It can feel like social media has taken the place of websites. Do you even need one? They require time to maintain and keep secure, so it can be tempting to skip it entirely. However, in a mobile, always-on world, websites still offer important benefits. Weighing the pros and cons of having one will help you make an informed decision.
Pro: You control your online identity
If you build your own website, you get to make sure your brand and messaging always shine through. Also, many other businesses looking to use your products or services will still review your website to confirm your presence, your validity as a business and other general information about your business, team and offerings.
Con: You have to pay for it
You have to buy a domain, which is a web address like frontier.com. You have to pay for hosting, which means a place to store your content online. And you may have to pay for the creation of the site if you don’t have the skills to put it together yourself.
Pro: Creating a professional-quality website is the easiest it’s ever been
Years ago, if you didn’t know how to code, you had to have someone else code a website for you. When smartphones first arrived, you had to have two websites: one for desktop computers, and one for mobile. Ideally, your programmer had a good eye, too, so you ended up with a website you could be proud of.
A little more advanced is WordPress, which powers over a third of the web, according to W3 Techs. You can buy WordPress themes that look great from the get-go, and the platform has a massive community of developers and designers creating highly capable, beautiful websites. But WordPress requires you find your own hosting and do a little more legwork, and if you want to take full advantage with custom features, it requires some knowhow.
Companies like GoDaddy, a hosting and web services provider, often have special guides and other offerings for small businesses. If you don’t have the chops to create and maintain a site yourself, one of these providers can be a great option for outsourcing technical needs like data backups and security.
All these platforms offer templates or themes that look great out of the box. Look for one using responsive design (most do), a web design technique that rearranges content on a web page depending on the size of the screen it’s on. You build the website one time, and it adjusts to mobile, desktop, or tablet automatically.
Con: It’s hard to customize templates
The catch for using a website builder or an off-the-shelf WordPress theme is that your customizability is limited. Do you have a specific vision for the appearance of your site, or for features from your favorite website you’d like to emulate? You’ll want to hire a web designer for those, and that can be more expensive (and usually more money upfront) than the fees you’d pay to Squarespace or for a mass-market WordPress theme. This can be worth it, of course, if you have a certain look in mind that you just can’t find in the website builder.
Pro: Customers are more likely to trust you
Especially the customers that do their research and have influence in their circles. If you have a website, your business feels more “real,” even if it’s just a simple landing page with a quick summary of what you do and how to pay you for it.
Pro: You can show up higher on search engines like Google
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the name of the game, and having your own website, with a blog, may be the best way to do it. A 2020 Sistrix study shows over 28% of people searching on Google click the very first link, with over half choosing from among the first three. You want to be as high up as possible for searches relevant to your business, whether that’s “Thai food” or “maxillofacial surgeon” or “interior design firm.”
Con: It’s one more thing to worry about
It’s definitely more work to have a website than it is not to have one! Ideally, you should be blogging to establish yourself as a leader or expert in your field, and you’ll want to make sure that images, addresses, and other information on your site are always current. That can be a lot of extra work on top of running your business.
…but, Pro: You’ve always got your own presence
A website is an insurance policy against other digital hiccups down the line. If you’re on a social platform that experiences an outage or shuts down, or it becomes temporarily impossible for people to visit your physical location, you’ll still have an online presence. Using your website, you can increase your search rankings, build an email list, and even set up an online store. This keeps you independent and in control of your customer relationships.
Con: It can take a while to see results
For the first few months of having a website and adding content to it, it can feel like it isn’t working. You’re measuring traffic with a service like Google Analytics, all your customers are still saying they found you on Yelp, you’re toiling away on blog posts, and it feels like maybe it wasn’t worth the effort. That period can be dispiriting. But: you’re in this for the long haul. Once you have a website and some quality information on it, you have that forever (as long as you keep paying for the domain and hosting)! All the work you do during that quiet period will help build your online presence, increase your search rankings, and continue to be useful down the road. That’s the beauty of the internet: the how-to blog post you write today could lead to regular customers starting a year from now, without you having to do any additional work.
Pro: A website can take advantage of the other hard work you’ve done already
If you’ve already spent a long time hustling for reviews on TripAdvisor or Yelp or Amazon, getting a website doesn’t mean saying goodbye to those things. You can use your website to provide social proof to potential customers: proudly announce that you’re rated over 4.5 stars with hundreds of reviews! Or reach out to your best clients for testimonials: knowing another reputable business engaged your services makes other companies and customers more likely to choose you.
You (probably) need a website. Even if you’re on the fence, go buy a domain name. Head over to a registrar like GoDaddy, where they’re typically around ten bucks a year, and use a service like Squarespace to build a single-page website as a placeholder. Then come back and reread this post when you’re ready to keep growing your business.