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Platform wars: Why you don't need your website

Websites aren’t as important as they used to be. Since the World Wide Web was created the goal of marketers (whether through advertising, social, SEO or PR) has been to drive our digital audience to our websites and then convert them into a lead or customer.

It worked for a while – but it relied on a lack of choice. It also meant we had to do all the heavy lifting of distribution ourselves and hope our content was good enough to lure our audience to come to us.

The internet of 2016 will be different. We’re already seeing digital native publishers leave the comfort zone of their own websites and go to where their audience is. BuzzFeed now generates 52 per cent of all its views away from its own website – through Snapchat, YouTube and Facebook video. Where BuzzFeed goes, the rest of the media industry tend to follow albeit reluctantly.

Newer publishers are even less attached to their websites – take Copa90, a global football publishing network. It has two million fans on Facebook and another million on YouTube. It doesn’t need a website to attract an audience or, just as crucially, to generate revenue.

It’s not just new publishers – Amazon chose to use Medium to publicly rebut a critical story in the New York Times rather than publishing a statement on its own website. And even more strikingly, the Times chose to reply through the same platform. It’s a big step away from the assumption you need to drive your audience to your website.

What this means is we are moving beyond the traditional publisher – advertiser relationship. By sponsoring great content, wherever it lives, brands are no longer reliant on display ads and takeovers to generate awareness. Instead, they can be associated with genuinely engaging videos, imagery and interactives which work on the platforms their audiences are using.

Consumer brands already know this. If you’re selling consumer goods where would you rather your customer ended up? On your website – probably for the first time? Or on Amazon, which they’ve purchased through dozens of times and who are suggesting other products they may want to buy alongside yours? It’s a no brainer.

It’s the same with apps – why, if you’ve secured great coverage or are paying for advertising, would you send potential users to your website? It’s just another barrier to them actually downloading your app. Send them straight to the relevant app store and let them download your offering.

But when we create marketing campaigns many of us still follow the traditional marketing funnel and drive people towards our websites. It’s largely an issue of control. We have power over our own websites, whereas when we drive our audience to Amazon, Medium, Facebook or YouTube, we’re giving up a degree of control and relying on their platform to meet our needs. There’s also a wariness of networks moving the goalposts – Facebook in particular is infamous for making drastic changes to how posts are distributed with little or no warning.

It’s a loss we’ll come to terms with in 2016. Newer channels are built with their audience in mind and prioritise their needs. Take Instagram; if marketing teams had their way, we’d include a link with every image we post. But this would be a poor experience for users and distract from the core purpose of Instagram – sharing images from daily life.

Not being able to link back to our own websites isn’t a bad thing – instead it forces us to create campaigns which do more than just act as a filling point for our funnel. Great Instagram campaigns tap into the ups and downs of daily life, creating emotional triggers which last far longer than a blog post on a website ever will.

There are real benefits to breaking free from publishing on our own websites. With so much competition for attention, distribution has become more important than creation. You’ve probably noticed an increased number of notifications on LinkedIn telling you someone has published a post. Why waste time trying to drive someone to your website when you can serve them content on a platform they’re already using? LinkedIn Pulse and Medium are now go-to channels for B2B marketers to find information. Next we’ll see them being used to distribute information about our own companies and to comment on industry trends.

It’s something Facebook and Twitter are moving towards as well. Facebook’s revamped Notes platform is only the start and with Moments, its new event based offering, Twitter is trying to become a publisher too. As Benedict Evans succinctly summarises the trend; writers will come for the tools and stay for the network.

What we’ll see more of in 2016 is brands fully embracing this space. Right now it’s the trendsetters and early adopters. Even in the consumer space, embracing completely off-channel campaigns is a rarity. We’ll see more marketers embrace the potential offered by networks which combine content creation and distribution in a single package. We’ll also see less reliance on the website as an end point – it will be one channel we can use rather than the focal point of every campaign.

Of course we still need to capture leads. This is where technology comes in. Platforms like Hubspot and Marketo create automated lead generation forms which exist independently of our corporate websites. Embed these forms into your distribution channel of choice and away you go. By automating lead capture and CRM systems we can focus on what really matters – creating and sharing stories which appeal to our audiences.

What we’ll see in 2016 is a growing willingness to hand over distribution of content to third parties, along with an acceptance that our customers may never visit our websites. Instead, we’ll create campaigns which live and breathe on the channels they’re designed for. No more shoehorning in clumsy calls to action or expecting our audience to disrupt their routine to visit our content.

The message for marketers in 2016 is clear: if you’re still single-mindedly focused on driving your audience to your website, you’re at risk of losing valuable leads. Talk to people where they’re comfortable, and you’ll reap the rewards. Websites won’t die out completely, but we might just see the death of them as a primary marketing channel.

John Brown, Head of Engagement at Hotwire

Photo Credit: Yuriy Boyko/Shutterstock