Basics: This is not a website

www?One of the worst phrases you can ever utter as a SMB who doesn’t have an online presence, but who wants one is:

I need a website…

Unless you have undertaken some analysis of your:

  • core business activities
  • core customer requirements from you,
  • your  base requirements for an online presence, and
  • your planned future actions with that online presence

Then you don’t need a website, you need an online presence.


Technically, an online presence can be a website however the term website is often used by clients when they actually mean:

  • I need an online secure online retail/commerce system that enables me to organise, add, discount, remove and update any content on the public face without me having to pay a developer for it each time I want to
  • I need an impressive looking public face with a content management system that enables me to add/remove/update any content on the public face without me having to pay a developer to do it each time I want to
  • I need somewhere for people to find me by typing in an URL or searching for me in a search engine, that tells them who I am, where I am and how they can find me.

Although technically they are right, the problem with a statement like “We need a website” that is that it tends to bring the village idiot out in people who think they are or who want to be website designers who are standing nearby.

Garbage in, garbage out

While I appreciate everyone has to learn somewhere, if this online presence is going to be a fundamental building block for your future activities and business model, then you can’t afford to get it wrong.

Particularly as it is going to have to prove its value and/or monetise itself in order to provide a return on your original investment; and until it does and you can justify further/new development…you will be stuck with it.

Don’t let your business be turned into an wannabe online/digital/web designer/developer’s learning ground, because there is the potential they will be learning it’s not that simple at your expense.

When can do attitudes go wrong

If you make a statement like that and someone says “Oh I can do that for you” without asking what it is you are exactly trying to do and what capabilities and functionality you need from it, then I would suggest disenagaging eye contact and backing away slowly.

Leaving aside online retail and content management, what are they saying they can do for you?

Are they saying they can create:

  • A static website in html/xhtml – in which case you are going to have to learn how to write html properly in order to update?
  • A dynamic website in php/asp or similar, that pulls information from a database and displays it? In which case what information is in the database (the whole site or just your products) and how are you going to update it?
  • A flash site, in which case you are likely going to have to pay to get it updated every time something changes

Do they even know what they are saying?

If you don’t know what you are asking and they don’t know what you need, how exactly do you hope to get a successful result out of the venture?

Enthusiasm is contagious…so is stupidity

Unfortunately, the thing with village idiots is that they don’t know what they don’t know, but they are very optimistic about what they can do and very enthusiastic. If they are a good salesperon, they can sweep you along with their optimism.

It’s only in the depths of the project, when it’s too far down the path for you to back out and the things that you took for granted (you assumed, they assumed something else and nothing was ever articulated or documented in the project brief or proposal); that the enthusiasm wears of and the reality sinks in: that the project will never meet the needs that you actually require it to although it will meet every requirement that you asked of your village idiot and every thing they offered to you.

Your online presence shouldn’t start and end at websites

The reason why I am differentiating between an online presence and a website is, apart from the points I made in the preface to this post, there are more opportunities for online presences that might be lower hanging fruit compared to the cost and risk of developing your own site or system, which is what novices generally mean when they say “We need a website”.

Wikipedia does have a reasonably good definition of what a website is, with definitions of static and dynamic sites and systems, including examples, key terms and differentiators. It also has a general taxonomy for types of sites which might help clarify what is what.

When you say “I need a website” what does it translate to…?

Well, other than “I am a babe in the woods, please take my money as I do not know what I am doing” and “I’ve done no planning, have no idea but need this to work to ensure my business succeeds and survives”, it also means that you have’t broken down your requirements in such a way that you can be:

  • advised, educated and guided towards choosing from an appropriate set of options
  • presented with the different ways you can skin your particular cat (I plan to look at an example of this in a later post)
  • positioned to consider what low hanging goals/targets you can achieve online, without significant investment or effort on your own part

Consider this: do you actually need a website or:

  • do you need an etsy, made it or an ebay store
  • do you need a facebook page (perhaps with an app that enables you to sell your fans through facebook)
  • do you need to create and/or claim your google places entry
  • do you need to locate and update all listings for yourself on review sites (most applicable to restaurants, e.g. urbanspoon)
  • do you need a blog (like this one)


This post is getting a bit long. I am trying to chunk this content down to make it easy for you to take away what you need to from each post, no more nor less; and set you up for the next area or set of areas I need to cover in future posts, so I might leave it here.

My next post is going to be some of the tiny tells which indicate what type of online presence you are seeing when you access a site, as I think that might help inform you in terms of the things you need to say as well as, or instead of, “I need a website”.

7 Responses to “Basics: This is not a website”
  1. kiki says:

    Thank you..really informative!!

  2. Joe Smith says:

    I love this i want more on this subject
    any references please?

  3. Hi there. I wanted to ask a little something…is the following a wordpress webpage as we are thinking about switching over to WP. Furthermore did you make this theme yourself? Cheers.

  4. Claire says:

    Thanks Natacha, I’m loving an elliptical point of view – very interesting and informative. Keep up the good work : )

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  1. […] the importance in knowing the type of online presence you need, and/or your eventual goal(s)/destination(s) in terms of that presence, […]

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