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Do You Still Need a Website? (Thinks Out Loud Episode 400)

Screenshot of home page to illustrate the question of "Do you need a website?"

We’re halfway through the 2020s. Do you still need a website? That’s the question posed on LinkedIn a few days back and, at least in part, underscored by the fact that I saw the question — and responded to it — on LinkedIn. That almost proves its own point, that social channels and Big Tech owned platforms have won and that your website is destined to be an also-ran.

Or does it?

I’d argue, "No." I’d argue that while you need to carefully curate a digital presence that includes social profile pages and Big Tech hosted platforms, a comprehensive digital presence that doesn’t include your own website and email list is not, in fact, a comprehensive digital presence. That the best way to win is to think in terms of "Hub and Spoke," of using your website in coordination with social and other intermediary channels to provide your customers with the experience and content they need, where and when they need it.

Why is your website still important halfway through the 2020s? How can you build an effective "Hub and Spoke" strategy that leverages the best of both your website and social channels? Most importantly, how can you best meet your customers’ needs in the mid-2020s… and beyond? That’s what this episode of the Thinks Out Loud podcast is all about.

Want to learn more? Here are the show notes for you.

Do You Still Need a Website? (Thinks Out Loud Episode 400) Headlines and Show Notes

Show Notes and Links

You might also enjoy this webinar I recently participated in with Miles Partnership that looked at "The Power of Generative AI and ChatGPT: What It Means for Tourism & Hospitality" here:

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Running time: 25m 42s

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Transcript: Do You Still Need a Website? (Thinks Out Loud Episode 400)

Well, hello again, everybody, and welcome back to Thinks Out Loud, your source for all the digital expertise your business needs. My name is Tim Peter. This is episode 400 of the Big Show. I am gobsmacked. I am absolutely Beside myself and just joyful 400 episodes.

How are there 400 episodes of this show? Well, the easy answer is because of you, because you listen, because you download, because you participate, you set questions, all of that. I wouldn’t do this show without you. I really appreciate you tuning in. And I think we’ve got a really cool show for you today.

This is not, I’m not one to look back in big ways. I’m not one to, you know, spend much time thinking about what’s gone before. I like to think about where we are and where we’re going most of the time. What’s also true is we started this podcast with some pretty simple questions about marketing and specifically about digital marketing.

You know, where is marketing going? And the first thing we looked at on the very first episode of the show, you know, 11 years, one month, and 13 days ago was all about the whys of mobile and specifically why it was important to invest in a mobile website, why that mattered for your business, why that was going to matter for your business.

And I think 11 years later, we’ve probably been proven pretty right about this. So imagine my shock when the other day on LinkedIn I saw a post that talked about why some businesses, particularly small businesses, might not need a website. Now if you work for a large business, if you work for a large enterprise, hang with me for a minute.

Because while I know some of what I’m about to talk about is more relevant to small businesses, There are some specific things you want to think about for all businesses. So this person, the person who posted on LinkedIn was talking about the fact that you get more reach from your Google business profile or your LinkedIn page or Facebook or Instagram than you’re ever going to get from your website.

And so you really should focus your energies there. You also could make the argument, I’m going to just dive in and make the argument, that with the emergence of artificial intelligence and potentially down the road something like the metaverse, individual websites are less valuable. We’re just a couple of months short of 2024.

The 2020s as a decade are almost half over. So, does your business still need a website almost 30 years after the introduction of the web? It’s a fair question. It’s a totally fair question. My answer is very simple. It’s not just yes. It’s hell yes. It is absolutely yes. It’s you’ve got to be thinking about this kind of in a very weird way and I would argue mostly a wrong way if you think the answer’s no.

Now if you disagree, I want to hear from you and we want to have that debate. But I’m going to lay mine out for you, A, for small businesses, and B, for why you’re probably under investing in your web presence today and in your website today. As I argued in my post on LinkedIn, if you’re going to suggest that people don’t need a website, would you suggest that every, not every business needs an email address?

or that not every business needs a phone. Those arguments make about the same amount of sense. We want to be available to our customers. We want to be some place where they can find us and interact with us that we have some control over. And I’m going to spend a fair bit of time on this today. Now, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a good social preference, a good social presence rather, excuse me.

