22 years ago, I worked at a company called LACityWeb.com. The company failed in the year 2000, but back in 1999 we were selling websites. The sales pitch was that a website was a key part of reaching customers: you could provide your phone number, an email form, even a map with directions to your business! It sounds quaint thinking back on it, but the biggest objection at the time I heard from the salespeople, was that businesses said they didn’t need a website, they were already in the Yellow Pages (I’m including a link to Wikipedia for people who don’t know what the Yellow Pages are…).
Back to the future
Fast forward to 2021 and the question now is certainly not If you should have a website, but what your website should be doing for you. In some ways, even thinking about your digital footprint as “a website” may even feel a little primitive. Let’s create a quick framework to think about our broader digital ecosystem:
- Social media (Instagram, Tik Tok, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.)
- Search (aka Google)
- Email (I’d love to read your newsletter…)
- App (iOS & Android)
In all of these cases thought should be given to how you show up for your customers. In 2021, even gyms have apps and restaurants need to provide menus online and be conscious of reviews (Yelp) and allow online reservations (OpenTable). Phew! 😓
Back to websites
A few months ago our CTO, Tony Rost, published a quick blog post on how to host a website on AWS in 5 minutes. In the article Tony explores three approaches:
- Static HTML website
- Content Management System (CMS)
- Web/Mobile App
1. Static HTML website
If nothing is going to change on your website, you could simply upload some HTML, maybe an image or two and you are good to go. This is what we were selling back in 1999, but hosting in the cloud now would likely only cost pennies.
2. Content Management System (CMS)
If you want to be able to edit your website, build pages — all within the browser, you’ll need a Content Management System or CMS. We’ve written a ton on this topic so feel free to learn more. Tony describes how to get up and running in the Cloud with Drupal or WordPress in 5 minutes. The upside to this is a price tag of a few dollars per month, but unless you are ready to really dig into the code I highly recommend against it. The real cost in this scenario is the custom coding, security updates, website back ups, and more. Essentially Managed Services and application support which can easily run hundreds or thousands of dollars per month. This can be a great option if you want to add some custom functionality, but in most cases small business is better served by turnkey website like Wix or Squarespace. I have personally used these services for things like building out a website for non-profits.
3. Web/Mobile App
Any business that is serious about digital as a part of their business, not just for marketing, but real data storage, interactive applications, etc. needs to look deeper — and get professional help. In the AWS Cloud, the best back-end for this type of work is AWS Amplify, a technology we’ve played around with a lot. Again, not recommended for anyone but the most intrepid DIYer, but a really great professional tool. It can allow you to use the same data for both web and mobile applications, at costs we could only dream about back in 1999.