What’s happening

A Medium article raised some hairs on the necks of CMOs recently, proclaiming loudly and confidently that websites are dying. The author isn’t wrong. Website traffic is seeing a decline – a slight decline, but a decline nonetheless – not because users aren’t interested in information or commerce on the web, but because this information is available instantly on Facebook, Google, and the like.

This paradigm shift provides an opportunity for organizations to build new marketing programs and, as a result, new ways to measure marketing success and maybe even impact that bottom line.

The reality

(Not so) newsflash: Platforms like Google and Facebook are crazy powerful. They understand their power position in user reliance, and brands know that the users are there, so they should be too. Now they’re tapping into an open market that brands and businesses can’t ignore: ecommerce.

Branded ecommerce happening directly within these platforms is removing the barrier between platform and website. They are creating opportunities for users to take the path from discovery to purchase without even leaving the platforms. Programs like Google Express, which rolled out as a response to Amazon’s increasing proliferation into people’s lives, and Facebook Shop, which is a marketplace that integrates directly to a business’s Facebook Page, are just the beginning of what is likely to be a shift in user behavior at a global level.

Brands, however, must not forget the practicality of these platforms within the context of digital consumerism. Rather than thinking about this paradigm shift as websites dying, brands should think about it as web content being proliferated in many ways across the internet.

What to consider

Users on the internet are willing to spend money for what they want. However, completing a purchase without having an initial intent is an extremely high-bar ask. Brands should consider jumping on branded ecommerce on Google or Facebook if they believe there’s an existing market for it.

Brands like Nike have capitalized on their large organic Facebook following and huge consumer market to offer product within their Shop. Target has utilized the easy marketplace on Google for users exploring goods online.

Brands that have been successful so far consist of retailers with a large consumer base that already exists online. If you’re selling an idea or usually earn your purchaser at the very (very) end of your funnel, then these marketplaces aren’t for you.

The difference between branded ecommerce and digital advertising

Google Search and Shopping Ads charge per click (i.e. you only pay if people show intent to purchase or learn more about the brand). This means traditional Google Search ads and Google Shopping ads cost significantly less than the commission earned on the product. Google Search ads are also very reliable forms of lead generation and conversion, as brands are able to target terms and phrases, leading users to information rather than just to a product. Google Express, however, earns a commission off of each purchase. These vary greatly by product and retailer relationship, often catering product positioning on the site and offering discounts to brands that have healthy relationships with Google.

Facebook advertising allows brands to target users by granular interests, behaviors, locations and demographics. Retargeting is a key function for moving users through the funnel and returning quality website and brand advocates. Facebook charges money based on the campaign objective (impression, website, follow), which returns a lot more in purchases and advocates than the cost. Facebook earns 2.0% + $0.30 per Facebook Shop transaction, and all transactions are final.

Here’s what you should do

At the end of the day, there’s a positive aspect to being an early adopter. Platforms will be more willing to work with you, customers have another opportunity to interact with you, and you’re opening another opportunity for profit. But don’t forget the most important rule in communication and advertising: always know your audience. If your consumers aren’t primed for making quick transactions, branded ecommerce isn’t going to help.

Now to the million-dollar question: Should we all be freaking out about declining website traffic? No. Remember what happened in August when Facebook went down for 45 minutes and publishers’ website traffic exploded? Then a few months later, YouTube went down for an hour and website traffic increased by 20%. Even as platform capabilities become stronger, websites remain relevant, necessary, and important for business.