90% of the 1.8 billion websites in the world are inactive, a statistic that leads to an unthinkable conclusion: websites are terrible marketing vehicles. Why don't websites work for their intended purpose, and is there a better alternative?
Not so long ago, TV ads were selling the Internet like a digital Klondike. Reminiscent of the gold-rush rhetoric of yesteryear—“nuggets as big as your fist just lying on the ground”— vendors touted a get-rich-quick scheme based on one simple notion: having your very own website.
The implicit promise, of course, was that a website, in and of itself, would be a money-making machine. Hundreds of millions learned the hard way that the ads were less than accurate.
The Truth about “Websites”
Here’s a sobering statistic: Of the 1.8 billion websites that exist on servers scattered around the globe, less than 10% of them are active, meaning they have, in essence, been abandoned by their owners. Why? Most likely because they deliver little to no business value. This assumption is supported by another telling statistic: About a tenth of one percent (.1%) of all websites account for more than half of all web traffic.
In light of this data is it reasonable to assume that even well maintained websites, in many instances, fail to do what their owners intended: Attract visitors, convert them into leads, and then into customers?
In short, statistical data (as well as a few decades of personal experience) have caused me to conclude the unthinkable—that commercial websites, as they’ve traditionally been built and deployed, are terrible marketing vehicles.
Why Websites Don’t Work
As I was testing out my thesis—websites don’t work—on a business associate, he commented, “the only reason I ever go to a website is if I’m looking to buy something.” To apply some marketingese to his statement, when he shows up on a website, he’s a bottom-funnel visitor, meaning he’s already made the intellectual and emotional journey necessary to invest in a particular thing. And now, he’s just shopping for the product within a class that best suits his needs.
That, by the way, is what the vast majority of websites are designed for—influencing bottom-funnel visitors to end their search and make a purchase. Consequently, such websites tend to be extended sales brochures, having dozens—or hundreds—of pages focused heavily on products, applications, user community, and the company itself.
The graphic below depicts a generic website designed for a B2B software company. Check out the main menu bar:
Like most commercial websites, this one has a Resources tab (depending on the site, it might be called something else), which will include links to the company’s blog, whitepapers, and so on. If the company has any content at all that is designed to attract a broad audience (top-funnel visitors who are not yet considering a purchase), it will likely be buried in the Resources tab.
The Crux of the Problem—Content Distribution
Marketers know that capturing a fair share of bottom-funnel types that stumble onto a website is not enough. To fuel growth, they need a scheme for engaging large groups of people before they’re ready to buy, in fact, before they’re even in the market. That’s how a company builds brand equity (even brand loyalty) among future generations of prospective buyers.
This need catalyzed the blogging phenomenon, which is a vehicle for regularly publishing content that targets a range of search strings and achieves high placements in corresponding search-engine results. Blogs are entirely about attracting visitors, especially top-funnel visitors.
The problem, though, with the vast majority of websites is content distribution—tons of content for people ready to buy and very little content targeting early stage (top-funnel) prospects. The graphic below is an anecdotal representation of approximate content distribution on millions of websites:
Beyond the disproportionate weighting of bottom-funnel to top-funnel content, when a visitor to such a site happens to find a blog article, say in a Google search, she lands on a tiny content island in a sea of commercial messaging. Unless she happens to be looking for just the type of software the site is selling, there will be little content readily visible that might cause her to spend extra time on the site, let alone bookmark it for future visits.
Restructuring Websites—a Step in the Right Direction
Suppose, for example, that the site depicted above was from a company in the low-code platform space—a burgeoning market, to be sure, but not a very sexy one. Just the same, low-code interacts with just about every other type of business software, including all the new, cutting edge stuff. So a better organization for the site above might be as follows:
Note that this example structure is much closer to what you might find on media outlets, such as redbull.com, johndeerefurrow.com, or Johnson & Johnson's BabyCenter.com. The focus of all of these sites is publishing great content that large audiences will love, not force feeding unwitting visitors commercial advertising. Consequently, all of these “media outlets” draw huge audiences, and have built tremendous brand equity and loyalty among visitors.
Evolving into a Media Outlet
Given the basic need for most businesses—cultivating customers in much greater numbers—the key to systematic revenue growth and a fortified market position is brand building at the top of the funnel. And the media outlet concept is emerging as the failsafe way to do it.
The obvious question, though, is this: Is it possible for rank-and-file businesses to get into the media outlet game, either by building a media outlet to run in tandem with a website or by morphing an existing website into a media outlet?
To answer that question, we first need to take a deep dive into the fundamental differences between a traditional, commercial website and a media outlet, which include the following:
- Site Design
- Development Tools
- Content Curation Capability
Commercial websites tend to be design rich and content poor, the reason being a need to package commercial messaging in visually appealing ways. Consequently, companies are likely to spend big on website design and development—beautiful pagination, built in animations, and catchy messaging. In essence, websites are all about pages.
In contrast, media outlets are content rich and place little emphasis on page design—given great content, tricky animations, etc. are largely irrelevant, even distracting. Note how this change in emphasis requires a dramatic shift in priorities and resources—from site development to content development. Where websites are organized around pages, media outlets are organized around categories of content.
Virtually all Content Management Systems (CMSs), such as WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla, have two basic toolsets, one for adding pages and one for adding posts (blog articles).
Despite all the efforts in these CMS ecosystems to provide advanced page-development capability, these same platforms will likely have a garden-variety blog editor that supports little more than formatting text and embedding pictures and videos.
These platforms, and the ecosystems of vendors that have grown up in their respective shadows, have basically responded to market demands—give us powerful page development tools, and we’ll make do with whatever limitations your Post (blog) editor happens to have.
But this page-centric technology array is the configuration that yielded 1.65+ billion inactive websites, most of which didn’t work out because the owners couldn’t create top-funnel content. For hundreds of millions of entities, then, transitioning from a traditional website to A media outlet won’t likely be possible on their existing website platform.
A more workable alternative is to create a standalone media outlet on a more suitable platform. Then use the new, high-traffic media outlet to filter out mid/bottom funnel visitors and channel them through to the old website.
Media Outlet Content Tools
To generate the types of in-house content requisite for a powerful, top-funnel-focused site—multiple posts per day across content categories—they’ll need a radically more advanced post editor, one that allows interaction with third-party content tools (think the Adobe suite) as well as piggy-backing searchable content on publicly available video and audio content.
Content Curation Capability
For the vast majority of businesses operating commercial websites, content creation has always been the weak link. And even with significantly more powerful content creation tools, the vast majority will still lack the ability to create professional-grade content in a quantity sufficient for a high-profile media outlet.
Consequently, for small-to-medium-sized businesses to get in the game, they’ll need access to virtually unlimited, professionally developed content that they can host on their own sites. Fortunately, there are millions of great bloggers looking to monetize their work but have yet to find an accessible market.
An effective media-outlet platform, then, will be built on a content syndication platform—a marketplace for content created by professionals that can be had on a per-piece, per-month subscription basis.
A Solution in the Works
I've written a number of articles recently about the state of web, the challenges small business face, and the evolution of social platforms into pay-to-play environments. From my perspective, the answer to all of these problems is a business platform that enables any business entity of any size, regardless of resources, to create a powerful media outlet, inexpensively, and in hours instead of years. To this end, I and a group of talented IT pros built Mojified, a first-of-its-kind platform that is now entering beta testing.