Websites are dead and YOU killed them
25 years ago, no one took you seriously if you didn't have a business card. It was proof that you could share with the person you were speaking to and looking to do business with that you were who you said you were. When your word is your bond, people want a piece of reassurance that they're doing business with someone who is just as genuine as the product or service they represent. I remember being a young child when there was a knock at the door. It was a salesperson trying to convince my parents to buy a Kirby vacuum cleaner. The first thing he did, after greeting my parents ask how their day was? He gave them a business card.
In 2017, having a business is (oddly) still important but there are many more profound ways of showing the world that you really exist.
If you're a local business, you've likely heard or been told that you need to be EVERYWHERE but if you can't then at least make sure that you're on a few really important sites like Google, Facebook and Yelp. You may have also been told that you meed to be on Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter. My point is that your potential customers could be anywhere and in an ideal world you'll want to get in front of as many people as possible in hopes of getting them to buy.
As time passes on, a website continues to be the odd man out in the equation of brand discovery. This can be attributed to three factors - growing escapism leading to increased time on social media, updates to the local search space and the lack of good web development.
Based on the above chart from AdWeek, we're now spending almost two hours of each day on social media. This is time not spent browsing the web. Instead, social media is where a growing number of people turn to for entertainment, news, attention and more. There are many aspects of our normal lives that we want to get away from and social media provides that outlet. People don't like their jobs, their children, their spouses, their financial position or their future. It's good to get away for a while and while the web contains a lot of information, social media provides an outlet to feast on buffet style. We saw a similar trend with the growth of reality TV. As time spent watching television shifts online, social media became the destination for these eyeballs.
Here's another way to look at this trend.
If the above chart from Pew isn't convincing, ask yourself - When was the last time you were hunting around on the web visiting sites you don't usually go to? Or do you go to a handful of sites that you trust for travel, shopping, news and more. While that short list is great for you, it's a death sentence for every new site that launches.
There's another trend that has very subtly been taking place over the last few years. Google has taken your website and integrated it into their search engine results pages (SERPs).
It started with the introduction of the Knowledge Graph back in 2012. As Google begins to organize data around entities over elements and articles, they begin to consolidate disparate pieces of data about people, places and things so they can quickly provide related answers. Now if you quick find out the population of any country, convert quarts to gallons or get a sports score in seconds.
The launch of Google Places and Google+ Local. One area that Google has been organizing around are locations. People search for solutions and oftentimes a location is the endpoint for what started as s search query. Displaying this information and giving people the ability to control it was crucial to them continuing to earn the trust of people searching online. This leads to the introduction of local listings getting woven into the SERPs.
While Google was updating the data is collects and how it displays it, we see a surge in smartphone adoption lead by new devices, subsidized equipment and faster networks. This culminated in 2015, when Google acknowledge it was seeing more searches from mobile devices than PCs. The focal point is local intent. People want to understand what local options are available when they search for a doctor, restaurant or movie theater.
Over the last six months we've seen an outstanding number of changes with Google and their Google My Business platform for local business management. You can now see insights for your locations in bulk, communicate directly with prospective customers with Google Posts and have conversations with people via text messages.
The below screenshot is where we are today.
A business isn't a website, it's a listing on Google where you can quickly see attributes, reviews, hours, location and contact options. If you don't care about your local presence the same way you've cared about your website, you may already be seeing signs of your business being impacted. This will only accelerate as more and more people and business embrace the concept that websites are dead.
My last observation is that websites are a complicated proposition. To make them look good and work well scripts are loaded on. Bloated code and large images only made it more difficult.
You end up with an experience that is visually stunning yet ineffective. The tradeoff for each script, image and line of code is a delay in load time. Once you get past 2 or 3 seconds you begin to see visitors revolt. They don't want to be on your page, they don't want to buy anything. They might act otherwise but it's usually because of a lack of alternatives or because even in the current state of your site it's better than others.
All of this creates a cycle where developers use unoptimized frameworks and because these foundations require extensive work, more code is used to tweak the site to make it work. Other shortcuts are used to help the site load faster despite the tweaks and so on and so on.
In 2017, we have sites that take more than 20 seconds to fully load. These growing delays are part of the reason why my first two observations show no sign of slowing down. Your customer want to spend time researching and buying, not waiting for a page to load and being disrupted can happen from any brand that is locally savvy and prominent on social media. If they have a fast, optimized website with topically relevant content then that's the cherry on top of that Disruption Sundae.
People wanted to visit websites. We ended up going down a road with too much noise and not enough signal. This put us back in a place that turned Yahoo, MSN and AOL into destinations. Instead, they've been replaced with names that are more familiar now - Amazon, Facebook and Google. As someone that spends a lot of time looking at websites and coming up with ways on how to improve them, this may seem like career suicide but it's not.
SEO is transforming and brands that want to be completely optimized will see their website as relic that should be maintained but deprioritized. These brands will focus on turning each location into their own operating unit with a strong presence that allows them to beat competitions in each area they can be found. These brands will create compelling content that allows them to be optimized for voice search. They'll build bots so people can shop and get support whenever they want even as their detest for websites increase.
I challenge you to embrace this future as we continue to evolve the same way we always have. Websites today will be the same as business cards, where some people still expect you to have one but will leverage the other ways of connecting with you.
In the meantime, I'd love to hear your thoughts. Hopefully, you're willing to share.