Why This Desperate Need for a Website? | Dave Salanitro

Why This Desperate Need for a Website?

Dave Salanitro
July 7, 2017 at 9:32 am

‘Do I need a website?’

People put this question to me frequently and in all-longing earnestness, hoping to hear a simple yes. ‘Why?’ I say.

‘Because everybody else has a website’ is a common answer.

‘Why the expense? Why the constant upkeep?’ I say.

‘Why get involved with a medium that has one foot in the grave?’ says Brasse, who is here replacing a fuse.

‘If it’s on its way out, why does everybody else have one?’

Bang. There it is.

In August 2010, WIRED magazine’s then editor in chief Chris Anderson proclaimed on its cover, ‘The Web Is Dead. Long Live the Internet.’ I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Was it as I wished? Was hospice at the web’s bedside, dialing up the morphine? Would we be untethered from our displays and walk out into the daylight? What was daylight like? Had it changed since I last saw it?

Anderson argued that the web was soon to be replaced by the growing popularity of apps. ‘As much as we love the open, unfettered Web,’ he wrote, ‘we’re abandoning it for simpler, sleeker services that just work.’ He wasn’t calling for the complete annihilation I hoped for, but I could access apps on my phone and I could do that from a park bench. I loaded up at the app store and within a week gave up on the idea—micro devices and I wouldn’t start getting along until around 2013; instead I retreated to the familiar 5,500 Kelvin, neutral cast of my cinema display.

The web is still alive and growing at a steady rate. For those dreamers who have held the position for years that it stood with one foot in the grave—it actually stood steadfastly on firm ground. The web sector grew 4.6 percent over the five years to date, and it contributes $966 billion to the GDP [1]. (To keep things in check, advertising on the whole contributes $3.4 trillion [2] to the GDP and only $72 billion of that is digital [3], so the web, although a significant force, at its current growth rate cannot yet afford to get too uppity.) It could be said that the web needs you more than you need the web.

The web is a not-soon-to-be-obsolete, intruding presence. The role it plays in emerging technology, most notably the burgeoning migration of software giants to cloud services, grants it long-term job security. Unprecedented in its investment is Googleland, a magical place that beckons you with solutions to everything you might ever need and at no cost to you (they make it up in buckets elsewhere) so that you might never leave the Google cloud. Yet, for all the value to be found on the web, for the wealth of information available at our beckoning, for the privilege of being listed alongside titans of industry, the question remains: Do you need a website?

You don’t.

To frame it differently, the motivation behind entities’ want of a website is that everyone else has one, and that reasoning is not good enough. The question you should be asking is: To what purpose would I put a website? Because when we contribute to the worldwide clutter, we need to take care that some restraint is exercised and that what we add is done so in deference to its enduring nature.

Building a website for no good reason is just adding more to the heap; it’s just litter. And there’s plenty of clickbait that will send you deep into the dumpster, assuming you are the type to fall for offers to answers in the form of ‘The 10 Most [fill in the brackets]’; if you were looking for the 10 best jambalaya recipes, don’t be too surprised to find yourself confronted with a webpage concerned with Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen.

Are you a now-and-then writer? There are plentiful venues for expressing yourself online and gaining notoriety more efficiently than building your own website. If you have a handmade product to sell, there are sites that curate the work of individual artisans and save them a wealth of time and money while granting them instant visibility without their own online store. Are you an artist? Unless you’re selling something meant to be viewed on my display, go find a gallery where your work can be viewed as intended. Are you a professional photographer? Build an online portfolio.

The driving force behind the decision to build a website should have little to do with what others in your marketplace are doing; it is, however, important to know what their customers are doing. Someone with SEO skills will be able to give you a reasonable estimation of whether your peers are getting any traffic. If they are, whether it’s necessary or even logical that Campbell’s Soup has a website, if you’re Brad’s Soup, you’ll want to consider a website; and as you grow, you can watch the traffic to your site bloom because there are hundreds of thousands of people out there who for their life cannot remember how to make the casserole with cream of mushroom soup and green beans and Durkee onions on top. And you, Brad, will have had the privilege, as does Campbell’s, of spending millions of dollars on building and maintaining your website because this is the exception to the rule. Those who make soup have no reason to have a website. No one buys soup online. No one experiences soup online. Campbell’s had the soup market wrapped up well before Tim Berners-Lee was a passing thought. Think of another brand of soup; Campbell’s probably owns it. Would Campbell’s have lost its market share had it not gone digital? I doubt it. General Mills may run neck and neck with Campbell’s on the exchange, but I highly doubt that GM got there riding on the shoulders of Progresso.

