Standing along Pine Street in St. Louis, watching a pop-up bike lane in action, I struck up a conversation with a 64-year-old MetroBus...
Is that a rhetorical question? Doesn’t everyone need a website? Well, no. There are some businesses or organizations who honestly don’t need a website — they just need web presence.
But web presence is mandatory. The web is here to stay, and it’s the first stop for most shoppers. According to the 2014 State of B2B Procurement study from the Acquity Group, 94 percent of business buyers do some type of online research prior to buying, and multiple internet sources say 81 percent of general consumers go online before making a purchase.
A website is part of your web presence, but web presence isn’t necessarily a website. Confused? It helps to think of web presence in three categories: owned, rented, and borrowed. Websites can be owned or rented. Each of those options allows you to use your own domain, like www.yourcompanyname.com. With a borrowed web presence, you use part of your host’s domain and attach your own identifier, like www.facebook.com/yourcompanyname. I like to think of these three different options like three different kinds of homes you can buy, and finding the perfect home all depends on your needs and your resources.
An owned web presence allows for the highest level of customization. If you want to plan your home to the last fraction of an inch, if you want to pick from the world’s supply of cabinets, floors, doors, and even hinges, then you want a custom-built presence.
A truly customizable site requires a great deal of flexibility. Owning your website allows you to choose your hosting provider, have your own address, and add on new features at a whim. You can control everything viewers can (or can’t) see when they’re on your website. Just like a custom-built home.
Developers may use WordPress.org, Drupal, or Joomla as a platform to build your site. If any of those platforms went belly up tomorrow, your website would stay just as it is today. It would be at greater risk of getting hacked, but it wouldn’t slip out of existence.
Flexibility, however, comes with a price tag and a level of responsibility to continually maintain your chosen software platform. It’s not the best decision for everyone. You may not need a custom-built site at this point in your business. If that’s the case, consider leasing your online property.
Renting your online presence isn’t a bad thing; it’s actually the right thing for many businesses of all shapes and sizes. But, just like ownership, it comes with its own set of challenges.
Rented web presence comes in a variety of customization levels. Companies like Wix, WordPress.com, Shopify, and Squarespace allow you to rent their platform and perform some level of customization. Using a website on a platform like these is like renting a home. You can use the space you rent, but you deal with the limitations imposed by your landlord. You have your own address and some flexibility over your site.
Some of these web landlords let you sell products in a semi-customized shopping experience, while others offer greater design flexibility. If you want your website to do something beyond the limits of your chosen platform, you can’t do it if your web landlord says no.
You don’t have to do the upkeep on the code, but you don’t have a say in how the code is kept either. Your landlord is obligated to replace your fridge when it breaks, but they pick the model of your new fridge.
Some artisans or small groups may find that this borrowed environment is just what they need to have an online presence. It’s super low-cost and easy to reach out to a new audience.
Using borrowed web presence to promote your business or organization is like living with your parents. You have a room, and you can make it your own with the furniture they provide. Etsy, eBay, and Facebook are obviously less customizable than rented or owned spaces, but you can adjust the header for your borrowed space, though the sites force you into a more regimented appearance and functionality.
These sites, like parents, enforce more rules upon the people living in their homes for free. And if your parents decide to move or change your room, you just deal with it. Their house, their rules.
So, what seems at first like such a silly question — “Do I need a website?” — is actually a bit of a loaded question. You may not need a website, and even if you do, your needs can still vary. The real question is, “Do I need a web presence?” Absolutely. And fortunately there are options available in all shapes, sizes, and budgets to get you moving in the right direction.
Monica Pitts is the chief creative director of MayeCreate Design.