In July 2016, the Globe and Mail wrote published article that asked “Should you use Facebook for your primary business website?”. In recent years, Facebook has made a significant push towards onboarding small businesses, promoting their easy-to-use and free platform as an ideal digital home that businesses can use, rather than a website. The article weighed the pros and cons of this strategy and concluded that while Facebook can be an effective marketing channel, small businesses should not rely solely on the social platform for their digital presence.
Every day, we work with small businesses and entrepreneurs who are trying to get online and build a digital presence. While some of them are web-savvy, many of them are not. Taking your business online can be a complicated and daunting task if you don’t work in tech. That’s why it’s easy to understand the appeal of Facebook for small businesses and entrepreneurs. It’s easy to use. It’s free. It’s familiar. It’s interactive.
But let’s take a moment to look at the other side. We strongly believe that every business, no matter the size, should have their own website. Here’s why we think relying solely on Facebook is a risky move (with some help from the article commenters).
You’re limited to Facebook users
I’ve often heard business owners justify their choice to rely on Facebook by saying “everyone is on Facebook”. This simply is not true. While Facebook has an estimated 1.65 billion active users, there are over 3.4 billion Internet users worldwide. If you commit your web presence to Facebook, you’re limiting your business’ digital reach to those who are on Facebook. You’re also assuming that if a user is on Facebook that they will find your business (or even look for your business) on Facebook. A website allows you market to everyone, everywhere, not just those with a Facebook account.
It’s not professional
For most people, Facebook is a social place for staying in touch with family and friends, sharing baby photos, liking funny videos, and consuming news. While there is absolutely a place for business on Facebook, relying solely on a Facebook Page to represent your business can easily be viewed as unprofessional by your potential customers. A website gives your business credibility and helps to build trust with your potential customers.
You’re not in control
When you rely on third party sites like Facebook, Etsy, or Kijiji for your web presence, you’re exposing yourself to a lot of risk. Sure, these platforms are cheap and easy, but what happens when they change their policies, rules, algorithms, or layouts. One minor change can have a major impact on your business’ ability to attract customers and generate leads. If you’ve committed your online presence to Facebook, you are at the mercy of their business model. You are not in control of your own digital brand. As the old saying goes, “don’t build your house on rented land”.
It’s not “free”
As we mentioned earlier, Facebook has been onboarding businesses for a few years, recognizing this is a target market for the company. But Facebook is smart. Facebook wants to make money. If you want to really sell your products or services online, you need your content to be seen by your target audience. And to do that, being at the mercy of the news feed algorithms, you need to either invest heavily in generating outstanding content that will be shared organically, or pay up and boost your posts or Facebook Page.
You’re stuck in a small box
Facebook pages aren’t flexible, customizable, or unique. Your Facebook page is the same style and layout as every other Facebook page. How do you expect to build your brand and stand out from the competition if you’re doing the exact same thing as everyone else. On the other hand, a website provides you with endless possibilities. From a branded domain name (like mygreatbusiness.ca) to customized design and functionality, to the ability to blog and sell products online, a website allows your business to define its own identity and grow beyond the small box that is Facebook. Furthermore, with your own website you have full control and ownership over your content, and have much more control when it comes to optimizing your site to get found in search engines.
Facebook vs. website
Why not both? While I disagree that small businesses should rely on Facebook as their primary web presence, I do think that Facebook is an excellent marketing and communications tool for many small businesses. For CIRA, it is a great platform to connect and communicate with our audience in a collaborative way. It allows us to share ideas, highlight our customers, and start conversations around domain names and the state of the Internet in Canada. Facebook is effective for us, but it is only one tool in our toolbox. Facebook should not be your digital strategy, but rather a part of your digital strategy.
At the end of the day, there’s no better way for small businesses to build their brand and credibility online than with a website on great domain name. Contrary to popular belief, domain names and website do not have to be expensive, nor are they technically challenging to set up. It does take some time and effort, but it’s worth it. Your small business deserves a website.
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