It’s commonly stated that no business can afford to be without a website. Yet is this necessarily the case? Every firm certainly needs an online presence, but a standalone website may be unnecessary for a startup enterprise being run out of someone’s spare room. You might not need to launch a website to offer local services like ironing or window cleaning, and few home-based charities need ten proprietary email accounts or an image slideshow.
For some microbusinesses and garage enterprises, a single online page could well be sufficient. Ten years ago, no self-respecting amateur musician or artist would have been seen without their MySpace page, and today, Facebook has become the default option for anyone who doesn’t know their HTTP from their HTML. A Facebook for Business page can be assembled in less than five minutes, instantly plugging you into the world’s largest social network and offering a foolproof way to establish an online presence.
So can a Facebook page replace a company website? Mark Zuckerberg would like you to think so. Despite repeated criticisms about the prevalence of fake news and the intrusiveness of its privacy policies, Facebook seems impervious to negative publicity. Even declining usage among privacy-conscious Millennials hasn’t affected the platform’s impressive growth in active monthly users. This figure now stands at over two billion, representing a 17 per cent rise over 2016’s figures.
More pertinently, there are more than 60 million businesses with dedicated Facebook pages. This figure might pale compared to the quantity of businesses with their own websites, but it’s still a hugely significant number. Blue-chip brands rub shoulders with sole traders on Facebook’s servers, while a third of site users regularly engage with brands. This often involves customer service, since social media channels are perceived to be far more direct than emailing a call centre or sending a message through a chatbot.
Search and ye shall find
Facebook wants to be a search engine and aggregator in its own right, keeping its users away from other industry giants like Google and Microsoft. Its search bar is positioned at the top left of every desktop page, with algorithmic analysis predicting results akin to conventional search engines. Results aren’t nearly as comprehensive or accurate as you’d get from Google and Bing, but the inclusion of “…nearby” results simplifies the process of looking for an unknown firm in a particular industry.
It’s fair to say Facebook won’t be troubling the major search engines any time soon, but if people know your brand or business name, a Facebook page does offer notable advantages:
- It’s free. Facebook sells vast amounts of user data to advertisers, and creating a business page generates additional information it can provide about you and your latest enterprise. That’s how Facebook can offer space on its servers at no cost.
- It covers the basics. If you don’t need ecommerce functionality or interactive timelines, a Facebook page will provide the essentials. Your contact details, Facebook stats and previous posts are all uniformly displayed in a clean one-page view.
- It’s user friendly. No programming skills or HTML knowledge are required to launch a business page on Facebook. You don’t even need any design skills. Populating a page is simplicity itself, and the page stays live for as long as you wish.
- It’s very popular. Almost a third of the world’s population is on Facebook, with near-blanket coverage in many Western countries. That means people are already on the site; all you have to do is use the right tags and terms to ensure they find you.
- Its advertising algorithms are very clever. As you might expect for a business funded by ad revenue, Facebook offers extensive advertising opportunities. These place pay-per-click ads in front of your chosen demographics, from age and gender to interests.
However, there are obvious drawbacks to relying solely on a Facebook for Business page. As stated above, the Search option lags far behind arch-rival Google in both depth and relevance – it’s not uncommon for long-abandoned pages to be among the top results. And while many people have no issue uploading information that will be supplied to advertisers around the world, others resent Facebook’s belligerent approach to data harvesting and resale.
More pertinently from a corporate perspective, these are some of the drawbacks involved in pinning your online presence to Facebook’s mast:
- It seems amateurish. The simplicity alluded to in point 3 above is a double-edged sword. Because anyone can assemble a Facebook page, there’s no sense of professionalism. In fact, the generic presentation may imply you’re really an amateur.
- Lack of ownership. If you fall foul of Facebook’s labyrinthine guidelines, they can edit or remove your page as they see fit. Facebook controls your content – and the page’s existence – while its customer service is infamous for not resolving queries.
- Lack of functionality. A Facebook page is fine for providing basic corporate information, but it’s hopeless for ecommerce. It’s good at accepting comments, but awful as a forum or message board. Its one-page design imposes many restrictions.
- Every page looks the same. There’s no scope for customisation, and your page is as much an ad for Facebook as it is for your business. Individuality extends to a logo or background photo at best, which creates a dull and instantly forgettable online presence.
- Poor reporting statistics. Using platforms like Moz or SEMrush on a website reveals a treasure trove of visitor information. Facebook has no in-depth reporting on page visitors, and the desultory Notifications often serve no practical purpose.
Ultimately, it’s hard to recommend a Facebook for Business page as a straight replacement for a company website. It’s simply too limited and proprietary to establish the trust and credibility inferred by a dedicated website. And though Google and Bing display Facebook pages prominently in their listings, a standalone website has far more scope for performing strongly in results. You can’t adjust the title tags on a Facebook page, or choose a powerful domain name relating to your chosen industry. You won’t be able to encourage search engines to trawl it with a robots.txt file or XML sitemap, and proprietary email addresses aren’t an option. Unless someone searches for your brand name (or it has a set of search criteria no other company can match), they’re unlikely to find your Facebook page through a generic web search.
Don’t conclude that a Facebook for Business page is worthless, however. Having a presence on the world’s most popular social media site still provides a significant source of free advertising, as well as offering an invaluable channel for generating social media traffic and activity. Facebook’s predictive algorithms are evolving all the time, while a dedicated page creates another way for customers to find or communicate with you. And it’s hard to argue with a pay-per-click advertising platform which has two billion active users already in situ, spending an average of 35 minutes per day browsing through the site…