The best website is the one that does what you need it to do.
In the early days of the World Wide Web, it wasn’t so easy for websites to do many of the things we now take for granted. Images took 10 seconds to load (on a fast connection), high quality video was out of the question and some businesses wondered if they even needed an internet presence at all.
One of the best known media personalities in the world, Howard Stern, spent much of the late 90s and early noughties (the original ‘internet boom’) telling listeners to his radio show that he didn’t want a website. His business was built on getting as many people as possible to listen to his syndicated radio show in their local markets and he saw having a website as an unnecessary and potentially damaging interference. He had secured his domain name, but insisted he wasn’t going to do anything with it.
However, there were occasions where he saw some value in using the web, as a method of supporting what he was doing on air. The ‘Wayback Machine Internet Archive’ gives us a fascinating glimpse of how Howard Stern’s use of a website developed.
Originally, he might use it to display a photograph of something he would refer to on air. Or as a place to store terms and conditions for a competition he was running. Stern’s team received many applications for work experience so the website was used to explain how people should apply. They then realised it could be used to manage audience interaction and for a while it even supported a listener message board where fans would have discussions which Stern would then use for content on air.
It was only around the time of the 2004 standards and decency crackdown, fines from the broadcasting regulator and broadcasting giant Clear Channel removing Stern’s show from 6 stations it owned, that ‘The King Of All Media’ recognised the role for his official website not simply to support or enhance his business, but to perhaps become the business. If what he saw as censorship forced him off air in certain markets, how could he maintain a relationship with his audience? The website provided that freedom.
In time of course, Howard Stern would leave broadcast radio and build an incredible new business at Sirius XM satellite radio. His website today allows subscribers to log in and listen and there’s an extensive archive of content, including a breakdown of every show for the last 15 years or so. It’s as strong as you’d expect from any mainstream media website.
But I’ve always been interested in the idea of a website being used for one thing and one thing only and that ‘thing’ changing when the business needs it for something else. Click around the archive for www.howardstern.com and you’ll see how his use of his official website did one thing at a time in those early years.
I was reminded of all this when working with a client recently. The Gifted Kind is a social enterprise doing incredible work with primary schools and nurseries helping children become ‘leaders of their own happiness.’ The organisation makes extensive use of social media but its official website does one thing only: makes it easy for nurseries to register interest in a funded pilot project. That, right now, is a key priority of the business. And that’s just about all you’ll find on their website.
This a great example of communicating with clarity and it’s one lots of businesses might benefit from thinking about. Often, we fall into the trap of thinking like a brochure…an ‘about us’ page, a page of testimonials…lists of products and services, biographies, the same old copy about what we’ve done, how long we’ve been doing it and who we are.
You’ll find plenty of exactly that here on our own site!
But maybe there’s another way of thinking about our websites. In time of course, many of us hope to develop our business in the same way Howard Stern built his, where the website is used for service delivery, rather than simply service promotion. And we’ve made some progress towards that with our On Demand training courses. But until then, what if you had only one page? What would you do with it? Infinite space is the downfall of many a business website!
What if instead of a brochure full of everything you can think of to say about yourself, your official website, simply did one thing really well. ‘How can this support what we’re dong today?’ or ‘What do I need people to know, right now?’
It’s a risk, of course and I’m not suggesting throwing away posts and pages with content, search engine rankings and traffic. But even going through the process in your head, just thinking about what it might look like, might bring some interesting clarity around your organisation.
Analytics will tell you what sort of traffic all these pages on your site actually generate. Does anyone read all the material? Do your calls to action work? Do you stand out from your competitors? Does anything actually happen? Or do you just gain some false comfort from the knowledge that you look the same as everyone else?
Here’s another one I love. WeBuyAnyCar.com doesn’t tell you how experienced they are. Who they are. How much they love buying cars. How many awards they’ve won. It just makes it really easy for you to do the thing they want you to do.
I think there are lessons to be learned from all this and we’ll be putting them into practice here at Comsteria.