That’s the question that I get these days – from all around me – clients, agency side, my more mobile digital friends (though they don’t frame it as a question but a statement).  This question is so prominent that I encounter folks that assume a website should not even be on the table for consideration.  This assumption needs checking.

[an unpublished blog post i found from pre-xmas]

Certainly, the rise of social networking sites combined with the stellar growth of mobile apps are definitely putting the decision of website (and more so microsite) (and more so expensive, elaborate microsites) development in question.  But the website still has a place – and important one – and the size of its role depends on your marketing objectives and situation of your brand.

But alas, allow me a word in defense for the website.  Websites are owned media where a brand can control the online experience.  Social networking sites are earned spaces and often, like the case with Facebook, a brand’s efforts are frustrated by the agile development of a software service that does not cater to corporate pages.

Certainly – it’s much easier to drive traffic to a new website than it is to build a social network presence and keep consumers engaged.  As earned media – it can take time to build to momentum.  Social networking sites follow an exponential growth curve – slow start, quick finish – like a hockey stick.  This is a growth pattern that does not fit well within last minute campaign timelines.  I am not suggesting an either or approach, just that a combination of media types is needed to serve a brand and extend reach – and that a website is still an important part of the mix for many brands.

Interestingly, I’ve begun to examine sector share of time spent online from either Comscore or Nielsen.  It’s hard to find recent Canadian statistics but from the US – we see that social networking sites have risen 43% along with significant increases in online gaming (about 10%) and online video sites (about 10%, and 1% for search).   Almost every other sector from entertainment sites, to consumer electronics, etc has gone down.   The long tail – which is what I call everything other than portals, search and social networking sites, typically the wash of forums, blogs and corporate websites, is also down in time spent online.  But it is still the big pie slice – amounting to 34% (highly fragmented among millions of sites of course) (isn’t the long tail always a big pie slice) (excluding consumer electronics and travel).

Mobile is definitely something not to ignore – in 2010, smartphones have reached 30% penetration in Canada with blackberries at 75% market share and iphones at 25%.  Iphone users, however, access the web 8 times more than the blackberry user (my stats are from IDC and e-marketer).   The use of mobile to access the web is starting to trump out the old PC.   Depending on your target market – some segments are pretty heavy into the smartphone and so mobile is a fantastic direction.  And with the multiple platforms out there (android, iphone, blackberries multiple phones), building a mobile app needs careful planning.  In fact, some brands just need a mobile ready website not an app.  (it can still be an ‘application’ – its just delivered over the web vs. a downloadable app from an app store).

So there you have it.  A strong word for the website