The End Of Big Website Builds

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If you thought fragmentation was changing the way a brand buys media, just wait until you see what it’s going to do to the Digital Marketing space.

Are the days of big websites and long website builds numbered? It could well be. If you think about how people find and connect to most brands, it’s not just through a search engine anymore. In fact, more and more people are having their first brand interaction on their mobile device. There are many people who are also connecting to brands for the first time in spaces like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

Does this mean that the website is going the way of the dodo bird?

Not exactly, but it does mean that the overall Digital Marketing strategy is going to change dramatically in the next little while. Instead of one, big and centralized website with many digital marketing outposts in the appropriate platforms, it is more than likely that we’re going to see more and more brands create multiple spaces and platforms to ensure that they’re connecting with the right people in the right communities.

Imagine a world…

Where a Digital Marketing strategy focuses less on one big website and more on creating engaging "things" like iPhone apps, a mobile website, a Facebook page along with a Blog (or whatever), and it’s all supported with a simple website that acts more like a hub for all of the other spokes. Yes, there are some (only a few) brands already playing with creating Facebook pages in lieu of micro-sites for promotions and experiential marketing initiatives, but it has not become a commonplace activity where you find a brand doing multiple things in multiple channels and focusing less on driving consumers to their marketing-riddled jargony websites.

It becomes a more complex Digital Marketing play.

The "game" used to be about always driving people back to your own, controlled, website, and the truth is that the more vibrant community for a brand may be happening more through a mobile app or online social network platform… or something else or something in addition to it. Does this mean we need to trim websites back to WordPress Blog-shaped platforms or micro-site sizes? Not really, but it does mean that if a brand’s vibrant community is happening in a place like Facebook, they won’t have much control or ownership over the content, but they might be able to do things (in terms of connecting and growing that community) that they could not scale to with a big, towering website of their own.

This is just further proof that the conversations are everywhere (and maybe not where we always want them to be). 


  1. Not at all. The small screen in Mobil devices will never replace the comfortable setting of setting in front of your computer and appreciate wide viewing, fast speed, control, document typing, attachments, downloads, edit videos, edit images, etc.

  2. Great post Mitch. Personally, I agree that companies are moving (or should be moving) away from the behemoth website that is all things to all people. Mostly because those websites are rarely all things to all people. I’ve also noticed that many progressive companies are getting rid of the Flash on their sites and replacing them with blogs, Webinars, links to photo sharing sites and links to their YouTube channels. Having talked to some people who have been responsible for making these changes, their messages are clear and consistent…increased SEO outweighs the “bells and whistles” every time.

  3. I agree with the idea that there is now a need for multiple “spokes” or branches.
    Pardon the cheesy metaphor, but all these branches must connect back to the tree itself. The meat and potatoes. I think there will always be a need for having an intricate site that, in one spot, caters to those that truly want to explore your brand further.
    Offer something simple for those looking to get their feet wet.
    Offer something intense to the people that already care.

  4. yes i think there is some truth to the theme of this post. nowadays there is some serious strength in the database (backend) more than there is in the spiffy frontend. being able to aggregate the content out to different services like mobile apps and social networks is more important than ever.
    also i think that the big website builds can be stifling if it takes so long to make the site go live, since in a year or two it will need a serious overhaul anyways. just look at what’s happening with the flash platform right now and how it won’t work on apple handhelds.

  5. I’ve been thinking about this ever since I heard the term “splinternet” (I think I heard it first from Groundswell, but I could be wrong). We all want information quickly and we want it to come to us easily on whatever device we are using at that moment. The face of the web is changing because the users have quickly changing expectations. Personally, I am less and less impressed by big websites that are difficult to navigate. Yes, they can be built. I don’t care. I want information – not music and video and …

