My answer will surprise you.
“Does my company need a website?”
It might sound like a rhetorical question, but it comes up a lot when in conversation with business owners who have well-established companies. The same query also comes from businesspeople who have brand-new companies.
The answer isn’t necessarily what you expect.
As my business revolves around online promotion and people approach us all the time for help with their websites, you might think that this is an obvious “yes”. And indeed for many companies, a website is essential.
But not for all of them.
Let’s take a step back and think about why websites exist, and this will give an insight into why it isn’t necessarily as essential as you might think. And why that is particularly true for the well-established and brand-new companies who have this question.
First of all let us all agree that companies need to be found, need to be able to advertise and need to be able to interact with leads and customers online.
The scope for companies who are only offline is collapsing and, if you are reading this article, then very probably that small niche is not relevant to you.
You are reading this online, right?
Unless someone has printed it out and passed the paper to you, then that is the case, and you know that your reading habits, like those of the rest of Hong Kong, have moved entirely online.
What makes a valid question mark over the idea of a company website is the many varied options now available to get an online presence that doesn’t need your own website.
If you ask me :
“Does my company need an online presence?”
Then the answer is a resounding
“It already has one!”
Regardless of whether you want one or not you have one.
Even if you don’t think you have one, you do.
All you have to do is register a company in Hong Kong and you instantly have an online presence, only it isn’t controlled by you. The first place you’ll probably appear is in David Webb’s list of Hong Kong companies, and that will be quickly followed by a variety of spammy “directories” of HK businesses listing the same bare-bones information.
Once you start to trade and do business, of course, the traces that appear online will very rapidly accumulate. Even the most offline of enterprises will have customers who are online, and that means more digital footprints and records.
From reviews to addresses, from company director lists to business directories, there will be something online in a very short space of time.
Which comes to the main point of all this, that whatever you do there will be an online presence for your business, whether you like it or not, so the goal for a modern company is to influence what people see about the company.
Having a website is undoubtedly one good step towards doing that, but it is by no means the only one nor the best one for every situation.
What are the alternatives to having a company website that still allow you to have some influence over controlling your internet profile?
From Google My Business to Social Media, to Web 2.0, there are a vast number of options, and it is a list which is constantly evolving all the time. Each one gives you a chance to be seen and to influence the impression that leads and customers will have.
Here are your main options
1. Be listed on Google My Business
Of course, you should be doing this anyway; it is pretty much a basic like getting a Business Registration cert from the IRD. If all goes well, it will get you a Knowledge Box when people search for your company, and that is a subtle but significant indicator that you are a real functioning business.
When the world wide web first came along, there was a lot of talk of it “levelling the playing field”, letting small companies compete on a more even keel with the giants. As we now know that didn’t come to pass and no local book-seller, web-enabled or not, is going to be found in as many places as Amazon.com.
What we didn’t expect was the negative side-effect that now we have lost trust in the things that we can find online. Because no matter how shiny and polished a website looks, most people are well aware of the fact that there may be little or no functioning company behind that glitzy image.
Having a company Knowledge Box appear shows at least that you are a real company, not some website set up by someone in their back room. Have a real address, real office, and function as a real business.
2. Social Media
Go only social instead of a website? Yes, that is an entirely valid path and one that a lot of smaller independent traders have chosen. From artists to specialist food services many smaller organisations find that their customer base is active on Facebook and having a good company Facebook page is more than satisfactory.
If you hand make organic dog biscuits, provide children’s party entertainment, or even have a shop selling high-end digital cameras on Stanley Street that Facebook page is an excellent first choice. With the recent option to add a Facebook group to generate a community around your product or service, FB is opening up some definite possibilities for viral micro-influencer marketing.
3. Web 2.0
When your business revolves around being a thought leader in a particular industry segment, then any publishing platform could create the necessary presence.
From medium.com to forbes.com there are plenty of places to publish or republish your material. If you have a website or blog then syndicating your content to the likes of medium.com is a must. But even if you don’t have another online site it is possible to build a following and get attention for your perspective purely by publishing in this type of site.
It isn’t what you’ve got so much as how you use it
Get control of their online presence by actively going out into the online arena and making sure that your perspective, on your business and on your industry, are known.
None of this takes away from the fact that Google is the most likely conduit for people to find you, google is still a verb, but by making more of a footprint in cyberspace, you increase your visibility and likelihood that Google will show you to customers.
So if you don’t have a website, or have one that you would prefer to abandon, and are thinking about whether it is necessary, then it certainly is possible to be successful online without one.
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