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Why Facebook is no substitute for having your own website

By Will Stevens - October 21, 2021

On 4.10.21 Facebook went down for six hours. For most people, it was an inconvenience. But what if you were running a business that relied entirely on Facebook? And what if the outage had been longer?

Facebook has made it really easy – and free – to get your business on to the internet, with a Facebook page. These are desktop, tablet, mobile and app ready, built to a format that users are familiar with. But do you really want your business to be 100% reliant on one social media site?

Facebook offers huge advantages to small business, but being on Facebook doesn’t beat having a website of your own.

Here’s why.

The advantages of being on Facebook:

1. You can reach a massive audience

2. You can engage that audience

3. Enormous advertising potential

4. The ability to understand your audience and competitors

Click here to skip to the section on why having your own website beats being on Facebook.

1 You can reach a massive audience

A Facebook page means that you connect with your existing and potential customers in a place they like hanging out.

And what potential! With around 51 million users in the UK, the vast majority customers for every UK business are on Facebook.

2 You can engage that audience

Facebook pages bring customers into the heart of a business, by showcasing conversations between real people rather than a simple brand broadcast.

New visitors get an instant sense of how a brand deals with existing customers, helping them to decide if they want to come on board.

Brands can use Facebook to demonstrate how relevant they are, by posting images and sharing content they think their audience will find interesting.

3 Enormous advertising potential

Facebook has an easy-to-use, effective advertising platform, coupled to priceless audience insights that simply didn’t exist 15 years ago. By sharing our data, us users have let Facebook know about our most intimate interests and desires.

As an advertiser this means you can micro-target prospects based on who they are or what they are interested in. And you can demonstrate your relevance by sharing content that’s tied to those preferences, building an affinity with people who are likely to buy from you.

4 The ability to understand your audience and competitors

Facebook can give you deep insights about your audience – from basic demographics through to detailed preferences. You can understand when your customers are online, what they’re up to, and what they’re saying about your brand.

Plus, Facebook allows you to spy on your competition. By watching your competitor pages you can see what they’re up to and who their audience is. What better way to learn how to improve or to validate your success?

Why having your own website beats Facebook:

1 The freedom to create

2 The freedom to own that creation

3 The freedom to communicate

4 The freedom to benefit from your work

5 The freedom to build your own brand

6 The freedom to build relationships

1. The freedom to create

These days it’s as easy to build your own website, as it is to build a Facebook page. With something like the 123 Reg Website Builder you can get a site up and running in under an hour.

With your own site you can design anything you like. You’re not limited to Facebook’s set design standards.

Aside from having the freedom to create exactly what you want, you can integrate with any other site or application on the web.

Facebook is a walled garden of pages and applications that will only work with each other.

But your website is part of the open, publicly accessible web and therefore able to integrate fully with the full ecosystem of the Internet.

This freedom to create exactly what you want is central to building a memorable brand. Your website gives you the opportunity to create an online experience for your visitors, the chance to plant a unique seed in their memory. It starts with your domain name, but that seed grows through the website and later by email.

By contrast, from local businesses to global brands, all Facebook pages are essentially very similar. Users can’t recall one above the other, there’s no standout. They fail to create a memorable connection with their visitors.

And that’s before we start talking about all the extra functionality that websites can provide. From logged-in customer dashboards, to fully-fledged ecommerce features; Facebook pages don’t touch websites for the variety of things they can do.

2. The freedom to own that creation

If you create a Facebook page, you don’t own that creation: Facebook does.

Your words and images, your applications, your conversations, your relationships: every piece of content you post is owned by someone else.

There’s nothing sinister about that. But the point here is that it puts you at the mercy of Facebook’s future strategy. What happens if they choose to restrict your content? To change how you can communicate with existing and future customers?

Or to put it another way: what if they do a “Google+” on you?

Lots of people put lots of effort into building their Google+ profiles. Thousands of hours in labour, developing content and building relationships. And because the platform stagnated, Google started slowly pulling the plug.

