Are You Buying or Renting Your Online Presence?

Over the past few years, I’ve talked to a lot of business owners and marketing managers. The resounding sentiment about online marketing is uneasiness, which is due to bad experiences and wasted marketing dollars. I do agree that there are lots of ways to waste your money online, particularly in the world of digital marketing, but I also believe there is a systemic problem that business owners (and even marketers) have when it comes to choosing where to spend money and managing expectations. The problem itself isn’t exclusive to online marketing, but what is exclusive is the layers of abstraction regarding the technical nature of online marketing.

A Website Is Like a House

To better understand the issues that arise in online marketing, I’m going to compare websites to homes. A website is like a house. A home, unlike a rental property, is something that you own and, similarly, a website is an online property that you control. Building a website is like buying a house. We know that, ultimately, buying a house is a sound investment (or so we think—more on that later). So, following my analogy, building a website should be a sound investment for your business.

Where it All Goes Wrong

With this knowledge, many business owners dive head first into getting a beautiful website built. I’ll start with a common scenario: the owner of a local construction company spends a lot of money on a new website with the hopes of getting leads through SEO efforts. After a few months, he has yet to see a single lead and is convinced that building the website was a terrible investment. Distraught, he starts talking to some of his friends and is informed of an online construction company directory that his business can be listed in for a small monthly fee. He signs up and starts getting leads and is ecstatic! Then, he starts telling all of his business friends that websites don’t work and directories are what they need to do.

There is another story that dovetails off of this scenario. Let’s fast forward a few years into the future. The business owner is perplexed. His golden ticket, the construction company directory, is failing to bring in the leads that it once did and the monthly fee is rising. He is at a loss about what to do, and he doesn’t want to keep spending money on a marketing initiative that isn’t working.

My advice to this business owner is to invest in a website. It’s likely at this point, especially after a few years, that his current website is outdated and doesn’t offer any real level of performance. Before starting a redesign, there are a lot of questions that need to be asked about his current site. Was it his first site? Were there any ongoing efforts to draw traffic to the website? The answers will determine the quality of the site and whether or not it fit into his business’s online marketing life when it was built.

Stages to Your Online Marketing Life?

For some people, a $250,000 home purchase is an affordable and wise investment. I think we can all agree this would not be right for someone straight out of college. “Starter home” is the common phrase used to refer to a first house, and this would be a much better choice for a recent college graduate. Just like life, there are different stages in online marketing. Use the same level of discretion in managing your business’s online presence that you do when buying a home.

What Renting Your Online Presence Looks Like

In real estate, renting typically comes before buying. Many scoff at the concept of renting, but it has a lot of benefits. There is usually a much lower monthly cost and you don’t incur additional expenses like property taxes or appliance repairs.

There are some negatives, though. Just like with rental homes, your rent can increase or your landlord could ask you to move. Even worse, the owner of the property could go bankrupt, forcing you to move. All of these possibilities are linked to the major downside of renting, which is that you do not have control over your rental property.

Going back to my story, we have a business owner who built a website that was likely too ambitious for his budget and then put his ad dollars into a directory. Paying for this online business directory is akin to renting property. The negative reaction that the business owner had was caused by a drop in leads and an increase in price. It’s just like a landlord raising your rent without giving you additional amenities or a new refrigerator. The money that the business owner was putting into the directory was not an investment in his online presence. Rather, it was simply a monthly service fee from which he got leads. Not a lot of equity there. Approaching your online presence this way isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially if leads come from it, but the lack of an overall business strategy can cause problems.

Should I Rent or Buy?

Now that I’ve explained the renting vs. buying analogy, you’re probably wondering which route your business should take. The answer is that it depends—on your business goals, the stage of your marketing life, and your budget. In my next post, I will discuss different online marketing avenues and recommend when and how you might want to utilize them for your business. Until next time!