Before you jump into building your web strategy, you first need to look at where the Internet is going and where it has been. Since the proliferation of the Internet, the way we communicate has changed drastically. As marketers, we too have changed the strategies, tactics and technologies we use to help grow our customers.
Way back in the early days of the Internet (about 10 years ago) companies propped up a basic HTML website and called it a day. Back in 1994, this simple approach helped to generate great awareness. This was especially true when there were only 2,738 websites in existence (according to Wikipedia). Today, a basic website with a homepage and a couple content pages is similar to a phone book listing. According to Netcraft's monthly Web Server Survey, as of July 2013, approximately 699 million active websites exist on the Internet.
Sure, we have new technologies, visitor tracking, lead generation tools, videos, enhanced calls to action, etc., etc. User interface design has gotten smarter, where we place graphics, advertisements and editorial copy has gotten more scientific. But the website itself has changed little. Most companies have incredibly boring websites, with static web pages that mean little to nothing to the visitor. Yeah, sure you have an "About Us" page and "Products" and "Services" pages, but in general, these are extremely boring pages that visitors quickly scan over, if at all. To add another layer of complexity, many eCommerce websites are full of products offered by third-party distributors or vendors. These vendors provide all of the product photos, descriptions, videos, etc. In these situations, every eCommerce merchant selling these products has the same photos, same descriptions and same videos. You need to be different, you need to be unique.
What is the future for small business websites & eCommerce?
The website is the hub of digital communications for a company. However, this "hub" is quickly becoming a system of third-party tools and tactics that make the whole digital communication ecosystem work for corporate growth. What am I talking about? I am talking about the ever-growing addiction and thirst humans have for knowledge and data. Today, we publish more data than ever before. Individuals are tweeting, blogging and contributing knowledge at a pace unprecedented in human history.
Fact: Every Two Years the World’s Information is Doubling!
Who's reading all of this content? We are - and we are gobbling it up as much as we can. So with all of this published content, what is the future of the small business website? In the next 36 months we will continue to see more and more communication take place in the social media environments and less focus on the small business website. This has already been happening for several years now and if you are not engaged in social media and content publishing, you need to reconsider your digital communication strategy.
Discussions, connections, recommendations and sales continue to grow in social environments. As this happens, the need for a small business website will diminish with the exception of eCommerce websites…for now. Will the small business website become obsolete? No, not in the next 36 months but it is possible within the next 5-7 years. What I predict is a morph of linked social environments that provide a completely transparent view into any company, regardless of size. The eCommerce website will wither in importance until it eventually phases out or takes on a new form of integrated technologies under one brand or multiple brands. We already see this with eCommerce today. As mobile devices continue to pull more and more consumers off of their laptop or desktop, buyers are purchasing your products from their office, car or toilet seat. Yeah, it's not pretty to think about, but it's true. From digital wallets to Facebook, commerce as we know it is changing and if you are not up to date on technologies, you may soon be a dinosaur. As this happens, websites, much like the newspaper, telephone and the written letter, will be a thing of the past and the whole marketing industry will morph again.