Business web sites and social media

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I’ve been fielding a lot of questions lately about the role of company Web sites amid the sea of social media venues.

Most of the questions sound like this: “Can’t I just launch a blog and a Facebook page and skip building a company Web site?” I understand where these thoughts come from, because it seems overwhelming to “do” all of this stuff on the web. We’d love to buy a thousand billboards by the highway and be done with it. We’re exhausted by the web, right?

Here’s how it seems to shake out right now. And I have to say “right now” because in a few months it may be different. The role of the Web site is to act as the ultimate company authority, and the point of conversion for people sniffing around your company online. Conversions are final user actions that bring the visitor from online to offline. Conversion actions are things like viewing the pricing sheet, submitting an inquiry, purchasing from your online store, or applying for a job.

The social Web venues — Facebook, blogs, Twitter, Google + and so on act as a means to attract the attention of people who are either unfamiliar with your company or not yet ready to commit to an offline relationship with you. These venues are extremely good at moving these “suspects” into the mind frame of “prospects.” As prospects, they are then able to be enticed into visiting your site to become “customers.”

So why a Web site?

The Web site for your company is the only place on the web (besides ads, of course) where you can blatantly sell and it’s OK. This is where you let it all hang out — features, competitive feature comparisons, showcase videos about your awesome board and exec team – any competitive advantage you’ve got goes online here. The Web site is where customers expect the hard sell, so you can really lay it on.

Consumers also trust your company Web site a little more than they trust your social media content. They know that the content for a corporate site gets reviewed and approved by executives, versus Twitter posts that are tossed up simply because they’ve committed to one tweet every hour.

What’s the future of the business Web site?

The trend is definitely toward leaner content and a greater focus on building conversion paths through the site content. Companies have even gone so far as to build a different Web site for each kind of customer to create a seamless journey to conversion.

All the content that used to go on the Web site to “beef up the content for search engines” is now being pushed out to blogs and cross-posted in Twitter/LinkedIn/Facebook/Google + with links back to the corporate Web site. That way the content is clean on the corporate Web site, but the search optimization stays relatively intact.

And now that businesses Web sites are getting less content-heavy, there is more room for video and conversion-through-entertainment. For example, home page videos act as a commercial for the company within the company Web site — where a product purchase or inquiry is just a few clicks away. That’s not a terrible idea at all. Short video commercials on product pages are also coming into vogue, along with how-to videos and product demos.

Are we making the world a better place for consumers?

Definitely. When consumers are ready to buy, they want to have a quick and convenient experience. By shifting the SEO “filler” content over to social media, the business Web site experience is efficient, effective and creates loyalty among consumers. And that seems like the right thing to do.

Marci De Vries is president of MDV Interactive, a web consulting firm in Baltimore. Reach her at marci@mdvinteractive.com.