  6. The end of big websites? No. At least, not yet. There will always be portal websites, built mostly for internal use of associations or corporate use. E-Commerce websites also fall under the big build class. Those aren’t going away any time soon.
    But big community websites? Yeah, good bye. Proprietary social networks built around big-build tools are becoming a waste of time – but there’s a caveat. OAuth, for example, means you can build functionality in from other sites, and let people use their own accounts from wherever to interface with other websites. I’d say that’s a win, if you can make something useful of it.
    Similarly, back-stream information, comment aggregation – there’s a lot of call for that kind of tool, and it’s not really happening yet. Tools for companies, media outlets, networks, even individuals, to automate their new giant ears have the potential to further streamline our use of the tools.
    What used to pass as a “big website” is now the size of a well made WordPress site or Joomla deployment. Our own sense of scale has shifted along with the tools, and the relative level of aptitude for both design of sites, use of larger sites, and generation of content on a huge scale has gone sharply up.
    If we’re talking about the death of big websites, we can’t ignore the fact that anyone, given enough time trolling the web, can create something that looks at least semi-professional. Perhaps the focus then, for new media companies, is allowing the bar to be raised, and growing on the shoulders of the swell.
    It’s not a bell tolling, it’s a peal of challenge from the public; users are screaming Impress Us.
    Are we up for it?

  7. Couldn’t agree more that digital marketing strategy is shifting (if it hasn’t already) to “creating engaging ‘things'” on different sites and building relationships with people on separate, pre-existing networks.
    Perhaps, though, this is less a change in how big companies communicate but, instead, for the first time, the different ways in which they have always wanted to/tried to communicate are now easier done through separate services. Who needs a customer forum when you can have the same (already pre-built, already pre-populated) on Facebook cheaper (and more effectively)? Who needs to have a built-in chat function for customer care when there’s Twitter? We’re seeing a lot of companies running campaigns purely based on interaction through these new mediums because it’s easier, more effective, and already built-in.
    We talk a lot about how Twitter and other sites have changed the way big companies (and we) communicate and interact. But maybe we’ve always been communicating and interacting this way– it’s just never been so well-organized, so well-delineated, and so easy…

  8. I’m having this same debate within my organization. It’s a great discussion to have because I believe many companies are struggling with what strategy they should take.

  9. The “big” website still remains the source of truth for me. Facebook and Twitter, to me, are like wikipedia. You can have a lot of fun browsing through the knowledge database, but can you quote it in an academic paper? No.
    If I want to learn about a product, I will not look it up on facebook or twitter, I would rather go to the source, my “direct phone line” if you will to the company. This remains the big website. I do agree that forums and chatrooms could easily be scratched off from the website, mainly because social networks are now the main conversation vehicules.
    I would never order a book from the Amazon fan page on Facebook. I don’t think i’ll ever want to put my credit card info on any social network.

  10. There will still be a need for a ‘Big Website’ as long as there is a need for other brand statements like a head office, a nice foyer and a receptionist.
    As the only touch point online, the days of the main site being the only one are already over. The information the user wants via their mobile, in a social space, when they are consuming audio and video changes. White labeling is another significant factor in the splintering of a web brand presence that I don’t think has been looked at enough yet either.
    The Digital strategy should focus more on being the custodian of the user’s experience of the brand, regardless of where. This means understanding the intent behind the touch point they are using and delivering an experience in line with the marketing strategy.

  11. Mitch, thanks for eloquently summarizing something that’s being on my mind… and I’m thinking about from an individual standpoint. My professional target audience are heavily users of Facebook.
    If one jumps back to thing about this issue in the context of your post, large brands, it is very much the issue media and entertainment companies have been struggling with for the last year when it comes to the distribution of their creative content. People have always – to a point – controlled how they experienced content (ads, editorials, news, etc..) it’s just that until recently there were significantly fewer streams that they felt were relevant and that they could tap.
    In my opinion it all comes down to the experience. People will pick and choose the mix (form, source, and frequency) that provides them with the experience that best meets their conceptualized nirvana. Media business models that have this built into their DNA recognise this fact. The struggle is that it often runs afoul with existing distribution rights, processes, and revenue models.
    I look forward to reading more about the end of big websites from both you and others.

