When it comes to a website, there’s no one size fits all. In my area of expertise, I focus on businesses that have a significant part of their business happening online. Sometimes that’s the attracting, funneling and nurturing of traffic into sales leads (that’s common to almost every business); sometimes that’s eCommerce; sometimes it’s online course building and sales, or online booking and sales for real-life, in-person services.
But occasionally, I get inquiries from business owners who aren’t sure if they really need a full-on, your-business-here.com type website. For example, if you have a small business that mostly serves those local to you, pick your favorite search engine and search “[your trade here] near me”. The results you see might be mostly Google My Business, Yelp, Angie’s List, Facebook, or other big-name directories or social media platforms. This might make you wonder, if this is what customers are using to compare and shop, why not just make sure your business is on all those platforms and call it good?
You can rank well on local search without a website, but…
It is important to make sure that you do have a high quality listing on any platform that is popular with your target audience. But you may want to consider carefully and think long-term before deciding that’s all you need.
Here’s some food for thought. For simplicity, I’m going to use the most popular social media platform, Facebook, as an example in this post. But in principle, the following considerations can be applied to any platform that allows you to create your own page and advertise your business on their website.
Who really owns your page?
Some business owners, especially ones just starting out, may find a measure of success with only a free page for their business on Facebook. After all, it seems to cover all the bases. When a potential customer googles your business name, the first result may be that page, and it’s got your number, your location, all the services or products you offer– who could ask for more?
Consider that a Facebook business page is built on a platform that is owned and controlled by someone else, with their own interests and profit in mind. While your interests and Facebook’s may seem aligned for the moment, that may not always be the case. Keep in mind the important internet principle:
If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product.
The real customers of Facebook are the advertisers. Of course, what if you pay Facebook for advertising? Some find a measure of success in this, especially if they get expert advice or pay someone to put together a Facebook campaign for them. Paid advertising through Facebook can be a valuable part of a healthy online strategy. But if it’s your only source of leads, you might be building your business on a shaky foundation.
After all, Facebook takes money from all comers, including your competition. In fact, they’re advertising your competitors to your customers right on your own page– just take a look at the “related pages” section of your own business page.
Lately, it seems that Facebook is focusing less on being a friend of business owners and more on person-to-person connections. Maybe it’s because of growing distrust among their user base, and a user base that in the United States has stopped growing. The platform is a little swamped with ads, and that may not be the feeling that Facebook wants to sell moving forward. So at any point, your source of leads could dry up, or your strategy could require a complete change, or advertising could become too expensive to be worth the quality of leads it produces.
And that leads to another potential concern.
Do you really want the business you’re getting from Facebook?
Is it possible for leads to harm rather than help your business? If they are low-quality leads, not your ideal customer, and they can’t afford what you’re offering– yes, they can do more harm than good.
If you are in an extremely niche, less competitive market, or if you are already a the top of your market, you may want all the traffic that Facebook can send your way. For those in that position, Facebook is a goldmine of word-of-mouth advertising. Without spending a dime, they get priceless advertising as customers tell their friends and leave five-star reviews.
However, if you are in a competitive market or if you are just starting out or ramping up your marketing, the leads you get from Facebook may be a little different. If you don’t have your ideal customer targeted, chasing those leads can mean running a race to the bottom.
All things being equal, a smart consumer will pick the cheaper option.
Of course, all things are not equal. There’s a ton of unique selling points that you have that make you head and shoulders above your competition. But having a page that looks exactly like your everyone else’s certainly levels the playing field.
How can you stand out and compete on quality if customers can’t readily tell the difference between you and the other guy? The only way to compete in a market like that is on price– and that leads to low-quality leads who aren’t willing to spend. Those customers are always the hardest to please, and when it’s all over they rarely leave nice reviews, and if they do tell their friends, guess what? Their friends are just like them.
Consider also: everyone knows that Facebook is free. So if your only online presence is Facebook, you might look like you’re hurting for business, or new– in other words, you’re cheap. Is that a signal you want to send to your customers?
- You don’t own your Facebook page, so you can’t control who sees it. Even if you pay Facebook to show your page to their users, it may not always work because they aren’t in business for you to be successful.
- Even if you have success for a while, it’s not your platform, so if it’s your sole source of leads, your business could dry up at any moment.
- Because they are providing pages to anyone, including your competitors, your page looks exactly like everyone else’s, and it’s hard to stand out that way. So it’s hard to charge a premium, since you’re essentially competing on price only. The customers that you get may be harder to deal with than others.