From my co-author, all around good guy, and someone who really "gets" communications of every kind, Shel Holtz.
These things are true:
- If your website domain isn't instantly intuitive, people will go to a search engine to find you
- If people are looking for companies that do what your company does, they will go to a search engine to find you
- As people conduct searches about your organization, they'll find what has risen to the top, whether it's positive or negative
- With increasing regularity, people visit destinations other than standard websites when trying to learn about an organization
I get all that. And yet I am increasingly irritated when I hear someone utter this nonsense:
Google is your new homepage.
This phrase produces more than 8,500 results in a Google search, mostly blog posts exhorting companies to embrace this belief. Yes, search in general and Google in particular are vitally important. But your homepage is your homepage.
At the risk of sounding pedantic, let's remember that a homepage is defined as the opening page of a web site. Your index file, not Google, is the opening page to your web site. But this is a bigger issue than just a formal definition.
While the era of the destination website may be over, the corporate website is far from dead. The notion suggests that destination website no longer dominate the customer's attention online. They once did, mainly because there wasn't much else online to see. Now, with social networking and online video dominating people's attention, the importance of the destination website has diminished.
That only means traditional websites are now part of a bigger mix of options online, not that their usefulness has vanished.
The 2009 Trust Barometer from Edelman reiterates that a company's own website is one of the most credible source of information a company can provide about itself, beating business blogs, social networking sites or advertising. Only corporate communications — such as press releases, white papers and emails — ranked higher, and only by a two percentage points. And while searches of Google News and Yahoo News ranked higher, searches of the core Google search engine didn't even make the list. At the very top of the list you won't find any new media at all, but rather the staid and traditional industry analyst report, reinforcing the high levels of trust people place in third-party experts.
Certainly, consumers may glean information that doesn't help your company's cause when searching Google. In fact, according to one study, search engines are the most common way consumers find opinions about products, brands and services. But if they're looking for what you have to say, they'll still click through to your website, and most often the top search result will connect consumers to your homepage.
Your website is also the home of the static content that still serves a purpose. The bio of your CEO, shareholder information, details of your corporate social responsibility efforts, archives of your news releases (your authoritative statements of record), job listings — all these represent details people need.
And search engine optimization, which has become a core corporate activity as the importance fo search continues to grow, is still about enabling discovery of your content on your site. As this Google-as-home-page notion gains currency, I fear people will spend less resources on the maintenance of their websites — an odd dilemma, since one SEO fundamental is to continuously update your website and infuse it with new content.
Still, according to a study just released today, web content managemente has fallen as an intrinsic component of organizations' communication efforts. While social networking is part of web-based communications for about 72% of organizations, web content management is an activity among only about 53%. That's particularly odd given that the study found SEO is an activity at nearly 70% of organizations. What's more, web content management is declining as a skill companies look for when making a PR hire.
That is, more organizations are optimizing their sites for search than are managing those sites in order to ensure that the sites offer value to those who find them, despite the fact that corporate websites are among the most credible communication a company can produce.
That's a huge disconnect.
SEO, along with social media engagement, are critical, but let's not lose sight of the basics as we embrace new media. SEO is a critical skill and companies must do it well. But your homepage is still your homepage.