Why Haven’t Websites Died Out?
As predicted, we’ve seen the rise of ecommerce and content delivery on apps, and the use of hand-held devices is up, yet strangely the number of websites is still up 250%.
I Follow Website and CMS/DXP Trends
I read a lot about technology. It’s part of my job to follow trends. I predict trends as well. Pontificating and to predicting what will happen is a part of the job I enjoy. Recently, I’ve been reading a lot of older content about the end of the website as we know it.
They Told Us It Was the End of Web-Centric Digital Experiences
Here are a few headlines to make you smile (the last one made me cringe):
“RIP to Your Corporate Websites” — CMSWire 2012
“The Web Is Dying; Apps Are Killing It” — WSJ 2014
“How Traditional Websites Could Become Obsolete By 2020” — Website Magazine 2015
We haven’t heard much about the demise of websites recently. From my brief research this week, it seems the articles predicting the end of the website all stopped three to five years ago.
The website should declare, like Mark Twain, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”
What Happened to Apps Dominating Marketing and Ecommerce?
Those old articles and blogs all aligned behind a few commons assumptions.
Google Knowledge Graph eliminated the need to read further: First Google trained us to search, giving us a list of places to find the answer. Then, in 2012, Google started giving us the answers with the Google Knowledge Graph. You may never need to leave your search engine again.
Search engines helped us to rely on third-party databases and applications for information: If the Yelp profile of a popular restaurant ranks higher than the restaurant’s own website in a search, it’s easier click on the link for Yelp. That is a common experience. Common also, was the thought that user-generated content, in the form of customer reviews and ratings, was a more trusted source for information than a branded website.
Commerce was moving away from corporate websites: For many, our digital storefronts would be hosted on Amazon, eBay, or somewhere else.
Mobile apps were going to make the website obsolete: This was probably the loudest death knell. Acceptance of mobile devices was skyrocketing, and consumers of content would prefer the speed and offline capabilities of native apps.
It all sounded very reasonable at the time.
Can Native Apps and Websites Coexist?
It is estimated that 1.8 billion websites are in existence today, up from about 700 million in 2012. The number of active websites fluctuates, and most are inactive at any given time, but in big, round percentages, that’s more than a 250% increase since the death watch began.
Most of the things that were supposed to harken the end of websites came to fruition in one way or another. Most of these assumptions above were accurate. (Sure, maybe native apps aren’t used as extensively as predicted or business purposes, but the use of apps continues to increase a lot.)
The CMS Got Better, So Has Multi-Site
The rest of this is conjecture on my part, but I have some ideas that might help explain the unlikely survival of websites.
Content management is better and so are experiences: Video, audio and other rich content found their way to corporate websites, and marketers and business users were given tools to use them effectively. Responsive design got easier and became more common, so native apps weren’t as necessary (or as cool). CMS, DMS, DAM, and other integration and multi-site capabilities led naturally to intranet and portal experiences that became essential to work in the digital era.
Apps are used differently than expected: They found their niche (in an absolutely huge, game-changing, paradigm-shifting way). Photography, music, social, health, lifestyle, utilities, and gaming (not business) became the use cases of choice. At the same time, internet access has become nearly ubiquitous, making browsers on mobile devices more useful. As more PWAs (progressive web applications) emerge, the rumors of the end of app stores multiply.
Tablets replaced laptops (sort of): Touchscreens let laptops act like tablets and phones and it’s become harder to argue that you need to carry multiple devices anymore. Furthermore, as more of us work remotely and rely on videotelephony and online chat for audio communications, what does that phone do except to distract me during conference calls?
I’ll add one more: I think we just like websites. They are familiar, flexible, personalized and easy to navigate. They remain the main touchpoint for our customers, our place to tell our story, and they are the home base to which our other channels point.
I Have No Crystal Ball
After reading these articles, I have to admit I’ll be a little reluctant the next time I am asked to predict a trend. I’ll be likely to equivocate, demure, pad my estimate of time, and I sure won’t be putting a future year in my headline.
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