Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Are web sites dying?

In many marketing courses, there is a mantra that says that, online, the thing to do is 'drive traffic to your site'.

This is now soooo yesterday!

The question for business and consumer communications practitioners is simple. Do you really want to drive your publics to places they really don't want to go.

Today there was news that MySpace has 10 million UK users. It is worth looking at what this really means.

Lets start with the Tesco, a big company with a global reach of terrestrial shops and a sizeable (£1.2 billion) online business. The BBC.co.uk a worldwide broadcaster and Amazon.co.uk an online only retailer.

The BBC' reach comes out on top with Tesco almost invisible. All three sites are in decline.

If we add blogs into this analysis (by adding the reach of Blogger.com). We see a different type of performance:

Which takes us to social networks like MySpace.

Social networks and blogs are where online visitors want to go. They don't seem to want to go to traditional web sites.

Is this because people don't want to find out about the products and services available from retailers?

Well, it seem that people want to find out stuff if we add Wikipedia into the mix.

So, its not that people are not interested in finding stuff and just want to chat. There is something going on here that requires further investigation.

Online advertising is up 42% this year so, convention says, the retailers should be 'driving' a lot of traffic to their sites. Even with declining visitor numbers, the amount of money spent by consumers shopping online increased by 33.4% to £10.9bn last year.

More people are spending more time online and more people have broadband.

People say they are shopping a lot

Percentage of adult Internet users who used selected online activities in the three months before interview, 2006, GB

Online shopping has already clocked up online sales of £100 billion.

Why then are the retailers just not a big target for the online community?

Its not just Tesco, M&S (which aims to increase its annual online sales from £100m to £250m.) and John Lewis (catalogue and web sales division, John Lewis Direct, increased by 64%) are, like most retailers just not getting the interests.

Perhaps the retailers are happy with what they have got and do not want to join the real online community in the social space. Perhaps they have not yet noticed that their current online advertising and web sites are loosing the attention from the online community they once enjoyed.

If so, is this a short sighted policy?

Perhaps, there is a case for looking at what the marketers are trying to do and how the online community has moved on. Hitwise reports that the Entertainment category has overtaken the Retail category in share of UK Internet visits for the first time. visits to Shopping & Classifieds websites were down 5% year on year in May. UK Internet users aged 55+, the so-called silver surfers, are set to overtake 35-44 year olds as the demographic age group with the largest representation online. Those aged 55+ accounted for 22% of UK visits to all categories of websites.

Perhaps as the demographics change, the use of the Internet for all manner of solutions and its ubiquity as part of daily life including the social nature of the commons is coming into play.

Perhaps the conversation has overtaken the advertisement, flash and bling of the traditional web site.

Perhaps the social media lesson should be quietly introduced to the boardrooms of the retail sector.

Perhaps the big take out is that people seek relationships online. An area where PR could be pivotal.