The distributed web part 1: you don’t need a website

Illustration by Drew Powers

As a business, your goal is basically two-fold: provide a product or service, and raise awareness of that product/service.

Most business websites exist for the latter reason: raising awareness. So unless an online component is at the very core of your business, you don’t need your own custom website. At least not before you’ve taken full advantage of existing channels.

The Cost of Custom

Not convinced you don’t need a website? Consider the following:

1. Custom is an inconvenience

How many times have you visited an actor’s or actress’s personal site to see what movies they were in, rather than IMDB? Never, right? There’s something wonderful about the consistency of a service we’re familiar with, like IMDB. It guarantees us the information we seek while sparing us the potential horror of navigating someone’s personal site.

Users won’t visit your website more than once unless it is really worth their time.

2. Custom is expensive

The average WordPress site can cost $14k according to one article’s estimation. While I know many sites are developed cheaper (separate discussion), we’re talking about professional, USA-grade quality here. Is there a definite need for you to spend $14k on a website if an existing service would serve the same purpose?

Absolutely not.

3. Custom isn’t discoverable

Just because you build it doesn’t mean they will come. How many times have you ever eaten at a restaurant by Googling restaurant in [city I’m in]? Probably never. Why? Because it’s a huge waste of time digging through bad restaurant websites, and it doesn’t even guarantee you’ll find what you’re looking for because the chances of an amazing dim sum place investing in SEO are pretty slim. Chances are you’re going to use Yelp, Foursquare, Google, or your favorite food blog for recommendations instead. The only time you’ll realistically go to a restaurant site is if you’ve already discovered it, are making the decision to eat there, and only want the menu/hours—assuming it even exists.

The bottom line: custom sites are for people that already know about you; they don’t expose your business to new users like Facebook, Yelp, and Google do.

What to do instead

So instead of building that fancy custom website that costs time and money with no real benefit, try doing this first:

  1. Making Facebook, Google, and Yelp listings with all your correct info
  2. Need a blog? Try Medium
  3. Photographer or Videographer? Try Instagram, Vimeo, and 500px
  4. Artist? Get on Tumblr
  5. Need a podcast? Try SoundCloud
  6. Need to sell something? Try Shopify or Gumroad
  7. Make your own product? Try Etsy, Society6, or Cotton Bureau
  8. Educator? Check out Skillshare, YouTube, and Twitch

This is all great — I know there are a lot of services that do what I need to in small pieces, but how do I tie it all together? Don’t I need a website so people can see all the links together?

Not really.

Sure, using existing services doesn’t fill in all the gaps. But take into account that these services combined have billions of existing users, along with discovery channels for new users to find you. Your custom website, by comparison, starts out at zero users. And unless you’ve invested a lot of money into your custom site, it still probably doesn’t do a fraction of what these services provide for free.

Now, there may very well be a need, after you’ve tried everything under the sun, for your very unique problem. But at least now you know what you need, instead of merely thinking you needed it.