Many Small Businesses Do Not Need a Website
Social Wave's Merchant Profiles was fully released last month and as I helped a few small businesses online with their very own Merchant Profile, it's dawned on me that an independent website may not be in the best interest of many businesses. First, it's a pricey investment and keeping it current is an ongoing cost that few small businesses are prepared to take on. Second, for many businesses, they amount to little more than a small brochure of what the company does. Third, a freestanding website will fall through the cracks of all search engines if not optimized for Search Engines properly.
A lot of businesses try to steer a middle road and design their own website using one of numerous WYSIWYG online site-builder tools, which sounds like a sensible option, but most of the time, these websites that are supposed to represent their businesses end up looking like their first attempts to cook in the kitchen. There's more to cooking than a recipie.
If online personal profiles similar to the ones that are used in online dating sites have proven to be such an effective way of presenting people online, why has there been no equivalent service for businesses? I kept a personal website for years. Initially it was a a intelligent way of introducing myself to other people to make contact or form new professional relationships, but in more recent years, it became more and more just an expression of vanity. If my need for a personal page is just for the basic purposes of introduction, then I have a multitude of quick and easy services to pick from, even if the product they produce ends up being a bit generic.
A new Japanese restaurnt just opened up in my town. I set up a merchant profile for them and they asked me what I'd charge to do a full website for them. I made a ballpark guess and quoted somewhere in the $1000 range which resulted in very noticable sticker shock. It wasn't something they needed and definitely right now with them strapping for cash, it wasn't in their best interest to blow it on a website that would most likely end up obscurely buried in all the major search engines.
For these guys, a profile worked fine and will likely serve their immediate interests far better than a full blown site. If location is key in business, then search engine visibility is key for a business online. So why would any small business in its right mind decide to build a small stand alone store on a yet to be developed road when there are options to locate inside a well traveled shopping mall?
For small businesses, visibility comes easier as a collective whole and it comes much easier within an already established infrastructure that's proven to work. Some of the businesses that I've done Merchant Profiles for have started getting hits off of Google searchers within a week of their creation and some of the profiles are already ranked higher in searches than their owners' main websites.
I'm not sure how we've come to the point that we just commonly accept that people are more or less just out there for themselves on the Web. It certainly wasn't like this in the early days of the Internet before there were good search engines. Information always came in clusters and searching for information online was more like hunting for it and so it made sense to keep things together. Now there are powerful search engines that promise to make the world of disorganized information available to you and perhaps with that illusion, the drive to organize and cluster into more functional units has faded.
The glory of having your own website is not worth the price of isolation. Social Wave's Merchant Profiles looks to give local businesses a chance for not just online presence, but online relevance through collectivism.