Is the Website Becoming Irrelevant?

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Remember the day a few years ago when you reviewed your website traffic and discovered that most of your visitors were no longer entering through the homepage? Instead, they were landing on lower-level content or product pages, usually from a search engine.

From that day on, your homepage was no longer the center of your online universe — just one of many points of entry to consider as you fashioned your online business presence.

Now it may be your website’s turn for a demotion. And you can blame it on the distributed Web.

The distributed Web is here (finally) Imagine a world where customers, employees and partners can access your information and products anytime and anywhere, with ease. That’s the distributed Web: A consistent online brand presence across multiple channels and platforms, including websites, mobile phones, social media sites, e-mail, syndication and widgets.

The distributed Web has long been a promise of the Internet, but it was slow in coming. Two dynamics have changed that: the explosion of mobile and social media.

The mobile Web has arrived. With the launch of the iPhone in 2007 and its growing list of smartphone competitors, the long-prophesied mobile revolution is in full swing:

  • The number of people accessing news and information via mobile devices in the U.S. more than doubled between 2008 and 2009. (comScore, March, 2009) 
  • The majority of mobile phone owners now own a smartphone and 57 percent access the Internet from their phones. (Razorfish Digital Brand Experience Report, September, 2009) 

 Innovative brands from Apple to Zipcar are experiencing enormous success with mobile. In fact, a customer with Zipcar’s new iPhone app can have a highly successful relationship with the company without ever visiting Zipcar.com. The same can be said for Yelp! and a growing list of other brands. And we’re really just getting started.

Everything is social now. In the last 18 months, the line between “social sites” and other types of websites has disappeared. Almost every site now — from e-commerce sites to corporate intranets — has social features. And with brand experiences and conversations increasingly taking place off-site on Facebook, MySpace, Scribd, Flickr, YouTube, Twitter and hundreds of other community and e-commerce sites, the social Web has changed the very concept of where brands “live” on the Internet. Consequently, the online behavior of brands and consumers is changing at a rapid pace:

  • 99 percent of Generation Y users (aged 18-24) have a profile on a social networking site. (Participatory Marketing Network, May, 2009) 
  • Three-quarters of Americans aged 18-34 years old have a Facebook or MySpace account. (Harris Interactive, April, 2009) 
  • 66 percent of marketers utilized social media in 2009, as compared to 20 percent in 2007. (Association of National Advertisers, August, 2009) 


What it all means
Does this mean the end of your website as you know it? Not yet. But for many firms, a website accessed from a desktop or laptop computer will no longer be the hub of their digital business world but just another spoke. Fear not, however, as there is more to be gained than lost in this new world, including better opportunities than ever to attract new customers, connect with existing customers and find new sources of revenue. Consider that:

  • One in four U.S. mobile users with Internet access use it to buy goods and services online (Harris Interactive) 
  • For 200 leading websites accessed on both PCs and phones, Nielsen reports that mobile traffic provides an average 13-percent lift on total audience over home PC traffic alone. (Nielsen Mobile, July, 2008) 
  • 81 percent of people use consumer reviews in their purchase decisions. (Nielsen Online via BizReport, February, 2009) 
  • Well over half of respondents agree the e-mails they receive directly influence their (offline) overall shopping activity. (Epsilon, October, 2008) 

 What’s more, customers who interact with your brand through non-website channels may be your best customers. It is well documented that users who access Facebook through mobile devices are almost 50 percent more active online than those who don‘t.

Transitioning to the post-website world
When thinking about the post-website world and its opportunities, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the seemingly endless possibilities, or distracted by the hype around hot devices and platforms like the iPad, Twitter and Facebook.

But it’s easier than it seems to get your bearings. The key is to stay focused on your target audiences, rather than on technology. Start by asking yourself questions such as the following:

  • Who are our users and how are they currently spending time on the Web? 
  • What is their mobile behavior? What devices do they use? 
  • What is their social behavior? What social sites do they use? 
  • At what time and place might they think of, or need, what we offer? 
  • How are mobile and social users impacting our bottom line? 

 Through questions like these, a profile will emerge of how your key audiences move through their lives, how they are interacting with the Web today, and how you can best reach them and add value to their lives through an appropriate combination of traditional websites, mobile websites or applications, text messaging, e-mail or a presence on third-party sites like Facebook, Yelp or Citysearch.

Are you ready for the post-website world? To thrive in this new landscape, you will need to devise strategies that make your brand accessible and relevant to people on their terms, wherever they happen to be. And this does not mean simply repurposing existing website content for other platforms. It means creating new experiences that make sense for the time and place they are experienced.

The game is changing fast. Are you ready for the post-website world?

About the Author: Scott McDonald is co-founder and managing director of Modus Associates, a digital strategy and design consultancy based in New York City. A frequent industry speaker and writer, he has advised global brands including Morgan Stanley & Co., Sony, Citibank and SIRIUS Satellite Radio, among others.

 

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11 comments

Theo 08-06-2010 3:12 PM

Great article.

The key is getting people the info they want.  When and where they want it.  It's simply a matter of convenience.  And ease of use.

When I'm on my smartphone I want to use as few clicks as possible to get where I'm going.  I don't mind an extra click or three on my laptop, but on my s'phone i want to get to where I'm goin in a hurry.  Giddy-up!

