(Transcribed with minor editing from podcast episode # 33 airing on Sept 6 2019)
These days, do you need a traditional website for your platform?
To start things off, I figured we could go into what your different options are these days for an online homebase…
Option # 1 : No Site, Strong Social Media Presence
The first option is to have no site, but instead a robust social media program. That would entail exactly what it sounds like: you do not have an actual website of any sort, but you do have social media accounts that are pretty well flushed out and they act as your website. They become your hub- your home online for people to reach out to you when they want to find out more about you, and for you to stay in contact with them.
Option # 2 : No Site, No Social Media Presence
Your second option would be no site and no social. Believe it or not, some people actually do this! Some of them do not trust social media and they don’t know anything about websites, so even though they are working hard at getting their platform going, they just don’t have an online home. Does that work in today’s day and age? I would argue that it doesn’t, but we’ll get into that a little bit more in a bit.
Option # 3: Free Mini-Site on a Free Host
This option would encompass things like free blogging accounts ( free WordPress.com accounts, Tumbler accounts, Blogger accounts,things like that), where you are able to build a free mini-website, but it’s not a fully functioning customized and branded website. It would be something like wordpress.com/your-name.These sites give you a free base level account, but your branding is a subdomain of their brand, so it’s not really 100% branded nor is it full featured.
Options # 4 and 5: Packaged Customizable Template Sites and Full Traditional Sites
The other two options are both paid options, and both are a little bit more traditional, and those would be to go with a company like Wix.com that gives you a sort of all-in-one package of web design, hosting, and domain all into one package, or to just get yourself a paid website in a more traditional form.
There’s pros and cons to all of these options of course…
For the people who are using social media accounts as their website, there is a very big pro to the practice- a couple of them truthfully. The first and most obvious would be that it is free to use social media and there is a very low barrier to entry. Now, not all of the options are free- obviously social media platforms are all for-profit entities and they make most of their profit through advertising, and if you want to do advertising, generally you are going to need to pay something for that. Otherwise, generally social media accounts are all free services.
In addition, the other nice thing about using social media is that – again, for the most part- you are somewhat connected right out of the gate. You can generally build up an audience as large as you like. There are very few limitations placed on how many people you can connect with on a social media account.
Conceivably, you could run your entire business through Facebook, as the social network has put a lot of new options into their Pages platform that will allow you to build up communities, create private groups, build and launch paid products and downloadable items, things like that. There is a lot to say for what social media provides you, but there are a lot of drawbacks as well.
First of all, there is a general lack of storage to most social media offerings. Yes, most of them allow you to put as many messages out as you would like and to put as many photos up as you would like (within reason of course), but you don’t have a whole lot of storage. So if you wanted to upload easy to find media files or downloads, it’s going to be kind of difficult to use social media. Generally. That’s not what the social media is for.
The other big challenge would be a lack of SEO power. Now- Yes, all of the social media platforms are somewhat optimized to be search engine friendly, but they’re mainly concerned about drawing people to their own platform for their own reasons.It’s sometimes a little hard to optimize your posts and your photos for search through most of social media platforms. Sure, some of them do allow some indexing of your content, and yes, there are a few things you can do to help that happen, but generally it’s not all that easy, and it certainly isn’t something you will have full control over.
Perhaps the biggest drawback though would be a lack of ownership. You are- in essence- building a home (and one that could easily by considered to be a very expensive, a very, difficult to build home) on top of somebody else’s land, and at any moment that landlord could take that land away from you, and rob you of your platform. What that means in a nutshell is that you don’t own your own brand when you are only on social media because if Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Pinterest, or Instagram…any of those groups really, find that you are in violation of their terms of service or heck- if they just decide that they don’t want to provide their service anymore, they could take it away with no recourse for you. We saw this with MySpace years ago. Bands and businesses had built these elaborate community pages, and then suddenly MySpace is gone, and so are all of the efforts from those bands and brands. This is the danger of reliance of social media to be the official online home of your brand.
The next option that we talked about were the free blog platforms. again, those are your wordpress.com, your blogger, your tumbler, and similar “freebie” platforms. There have been a lot of these free platforms across the years and there’s very few of them that are still really with us in 2019. How many of you remember Squidoo?
A free blog platform is better than nothing, but these services are meant specifically for you to create a blog, not for you to create a brand. Most of those services allow you to have some small amount of storage, and some small amount of customization that goes into your page, so there are a couple of checks in the “pro” collumn, but at the end of the day, you’re still going have to have “Blogger” or “Tumblr” or “WordPress.com” in the domain name of your page, so you won’t really completely own your brand there either- and most of these services remain very limited.
While these services usually have a small amount of storage, you are usually limited to a few megabytes- maybe a gig or two if you are lucky, and most of them have very limited options for customization. Often, you are given 3 to 10 templates that you can choose from and that’s all you’ve got. Even worst, most of them are also going to leave you with a lack of professionalism around your brand when you use them. Can you imagine if McDonald’s website was wordpress.com/McDonalds? Can you imagine if Walmart was walmart.blogger.com?