You should build a website if a current or soon-to-be-released technology paired with your content helps users achieve a goal they might not otherwise accomplish without your web presence.

Retail and e-commerce are evolving in lockstep in every direction. You cannot expect to be a competitive retailer without a web presence. If you’re a bank, you are both too far behind the technology and too far removed from your clientele; banking can be like a bad experience with a vending machine. I think banks need to start over. Some unexpected and wont-to-be-missed professional service providers are finding their clients moving to the web, where the technology has outpaced them. Questions like, Who will you call for tickets to a Yankees game if you can no longer call your accountant? pale when you consider the value and savings that Intuit has to offer. Its stock rose 30.6 percent last year and continues to rise [4]. Intuit followed the technology and jumped in at the right time with the right product. Considering Intuit’s far-from-intuitive roots, they nailed it.

I have a website because I’m a designer and a writer and I use the web to showcase my work. The web does not frame print very well. To be perfectly honest, I would rather it was 1997 and I didn’t need a website. I would rather present print in person; like soup, print doesn’t translate well to the web. But clients prefer to see the imperfect electronic artifact before consenting to view the real McCoy. Print and digital are two different mediums that have for some time been embattled republics. I believe that each has its place but neither at the expense of the other. Together each can shore up the other to great effect, and each can be perfectly capable of promoting goods and services independently. Statistically, electronic media has a way to go before it overtakes print as a means of promotion, but if I want exposure, I am foolish not to make use of the box that Americans stare at for more than 10 hours every day [5].

Before you decide that you need a website, ask the opinion of someone whose business it is to make such calls. And make your first question be: How can you solve my problem? Let them give you their informed opinion. Let them tell you if you need a website. Maybe you need a blimp. People who are good at problem solving tend to explore unexpected possibilities. If someone tells you to consider a blimp rather than a website, go with that guy. He’s probably not going to give ­you a blimp, but he’s going to give what you need­­.

There are those who tout the claim that a business cannot survive in the new economy without a web presence. That is a foolish statement—as foolish as one who stands graveside waiting for the web to die. There are several alternate truths circulating about websites, and each must be vetted for accuracy. Websites can be a highly effective, cost-efficient marketing tool. If you build the site on your own, and you do it well, and you please Google, and you find a proper audience organically, and you write a lot of original and meaningful content, and you work with someone whose SEO strategies are in line with Google’s preferences for increasing your presence and ranking, you might see some meaningful returns in a year (six months if you are very lucky). By the way, if you did all that on your own, you should go get a low- to mid-six-figure-paying job in Silicon Valley.

Once you have a website, and assuming it is well designed and well written and functions effortlessly, you still need to give people a reason to go there, and here is where my thinking differs from the hardcore SEO strategists who would have you typing emails and articles until the tips of your fingers turned blue. I believe that the way to introduce yourself properly to a would-be client is not with an email and a link to your website, which you may or may not need. You extend your hand, as best you are able, with a letter in an envelope accompanied by a meaningful promotion of some relevance. You can call it direct mail, but the picture that comes to mind bears no resemblance to what I’m talking about. Take for example ‘Covetables,’ a one-hundred and twenty-four page co-promotion my studio produced with Mohawk Fine Papers or Oh Boy Artifacts, which started with a promotional notebook and turned into a one-hundred and twenty-four piece collection of retail paper products. Send them something provocative and true, something that leads them to your website if they want to see more. Print can be like a handshake: It carries the fingerprints of the person who sent it to you. It’s also proactive. You have good reason to follow up with a call a week later.

‘My name is Dave Salanitro, I sent you the…’ is typically all I need to say in most circumstances. We have a lively conversation and agree. To what? It’s enough that we just agree; so many things will follow.

Does everyone need a website? Certainly not.

Do you need a website?

What you need will not matter to 90 percent of those who read this post. You will get what you have set your mind to. From the vastness with access to WordPress, I beg restraint. I beg you to consider that everything you add to the web you likely add for all time, and the debris floats out there somewhere distant, where my culpable, relentlessly experimenting generation has cast off too much waste already. The water is so murky.

[1] Tom Risen, ‘Study: The U.S. Internet Is Worth $966 Billion,’ U.S. News & World Report, December 11, 2015. [2] Adweek, November 2015. [3] eMarketer.com, September 2016. [4] ‘What Makes Intuit (INTU) Stock a Lucrative Pick Right Now?’ Zacks Equity Research, May 31, 2017. [5] Jacqueline Howard, ‘Americans Devote More Than 10 Hours a Day to Screen Time, and Growing,’ CNN, July 29, 2016.

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