It just means that you don’t want to necessarily put all your eggs in that basket. We know that gatekeepers are gonna gate. If you’ve listened to this show for any length of time, that is a core thesis of this show. Google and Facebook or Instagram or LinkedIn and Microsoft and Apple’s App Store and Amazon for e commerce or, for instance, if you’re a writer and you have an author page.

And whatever comes next, if it’s ChatGPT or Claude Bianthropic or niche players like Booking. com or Expedia for travel or DoorDash or Instacart for restaurants and local retail, so on. They want to charge you for every customer interaction. That’s a fact. We know this to be true. Bill Reddy, who was Google’s former president of e commerce, said president of commerce, rather, said, Think of Google as the connector between you and your evolving customer base.

Call me crazy, but anytime a big tech company tells you that there’s a path to success that starts and ends with them, Ha ha, check your wallet. Right, keep it really close. By the way, the best part about this is Bill Reddy is, you know, he left Google, he’s now the CEO of Pinterest. I wonder what he thinks of that quote today.

Do you really think Pinterest is like, well, we don’t need a website. We’ll just put all our stuff on Google Images. Oh right, yeah, no, I bet that’s not happening. And they seem like a pretty big business. So, you know, those of you who are bigger businesses, think about that. Now, it’s okay to use these tools, to use these folks, if they’re helping you reach someone you can’t reach on your own.

Especially the first time. I’m going to give an example of this in just a moment. But it’s a nightmare if you’re using an intermediary to connect with a customer you’ve got some relationship with. It’s a nightmare if you’re using them every single time. There was a recent study that found that Amazon’s share of sales that of merchants conduct on its platform can 50%.

There’s other data that shows YouTubers might only get 42 percent of the revenue after YouTube and Apple take their cuts. Imagine paying that every time you wanted to connect with a client or customer. Here’s a real world scenario from just one industry. Booking. com and Expedia take a healthy chunk of revenues from each purchase that they deliver.

I do a lot of work with hotel clients, right? And we have seen that there’s research that shows hotels will spend at least 47 billion dollars this year with online travel agencies and almost 75 billion dollars for all indirect business. The average hotel costs them about three quarters of a million dollars per year for business that comes through those channels.

It’s why my hotel clients make sure that they get the most of their money, or excuse me, that they get most of their money through direct channels like their website. It’s also not an either or scenario. Third parties of any kind have their use. One hotel client makes a small amount of money every single year from Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and France.

It’s a nice extra little piece of business. It’s also not near enough to build an internationalized, localized, and translated set of content and experiences for people who speak German, Italian, and French natively. The client is more than happy to pay Booking. com and Expedia to reach those customers most of the time, especially the first time.

They simply don’t get enough business and probably never will from those countries. To make it worth the investment it would take to make their site, my client’s site, the first place that these customers would go. At the same time, it would absolutely be a losing proposition, or at least a terribly expensive one, to rely on somebody like Booking.

com or Expedia for all of their business. It’s not either or, it is both and. Now, if you think this is just related to a specific industry or a specific business, think about Google’s array of products. So there’s Google Search, of course, but there’s Google Maps, there’s Google Local, there’s Google Reviews, there’s Google Finance, there’s Google Shopping, Google Hotel Finder, Google Flights, Google Real Estate, Google Jobs, and that’s before we get to things like Search Generative Experience.

What do you think is more likely? Do you think that Google is doing this to give more exposure to brands and businesses in these various categories? Or, and hear me out here, are they doing this to grow their business and find new ways to, as Bill Reddy said, insert themselves between you and your customer?

I don’t know about you, but I’m probably putting my money on column two there. Right? Okay, so there are, there is an argument to be made against a website. There is, there absolutely is. One, they have a relatively high upfront cost. You have to build and maintain the thing often before you ever get a dollar’s worth of revenue out of them.

That takes money. That takes time, and that takes knowledge, and people struggle with all of those. You know, that’s the truth. Whereas anybody can set up a, you know, any business or individual can set up a page on LinkedIn, or Facebook, or Instagram, or YouTube in moments. There also is a very real challenge.