What consumer products companies (outside of tech) are leading the charge toward the Distributed Web?

Theo

Nigel T Packer 08-06-2010 4:05 PM

Scott,

The end of the website is far away.  The website is the transactional part of the business and will never be replaced by the social and reference sites that are online.  People will access it through their mobiles or Ipads to carry out their final transactions.

User groups

You are correct in the need to analyse the user groups that you are targeting and to build user personas for each group.

What so many are not familiar and have difficulty in getting a handle on is the connectivity between all the different media and mediums that the information for your business needs to make the while thing work.

The internet is a system not a physical shop As you rightly say in the first part of your article people arrive in different parts of your website.  They click on a link and move three floors up and two departments across - instantly.

One of the fundamental issues is the education of business owners.  What they have to realise it is not the technology that is important but the system, the information, and the communication to the humans that use the website.  I am still waiting for the first order from a robot or spider that comes from the search engines.  People buy services not technology.  Make the system, website work for the user, the technology should be seamless

I recently published an article entitled ‘What would you get if you ordered food the same way as you commission your website’.  Most people would get food but it may not be what they expected.  With websites business owners spend considerable sums on website designers abdicating the responsibility for the site to the designer who knows little about their business and products and even less about their customers.

Thank you for the article, much food for thought.

Regards

Nigel T Packer

MaryF 08-06-2010 4:31 PM

The two comments that resonate most for me are "Who are our users and how are they currently spending time on the Web?  

"What is their mobile behavior? What devices do they use?  Many of my clients are still doing business with faxes.  It will be interesting to see if they jump the Web and go straight to mobile.

Bloggers School 08-06-2010 4:34 PM

This is welcome news!!

Trying to make an old business understand new tricks is the hard part. The part in this article about entrance points is so true. People concentrate on the home page that really does not matter any more.

Most Blogs are like magnets attracting new clients with relevant content about what the searcher wants to see. When this happens they are taken to the article page Or the Blog page.

So many possible names and domains it's like the Gold rush all over again.

Finally the world makes sense.

John

MartinO 08-06-2010 8:03 PM

I feel we are in an important phase - but I think it's far too early to toll the end of the website - it all depends on the business or organisation and what they want to achieve.

And the term 'website' is very broad - I mean for website designers, it can simply mean being open to producing smart-phone ready websites for the smaller screen (and excluding Flash for iPods/iPhones as it currently stands).

There is a challenge as how to harness social media, but it isn't going to be a 'must' for all businesses. Market research, as always, is needed before launching an on-line campaign of any sorts.

I am writing this comment on a website at the end of the day - yes it's interactive and people can add comments - but the base is still the same. We have moved on from static content websites but don't write them off just yet.

But thanks for the article, it's good to get a variety of views of these kinds of subjects.

Atlanta Real Estate 08-07-2010 10:55 AM

Whoever wrote his article is becoming irrelevant.

~ Commented through my Website Magazine iPhone App!

RobbL 08-07-2010 7:13 PM

I am writing this comment from my droid :) ... totally don't think the end of the website is near or will ever be a reality... but your points are well taken in that from a marketing perspective, the website will not be the only online element that needs attention.

~ Commented through my Website Magazine Android App!

GregW 08-08-2010 8:08 AM

I completely agree with NigelP. I also concur with the article regarding the web sites role online. I feel that it is only ONE effort online and should (in a retailers mind) be priority. However this should not be at the expense of other efforts including email/social/mobile (obviously). As a online retailer I am watching the mobile web intently and increasingly solidifying my plans as I see my users needs develop.

JohnC: you made mention of an old business learning a new trick. I agree there as well. the company that I work for has been around since 1955. I enjoy the satisfaction of getting a "new trick" in place and seeing the results. Yes the struggle is to prove the need to carve out support in a landscape of "limited resources". In my case the "limited resources" seem to be the biggest bump in the road to success.

RobbiL: I am writing this from my beloved MacBook Pro which at one point was the center of my life (connectively speaking  and with all due respect to my beloved wife and kids - of course). I recently picked up the iPad, and already own the iPhone. I have to say the iPhone is now the center of my digital life with the iPad complimenting it or in ways gaining ground toward the center of my connected life.

No, the website will not go away it will. Morph into what it needs to be. The writer of the article is not irrelevant just trying to sensationalize to get you to read it. :) worked... just like the subject lines of our email campaigns need to work.

niche markets 08-08-2010 2:16 PM

I think static websites are obsolete for the most part. Blogs with recent information is much more appealing to regular visitors. Moile use is on the rise but all it really does is allow internet users to get more face time online.

MarkB 08-08-2010 4:26 PM

Indeed, there are many websites out there that we do not really need (do not serve a real business  purpose).  But, instead of killing the website, a better move is to create an integrated website/blog and through strategic integration, work to leverage your website, blog, Facebook page, LinkedIn, Twitter and all traditional forms of marketing communication.  The website should become the hub for all communications efforts.

Mark Burgess

www.bluefocusmarketing.com

Scott McDonald 08-18-2010 2:49 PM

Thanks everyone for the great perspectives.

Wired Magazine weighed in on this topic in their latest issue. They go a bit deeper and wider, and bring some compelling data to the argument. It's definitely worth a read:

www.wired.com/.../1

Scott McDonald (The Author)

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