pay online and this was another huge step for the internet revolution.
As entrepreneurs focused their attentions to the internet we started to see local directories emerge, this started to take a toll on familiar offline publications such as the Yellow Pages. Ebay and Paypal offered a way for anyone to start an online business from home by providing a platform so large. that anybody could put their wares in front of an international market. It’s popularity would soon become it’s own downfall and the initial allure of ebay for small traders soon peaked as those who spotted the real long term opportunity went down the route of developing their own ecommerce website.
Google have played an enormous part in all this change. Providing not just a global search facility but also enabling any business to buy a place alongside the organic listings with Adwords. Google shared it’s success by offering a share of it’s profits to content providers and bloggers with the introduction of Adsense. Somewhere however, in between these large corporations and small independent traders, there was a sizeable collection of established, medium sized businesses that simply buried their head in the sand and hoped the internet would go away.
At weekend I went to a neighbouring town, Warrington in Cheshire, the same sorry sight as I’ve seen in my home town greeted me as I wondered through it’s centre, I’d guess that 40% off the shops were closed and either for sale or to let, this wasn’t just on the high street, this was in the swanky indoor shopping centre and even in the market! We’ve all watched in horror over the past few years as some famous businesses have buckled and closed their doors for good. Other than the obvious recession, what has caused this mass failure of our long established high street names?
At some point over the past ten years or so, most businesses have asked the question “Does my business need a website” and if we look at the businesses that have failed during the recession, a startling number of them have cited “online competition” as the main factor behind the collapse. What we have seen here is that these once successful and established high street names have simply failed to recognise the importance of the internet and how quickly it is developing. We’ve seen smarter, less encumbered, smaller, and leaner businesses grow during the recession simply because they’ve switched on to the technology around them. They’ve adapted to the changing environment, they’ve invested in web design and they’ve done business not on the high street but online where their clients hang out. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and more have exploded in popularity and as a result people are online for many hours a day, Mobile devices capable of running apps have fuelled this explosion and now the buying public are connected to the internet at work, at home, on holiday, non stop.
Gone are the benefits of having a great high street presence. Who wants to drive to town and pay for parking? In a recession people demand value, even when making a major purchase and the way to get value is by comparing suppliers on the internet. One major factor in the shift of power between major corporations and independent businesses has been the introduction of customer reviews.
It could be argued that Ebay played a key part in this development with their feedback system, buyers want to be informed of reputation, they want to know who they are dealing with, they care about reputation not about the size of the vendors retail premises. Everywhere that you look on the internet today you will see reviews, Google reviews, shopper reviews, they are everywhere. The smartest players out there realised this some time ago. They are out there right now earning money, at the top of their game, delivering great value and service and getting rewarded for it.
I’ve spoken so far about online retail business and it’s effect on the high street. Don’t for one minute think that because you don’t sell products that you’re somehow exempt. You’re a Plumber? or you’re a Dog Groomer maybe? a Chiropodist? Do a Google search now for your trade in your town, notice anything? On page one you’ve not just got local competition but also competition from neighbouring towns. They are taking your business away, bit by bit.
Who do you know who uses a Yellow Pages? Who do you know that still looks in a local paper? Sure there are a few people but it’s getting easier and easier to simply tap a query into your computer or phone or tablet and believe me, the large companies who are creating the environment such as Google aren’t going to stop developing this technology. Most phones will search based on your voice commands!
So you advertise in the local paper and you get enough business from there? who else advertises in the same paper? Do they print their web address too? Don’t you think that people tap that address into their iPad and take a look at their services and testimonials online? Local publications still have their place but their impact is getting less and less. People go online to research and compare, if you don’t have a website then you’re out of the running. It’s that simple.
Hopefully you’ve now seen the bigger picture, you need to be where your clients are, on Facebook, on Twitter, Online. Even if you don’t sell a product you still offer a service, you’re surrounded by others all fighting for survival in an electronic equivalent of the Galapagos Islands. If you haven’t already got a website for your business then it’s time you gave it some serious thought. If you have a website already then you need to take a long hard look at it and ask yourself if you’ve given it enough attention, is it working for you, is it up to date, informative, connected to social networks and engaging enough to attract clients? Do you have the right kind of website?
We all dream of a time gone by, when the high streets were bustling. It has to be said that the internet has perhaps caused as much harm as it has good but, do we stand by pretending that it’s a passing fad or do we jump on the monsters back and ride it into battle?
Can you think of any business that doesn’t need a website?
This article was written by Gwiz
SEO Geek, Web Designer and Online Marketing Advisor. Steve works with businesses of all sizes across the UK and blogs about small business, marketing, web design and SEO at http://stevegrady.org