  12. I agree to some extent.
    I see microsites which tie up all difference online initiatives in to one easy to navigate page is a great idea, but only as an addition to a big central location for an organaisation.
    The main justification I believe, is that having your brand spread across many different media each such as Facebook, Twitter etc without a strong central site would dilute your brand strength.
    If a brand can generate value to get visitors to keep coming back to their site, then their relationship with the brand will be stronger.

  13. Depending of the brand! You don’t need to access a lot of content to buy and use your bag of Doristos. Search engine usless for that task! But if what you sell is hotel rooms, your customer will first search the web for review, than come to your website to see the content you produced (price, pictures, what’s inclued and else) before they buy. A lot of brand do need a big website. Same for many of our custumer: Microsoft, VIA Rail, Starwood Hotels, etc.

  14. I think the same situation is becoming true for very small website. Most of my clients are very small (some are solo artists) and even for them, I’m finding that they are better to spend less time on their own site and put the rest on their other outposts.

  15. I completely agree with your assessment and I think it’s especially true of large companies that can’t seem to make up their mind about what they want to say or who they want to talk to on their “Big Build” web site.
    Instead of spending time worry about that, let each functional unit do their own things that actually targets and speaks to the audience they’re trying to reach. “Home Page Soup” is getting better than it used to be but it’s becoming more of a problem as companies light-up more external communities.
    Rarely can a “Big Build” site speak to every audience it’s trying to reach, or at least, not as effectively as it would like to think it can.

  16. To a certain extent the big website is becoming the ivory tower of the internet, not because of any increased intelligence, but because people will not feel in touch with these large corporate brand sites.
    Many companies are seeing that they need to come to the ground floor or consumers are just going to walk on by.

  17. Like Karen, I’ve been thinking about similar ideas since I heard the term “splinternet”. In fact, I’d love to see someone (maybe me when I have some free time) to try to build a business without having a primary website…or maybe just have a primary website that points out to content available in other regions of the web.
    There are certain types of businesses that need a primary site–a “home base” on the web–like Brogan’s Third Tribe, for example.
    Other businesses, such as GM, Coke, or a local dry-cleaner may, I believe, be better served by feeding the splinternet.
    Most people still use the splinter sites to try to drive traffic back to their home base. The argument for doing this is that you have more control of the content and the calls to action on a site that you own.
    The counter argument is that if you put the call to action on sites that your market already uses and trusts, then you should also get good–maybe better–responses.
    In the end, who really cares where you interact with your market. Just like good customer service is built around how the customer works, not how your business works, a good presence on the web is built around how your target market views the web, not how you view it.
    This is one of my favorite topics right now and I’m really glad to see all the comments here. I love this.

  18. Yes one needs a web presence where the customers are. Yes one needs to engage with customers and a web site is usually not good at this. However, most organisations need a good central web site that caters to its various audiences (customers, partners, suppliers, investors, etc.).
    Sorry Mitch but I have to go with Etienne on this one.

  19. Nice post, and great blog design, love it.
    You’re touching on the truth here, but I feel the big branded website (the mother ship) will always be needed. Why? because these social networking hubs (twitter, facebook, etc.) will come and go over time. Five years ago, we were all talking about MySpace and the need to migrate there with a presence. Today, we have Twitter, Facebook and a gazillion other hot and up-coming sites, and they won’t stop coming. Every company will always need that LARGE CRUISE SHIP. But I think what you’re alluding to is that in addition to the large cruise ship, they’ll need those little boat (attached to the side of the ship) to be released at any moment and adapt and leverage a community like facebook, twitter, tumblr, youtube, etc.
    Just one example, and other large eCommerce websites. They’ll always need to be there and with huge databases for people to search, search and search. But, yes, they’ll need to also adapt to the mobile world, iPad, and allow for transactions to be made there.
    But when my wife is at home, she still browses and navigate the web like it’s 1996, and she makes a lot of purchases online. She still searches the old way, old school. She needs that mother ship to be there when she wants it.
    Michael Locke
    ML Web Consulting

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