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Lee Batchelor

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Your company's Facebook page is no substitute for a website that works

Thursday 5 Jan 2017, admin
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Recently, I've come across some small businesses that have abandoned their websites. Instead, they've turned to Facebook to offer up to date information.

There's a few reasons why that might be the case. I think you can broadly split them into the push and the pull.

The push

The factors that are pushing people away from keeping their websites updated could include:

  • Difficulty remembering the log in details for yet another system
  • Inflexibility in the way that a site's content management system (CMS) has been set up
  • Lack of usability of the CMS
  • Technical knowledge required to update the site

If the system used to update a website is difficult to use, people will lose patience and look elsewhere for an easier solution.

The pull

If people get frustrated with the admin system for their website, one of the first places they'll look for an alternative is a site they're already using on a regular basis. There are lots of factors adding to the attraction of something like Facebook:

  • Familiarity
  • Easy of use
  • Opportunities for audience to interact

There's a lot to be said for some of that. Social media can be an important part of many business’ online presence. They are no substitute for a good, up to date website though.

Why not?

There are a few problems with deserting your website and jumping into Facebook.

Your out of date, abandoned website is most likely still out there. Your site might have built up a reasonable ranking in search engines. If the first thing people see is information from a couple of years ago they might not check to see if there's anything more up to date elsewhere. They may just move straight onto a competitor's site.

One typical approach is to upload a lovely picture full of text to Facebook. A recent bugbear of mine is restaurants uploading their menu as an image to their Facebook news feed. Search engines aren't able to index text in images so you'll be missing out on traffic to your page. They're also completely hopeless for anybody using assistive technology like a screen reader.

I recently tried to visit a Facebook page from a search result in Google. The first thing that I saw was a CAPTCHA form. Before I can access any information about the business I must decode a scrambled image. It's a horrible first impression and one that will have users hitting their back button.

Facebook is also a walled garden, to get the most out of it you need an account. Depending on your customers they might not have or want to sign up for one.

The alternative

Social media will likely have a part to play in your business’ online presence. Depending on your sector that might be Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. Rather than using those channels as an alternative to a website though, they can be used to drive people to it.

To make the most of that, you'll need a website that's easy to maintain. When building a website it can be tempting to focus completely on potential customers as an audience. Other people, such as site administrators, can become an afterthought. They're users too though. It won't matter how user friendly your site is if the people that have to maintain it give up through frustration.

There are all sorts of things you can do to help with that. Involving site administrators in the development process will help to get them on board from day one.

Address the problem of remembering an extra set of log in details by looking into adding the ability to log in using existing social media details.

One benefit of using a system like Drupal is that it gives you complete control over the way you structure content. Rather than taking a one size fits all approach, your content management system should reflect the specific needs of the site. For example, if you're a restaurant you can have a dish type of content. Each dish has a name, description, allergy information and price. That's all fully editable by the site admin and presented to the visitor in a way that's much more useable.

One thing I always make sure of is that a site's content management system is well documented. The language used in the admin interface should be clear and in plain English. If administrators are only updating a site periodically, they need to be able to remember how it works. Good usability is essential. You also never know when a new site admin will come along. The learning curve for those people is as easy as possible.

If you taking the time to make your website user friendly for its administrators it'll be better for everyone. You'll maximise the chances of it remaining up to date and useful for visitors for years to come.

If you're already struggling with a site that's hard to keep on top of, don't feel that you need to abandon it. There may well be changes that you can make which will let you regain control. Get in touch to find out how I can help.

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