And this is something that we talk about on the show a fair bit, and I guarantee we’ll talk about more as we go forward. But there is a real challenge with getting your content in front of people, getting reach for your content. And this is where the core of the original argument on LinkedIn came from, is how do you get that reach.

It’s entirely fair. Joe Polizzi from the Content Marketing Institute and from The Tilt had a great, great piece about this on, as it happens, LinkedIn the other day that talked about the various content business models and how the decline of social in terms of sending clicks to your website. I’m totally going to share this in the show notes.

You absolutely should click on that link and give it a read. So that’s a very real, those are very real things. There’s a cost situation, in terms of knowledge, money, and time. And there’s a reach situation. I think that those two arguments, however, have a bit of a myth embedded in them. And the myth is somewhat tied together.

So, yes, you can get a lot of reach on social. But if everyone is using those tools, so can everyone else. We did a podcast episode quite some time ago that talked about, you know, if a digital makes marketing easier for everybody, which makes marketing harder for everybody, you have to compete against everyone else.

And if everyone is using those tools, how do you stand out? How do you cut through so that you can be found? And obviously, that’s going to diminish your reach because you’re fighting against more and more people. And also, it kind of undercuts the cost situation. I think the low cost thing is a myth. How much knowledge do you need to acquire to show up as the first place?

How much time do you have to invest to get there? The worst part about it, of course, is to learn how to do that. You’re all in on one channel, and it’s one that you don’t own. It’s one where they can change the rules at any time. Notice the problem? You know, believe it or not, this isn’t me. It’s gonna seem like I’m contradicting myself right now, but this isn’t me saying, Don’t build your brand on rented land.

That’s ridiculous. You always should use rented land, or I shouldn’t say always, you should usually use rented land as some part of reaching your customers. As I noted earlier, rented land can be the most effective and cost efficient way of reaching a new customer, particularly in markets you may not have a lot of resources to dedicate to.

What the point I’m making is don’t build your brand only on rented land. Don’t build your brand solely on rented land. If you’ve listened to the show for any of the last, I don’t know, 400 episodes, I don’t ever recommend going all in on only a single channel ever. Even if it’s one you own. Tomorrow, email, or SMS, or chat, or voice, or VR, or something being cooked up by two kids in a garage could become the best channel to reach your customers.

You want to be somewhat diverse in your chosen channels. You don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket. Instead of either or, think more in terms of both and. Or, if you’ve listened to the show once or twice before, you’ll have heard me use this expression, hub and spoke. I will say, if you’re going to go all in on one channel, it absolutely should be one you own.

Right? But, Don’t go all in on one channel! Think in terms of hub and spoke. Think in terms of using these as complementary sets of tools. The way I think about this a lot, and there’s a quote from Peter Drucker, the legendary consultant, who said, the purpose of business is to create and keep a customer.

And to do that, you only have two basic functions, marketing and innovation. I agree. That’s your whole job. By the way, marketing and innovation kind of sound a bit like content is king and customer experience is queen. We’re creating content. We’re marketing to connect with our customers and we’re creating great customer experiences.

We’re innovating on those customer experiences and our products and our services and the interactions that customers have with us to create that customer and keep them coming back to us. For most businesses, pretty much all businesses, big, small, everywhere in between, the first experience potential customers have with your business is your digital presence.

Until they walk into your store, until they sit down in your restaurant, until they stay in your hotel, until they want to talk to your sales people, digital is the deepest experience that they will have with your brand. In fact, it might be the only experience they have with your brand for a long time.

Do you really want to outsource 100 percent of that experience to someone else? Really? Really? You need to have a way to reach your customers and a way for them to find you. A page on LinkedIn or Instagram or Facebook can and should be part of that. But building a presence on those channels, in addition to the knowledge of how to do it and the time you invest in it, requires answering a series of questions for your customers.

And for you, starting with who is your customer? What do they care about? What do they need to know? Why does it matter to them in this moment? That’s what building a content strategy is about. You’re building a set, you’re answering a set of these functional and foundational questions to address the answers that they need.