When you start looking into using a more traditional “real site” or a service like Wix, you’ll get a lot more benefits coming along with it.
For starters, you’ll generally have plenty of storage, which is – again- a very important part of growing your brand. If you’re going to have downloads available on your site, or if you want to have photos, videos, podcasts, audio, etc, this is the way that allows you to store large amounts of these assets. Personally, I believe that you should put your videos on YouTube or Vimeo, and that you should have your podcast hosted with a service like Libsyn, Podbean or Blubrry, a places like that because even if you have storage on your site, you’ll likely still get into trouble when it comes to things like bandwidth, but regardless, you still have those options when you go with the more traditional website and truthfully, even if you’re not storing storing huge files on your site, a good website still needs to have a lot of storage on it because you are going to be adding more and more pages and content to it.
It’s inevitable that you’re going to be adding more text and more photos as time goes by, and you don’t want to be hampered by a very small amount of storage on your website because then you’re going to have to start erasing things. The larger a website is in terms of content offerings, the better you’re generally going to do in attracting search engine traffic. Google likes a large and oft’ updated website. You want as much quality content as possible on your site, because you want to attract as many of your target audience’s search queries as possible .
Needless to say, when you are paying for a “real” website, you’re going to have a few more options in terms of the customization of your site as well. Generally the sky is the limit in terms of what you want your site to look like once you graduate to a full website.
But let’s take a look at the All-In-One services like Wix.com. Wix has a very cool drag and drop platform- I will say this as someone who does some website design and who has likewise spoken to many other people who also do website design. Wix is one of those services that is perfect if you are just getting started and you don’t really have a whole lot of a background on this. If you have been doing this for awhile and you do know what you’re doing and know your way around a website though, it might be a little limiting to you because their stuff is made for a drag and drop and for templates, it’s not really made to be overly customized past the specific options they give you.
It looks good. It acts the way you want it to act, but you can take it to a certain point and then it’s going to hit the wall. If you are looking for sheer customization, you’re probably going to want to go with something like a wordpress.org site, which allows you to have all the benefits of wordpress.com, but with many more options and customizability. That means a nice, simple, relatively easy to use website, lots of plugins, and lots of options, but it also gives you that completely customized domain- and- depending on your hosting provider, you could even have unlimited storage.
Probably the biggest benefit to getting a website with your own branded domain is the SEO and the branding potential, which is easily a million times better than the other free options we spoke about. Let’s look at the SEO. Let’s use WordPress.org as an example. You can spend hours and hours and days and days and weeks and weeks trying to optimize a website from scratch, but some of the free plugins available with wordpress allow you simply add a couple pieces of information and it will take care of a lot of the SEO for you. They may not put you on par with the greatest SEO experts of the world, but they will give you a much larger jump over all the laymen out there. Even better, they can quickly and easily 80% of the SEO job for you, which is a huge benefit for people who don’t really want to invest all the time and the expense and the effort to optimize a site from scratch.
Usually most WordPress.org themes are also set up for native SEO optimization. They make sure that your site works well no matter what browser you’re viewing it on, what device that you are using, and often they make sure that your site loads quickly.
Now let’s, let’s talk about the, the biggest benefit of having your own website, which is the branding. The fact is that branding is extremely important no matter what your platform is. I don’t care if you are a YouTuber, I don’t care if you’re a podcaster. I don’t care if you are a musician, a writer, a speaker- whatever. It doesn’t matter. You need to make sure that your branding is on point if you’re going to stand out and you are going to look like a professional, and if you’re not going to look like a professional, then there’s really no need to be trying to take this to the next level.
Now it is time for the hot take.
You know, when I first started this podcast and through the first 25 episodes or so, I really focused on talking to the creators who had already been there and asking them things like, “what tools do you use?”… “what was your experience in this particular circumstance or that circumstance?”.
Recently I have made a little bit of a pivot in terms of what the show is all about. I want to help independent creators to take whatever platform they have to grow it into the next big thing, and to do that, you have to grow your platform into a brand. One of the most important things that we can do to take our brand to the next level is to make sure that that we have the right tools in place to look and act professional, and one of the best ways that we can do that is to make sure that we have a good web presence that really represents us and gives all of the people at home who either are our target audience or could be our target audience a way to find us in a way to connect with us, to learn about us, and to connect. That is why we all need to have some sort of website.
Now, I know that sometimes funds are tight and circumstances might now presently allow for a fully customized website. Totally fine. We don’t need that immediately. What we do need though, is to have some sort of plan in place for how we’re going to take care of this in a timely manner. If the only option you have right now is to go out and set up a limited free option for your online home, then go do that. Today.
Go to WordPress.com and sign up. Get yourself something right now. If you don’t have something in place already, you need to get moving on it, but just know that as time goes by, you’re going to want to spin that into the next level. If you get to the point where it makes sense because of your growth, then you are going to need that website, and if you’re with WordPress.com for instance, you can then fairly seamlessly and painlessly switch over to WordPress.org and go with a fully customized site. You could put it together yourself. It’s, it’s simple to do.
We’ll be back next week and until then we’ll see you around the bend!