On Facebook, you’re hanging out with your customers in a café you don’t own. If the menu changes, or the café closes, where does that leave you?

The risk is just too high. You need to own the café, not rent it from someone else. As Avinash Kaushik puts it:

“You don’t own the domain, you don’t own the customer data, you don’t create/own the rules, you can’t influence changes, you don’t have a say in how many characters you can type or how long your video can be or how much creativity you can express. You play by their rules, after all you are just renting.”

3. The freedom to communicate

When your business posts on Facebook, do you know how many people see that post?

Less than 2% of the people that have ‘liked’ your Facebook page.

You read that right. Less than 2%.

A typical local business has around 500 likes. That means that each post is seen by at most 10 people.

All that effort to speak to 10 people! You’d be better off walking the streets dressed in a sandwich board; many more would see your message.

On Facebook you need to ‘pay to play’. If you want more of the people who have liked your page to see your post, you need to get the credit card out. Facebook charges you to talk to people who, by liking your page, have already said they’re happy to have that conversation.

Facebook owns the medium and they want you to pay to use it.

By contrast anyone who is on your website gets your message for nothing. Yes, you have to invest in marketing techniques to promote your site, but that money is an investment in building your brand. If you’re paying to drive people to a Facebook page, you’re investing in Facebook’s brand.

4. The freedom to benefit from your efforts

Every time you do something great on Facebook, a part of the benefit goes to you, but a significant part goes to Facebook.

‘I saw that great thing on Facebook’ is what people say. They don’t say ‘check out this brand’.

This means that just a proportion of your efforts end up benefiting your brand, and the rest goes to Facebook. You’ve helped make their environment a more appealing place for people to hang out. They’re reaping what you sowed.

Or to put it another way: if your business left Facebook, would anyone really care? Most of your customers wouldn’t notice. They’d move on to consume someone else’s content.

Yet every hour you pour into your website will benefit your business. A great blog post, an updated design, a compelling image; all these create a lasting benefit to your brand.

Visitors will remember your name, and when they talk about your business they’ll refer people to your website and not Facebook. You’ll earn the benefit of the referral and maximise the chance to build on it.

5. The freedom to build your own brand

Because Facebook is pay-to-play, you can’t build a lasting communication channel to current and future customers. Every time you want to say something and to actually be heard, you need to dip your hand in your pocket.

By contrast, the effort you put into building your website will turn into organic, free marketing channels between you and your customers. If you create a compelling site or add a piece of great content, it’s your website that will get shared online.

This in turn will lead to links from other sites, as those discovering you start to write about and link to your content. These shares and links are a valuable and lasting source of referral traffic to your site. On top of that, they’re the backbone to your search engine optimisation strategy and will drive your website rankings ever higher.

Your website also opens up the opportunity to foster relationships on email. By capturing addresses, you can build an effective channel, likely to give you the highest ROI of all. And despite the rise of social, email remains the king of one-to-one marketing. No channel will work as hard for as little.

6. The freedom to build relationships

The relationship between brands and customers on Facebook is very transient.

Your business gets in front of your audience for a moment and is then gone. Even the most compelling posts are viewed for less than a minute. Facebook counts a video ‘view’ at just 3 seconds.

The challenge is that your brand has to be more compelling than your customer’s friends, and to compete in the newsfeed with the latest viral story.

Websites, on the other hand, allow a more persistent relationship with customers. Whilst there are far fewer people on your website than the audience on Facebook, you engage with them on a deeper level.

The truth of this is borne out by the average time-on-site stats. A well-designed website that addresses the customer need and provides great content, will have an average time-on-site of several minutes.

By throttling access to your audience, and reducing the depth of brand-customer interactions, Facebook limits any business’s ability to form meaningful relationships.

Your business can’t rely on that.

The Facebook machine is colossal.

Consumers love it; businesses can thrive on it. But compared to what a website can do, Facebook doesn’t come close.