By the way, those are essentially the same ones you should ask about your customers to ensure that you’re offering them the products and services that meet their needs. Oh, and by the way, those are the questions you need to ask to have a useful website. That’s the, that’s the core of what your website is.

Your website’s not the design, though that plays a part of it. Your website is the content that helps your customers. This becomes a gift that keeps on giving, and giving, and giving. The only thing you need to add to your basic content strategy is your content distribution plan. As you answer these questions, where’s the right place to put this content?

And if you’re going to put it on some place like Facebook or LinkedIn or the like, you’re banking entirely on one place for that content to break through. Wouldn’t you be better served putting it on more places, including, I don’t know, a place that you own? If content is king and customer experience is queen, shouldn’t you provide those royal rear ends with a throne to sit on?

You want a place where your customers can always find your content, and where you can exercise complete control over the customer experience you provide. That’s what your website really is. It’s the throne. It’s the hub when we talk about a hub and spoke strategy. Another way to think about this is you’re not just creating a social page or you’re not just creating a website.

You’re hiring a team to find and attract and convert and support your customers throughout their entire life cycle. There are times when you really, really want to own the throne, when you want to hire those folks in house. That’s your website, that’s your email list, and there are times when it’s okay to subcontract those activities.

That’s the social platforms, that’s the spokes. And if I can really mix my metaphors here, when you make them work together, you’re really going to be able to dominate your kingdom effectively because they’re working in conjunction with one another. It’s not either or, it is both and. Now I mentioned at the top of this episode that this thought process of putting everything on social or just creating a social page is much more common among small businesses.

The same reality becomes true though for large businesses who under invest in the talent and tools necessary to help their customers accomplish their goals online. A great website, a great web presence, is your 24x7x365 salesperson. It’s your 24x7x365 customer service rep. And it’s what your customers expect every day.

In fact, now more than ever, much more than they did 12 years ago. The simple fact of it is, you’re building this team of salespeople and customer service folks, whose job it is to take care of your customers in their moment of need any time of the day. So whether you’re a small business or a large business, you want to think really carefully about how do we invest properly to make sure we’re doing what’s right for our customers and in the longer term for our business.

So this comes back to a question of investment. This comes back to a question of where do we invest our time? Where do we invest our resources? Where do we invest our money? And for me the answer is in the places where you are best enabled to take care of your customers. So sure, social plays a role in it because sometimes that’s where your customers want to be.

And sometimes your website is the place where your customers want to be because it’s where they’re going to get the deepest, richest, best experience. And if you’re not offering them both, if you’re not focusing on making a great experience in both of those areas, in the way that your customers want, then you’re not working on taking care of your customer.

And if you’re not doing that, then I guarantee you it won’t matter where you put your content. It won’t matter if you have a website or you don’t have a website. It won’t matter if you have a social presence or if you don’t have a social presence. Because you won’t have customers.

Show Wrap-Up and Credits

Now, looking at the clock on the wall, we are out of time for this week. I want to remind you that you can find the show notes for today’s episode, as well as an archive of all past episodes, by going to Again, that’s Just look for episode 400.

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Show Outro

And finally. I know I said this at the top of the show, but we’ve now done 400 of these things, which just blows my mind.

We’ve now done this for 11 years, which again, I’m staggered by. I didn’t know that that was going to be true when we started. And I wouldn’t do it… Without you, I wouldn’t do it if you didn’t listen, I wouldn’t do it if you didn’t support us, if you didn’t comment, if you didn’t reach out through email, or LinkedIn, or Twitter.

You are the people we do this for, you’re the reason we make this happen every single week. So please keep your tweets coming, keep your messages coming on LinkedIn, keep your emails coming. I love getting the chance to chat with you and hear what’s going on in your world and learn how we can do a better job building the types of content and insights and information and community that works for you and benefits you.

So with all that said, I hope you have a fantastic rest of the week. I hope you have a wonderful weekend. And I will look forward to speaking with you here on Thinks Out Loud next time. Until then, please be well, be safe, and as always, take care everybody.

Tim Peter is the founder and president of Tim Peter & Associates. You can learn more about our company's strategy and digital marketing consulting services here or about Tim here.

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