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Is the Website Becoming Irrelevant?

Posted on 8.05.2010

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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