There is no question social media and blogging are, in these internet orientated days, the most popular avenues of communication. It has to be said, probably to the detriment of face to face interaction. As a result many do not bother with, or question the need for, a website. They do not consider there is anything further to be gained from having one. Of course, it very much depends upon what the individual, group, organisation or company hopes to achieve in their online presence.
Note: This topic is, primarily, being considered from the perspective of independent (indie) authors though many, if not most, of the aspects mentioned will undoubtedly apply equally to any business or entrepreneur. References to ‘business’ include authors (authorship is a business, especially with all the peripheral requirements of publishing, marketing, etc.).
In order to fully comprehend the subject, it will help to first consider the recognised differences between a website and a blog. Social media will be considered later.
A website is defined as being a collection of related web pages under a common Domain Name. The language is usually professional/formal (rather than chatty) and the information and data is primarily static (i.e. the majority does not frequently change.)
Benefits of a website:
- Provides a professional online presence.
- Promotes legitimacy to the person or business.
- Clear presentation of the Brand. (An author is ‘A Brand’.)
- Awareness of available products/services.
- Provides quality samples (e.g. for authors, could be a short, written, extract).
- Enables easier integration of an e-mail subscription system.
- Creates a virtual store (for those who sell direct to clients/customers).
- Place to announce new products/services.
- Ideal platform for self/product promotion and advertising.
Undoubtedly some will argue much of the above could be achieved in a blog and through social media. Of course it could but the aspects of perception and expectation must be considered. These are discussed later.
Drawbacks in a website:
- No interactivity. (Communication is one-way).
- Not a place to build a ‘personal’ contact list.
- Not a place to build relationships.
- Poor SEO (Search Engine Optimisation). (Search Engines look for regular updates.)
Some will consider these limited drawbacks are valid reason for not bothering with a website however, there is much more to the matter than first appears. Please read on.
Before continuing it will help to also consider the benefits and drawbacks of a blog on its own.
A blog is a type of website or rather one type of web page. The name is derived from ‘Web Log”. The language is usually informal/chatty and the content is, or should be, continually updated.
Benefits of a blog:
- Interactive, (Communications may be both ways.)
- Casual, laid-back approach.
- Place to build relationships/trust (e.g. commenting, online discussion, etc.).
- Provides for constant addition of informative/educational/entertaining content.
- For some: A place to have fun.
- Enables informal sharing (e.g. shares, likes, retweets, G+, etc.).
- Principally about the individual behind a business. (Website principally about the business.)
- Visitors/users may interact without feeling pressured to buy anything.
- Enables visitors/users to subscribe for regular updates.
Drawbacks in a blog:
- Generally unprofessional.
- May (rightly or wrongly) present an impression of immaturity.
- Not intended to be place for self/product promotion or advertising.
Principal Differences between a website and a blog
There is no doubt modern usage, particularly of blogs, has distorted traditional acceptances and understandings of the principles behind a website and blog. Though this must be recognised, and to some degree accepted, it is still sensible to further consider the differences. This is especially so for anyone running a business (to repeat: authorship is a business).
Website: A static site that presents a clear, concise, professional overview of the business, organisation or person (as someone running a business, organisation or event).
Agents; publishers; bookstores/retailers; librarians; reviewers; media personnel; potential clients; etc., if they become interested in a product (book), will expect to see a professional website. They will wish to find all relevant information clearly and concisely presented. Most are very busy and will not have time to plough though multiple pages to find what they want. In fact, they will very quickly abandon the project if this happens. The website is the place to provide a comprehensive overview of a business and its products.
Blog: Primarily seen as a place to provide helpful, valuable, informative and interesting content that helps others and that they find interesting. This is the place to build trust; to allow people to get to know the ‘author’ (meant in all senses of the word). Though many do use them for such purposes, blogs are not really intended to be the place for advertising or hard selling.
As already implied, blogs are designed to be friendly areas where individuals may connect with and discover more about, the author; the business individual; etc. It is likely, if they decide to become involved: agents; publishers; book retailers; etc. will want to confirm their potential client already has a valid presence where they readily interact with their readers, fans, followers, etc. A blog is generally where such ‘personal’ interaction takes place. The agent etc. will be able to assess validity for any ‘potential’ business from the volume and quality of existing interactions.
Best practice is considered a website with an integrated blog. By this means there is provision for both static (generally unchanging) web pages (e.g. ‘About’, ‘Contact’, etc.) and ever changing, interactive, (regularly updated) pages (i.e. blog). Care should be taken not to intermix the two. A ‘static’ front page for the website element is strongly advised. This method also enables some of the drawbacks mentioned above to be counteracted, for example: by having an e-mail subscription service in a side column that appears with both static and interactive pages.
Some internet users consider social media alone fulfils their requirements (Facebook; Twitter; Instagram; etc.). It rather depends upon what they hope to achieve. If they simply wish to interact with family and friends then fine but for any serious author or entrepreneur, only having a social media presence will probably be a mistake. Of course social media may be utilised, and may be effective in gaining attention and interest. However, there are serious drawbacks in that the user has no control over these or any other third party sites. For them a dedicated, managed, presence is recommended.
If someone hears about a product (book) and wishes to know more, they will more than likely search the internet. What results will they receive?/What will be revealed? For anyone who is serious about their business this is important. Having a website has a noticeable impact upon discoverability. For example: A search of ‘T. R. Robinson Publications’, this website, will immediately bring up the website’s ‘Home’ page where the user is able to find relevant information about the ‘business’. Having social media alone does not present the searcher with a professional profile. Of course, links to social media accounts may be included within a website but should not be relied upon alone.
Legitimacy has been previously mentioned: When looking for a book or product, people expect to easily find information and details. Apparently, if they only come across social media accounts and not a website, conscious/sub-conscious concern automatically arises. They may speculate: Is there something wrong with the product?; Can the person, organisation, company be trusted?; Is it a scam?; etc. A website does generate a sense of legitimacy.
Anyone who is serious about their business should have a website.
Best practice is to have a website with an integrated blog (continually updated and maintained).
For those who do not like blogging and have no wish to burden themselves with the necessity of keeping a blog up to date, it is fine not to have one. It is better not to have one than to have one that is poorly maintained and consequently presents a poor image. Nevertheless, they should have a website (being primarily static it does not require constant maintenance).
A social media presence alone is not advised. The sites frequently change their operating algorithms meaning account holders cannot guarantee who is going to see their posted material. It is also possible the company/site may cease to exist with the consequent loss of all content.
A high percentage of people now use the internet for all aspects of their lives: interconnectivity; information; reading; discovery; fun; and so on. They expect to find almost anything they look for without too much hassle. Therefore, not to have a valid, robust internet presence (a website) may very well prove counterproductive especially as more and more people shop online.
Setting up a website is now a fairly easy process with many free options (e.g. WordPress; Blogger; etc.). However, those who wish to sell direct from their website will need to consider a self-hosted or managed site. This will be discussed in a subsequent article ‘Websites – Hosted v Self-Hosted’ (a link will be provided once it is available).
It is fairly easy for those who currently only have a blog to update it to a full website. (Most providers enable such upgrades.) As previously stated a blog is essentially a website. Basically, to upgrade a blog, it simply requires the designation of a ‘static’ ‘Home’ page. The ‘pages’ element of a site should provide for this option. If this cannot be done, it is normally possible to set up a new website and transfer data from the existing blog to it. The help/support group of a blog host provider should be able to assist either with information on how to do it or with actual transfer.
A website does not have to be complicated; even a one page one is worth having.