Rob LoCascio Claims “Death of the Website” Imminent On TechCruch

Today, as I was browsing my Facebook News Feed, I came across a click-bait headline that got the better of me, and I ended up reading over Rob LoCascio’s TechCrunch article, where he made a “bold prediction” that “In 2018, we will see the first major brand shut down its website.”

Paraphrasing, his arguments are basically:

  • Less than 15% of purchases are made through e-commerce platforms, and thus e-commerce is suffering. (He neglects to mention that those 15% of purchases account for over $400 billion just in the US and over $1 trillion worldwide.)
  • Websites have become much more standardized than they used to be, and the user experience is very similar across websites. (This is somehow a bad thing?)
  • Google holds too much power and influence over the modern web. (A fair point.)
  • Websites now perform poorly. – (I had too much to say to this point to fit it in here, see more below.)
  • Websites are leading to more calls to businesses. It is expensive to maintain the infrastructure needed to handle those calls. (This is really what the meat of this post addresses down below, so let’s jump into it!)

Websites Perform More Poorly Than When Mr. LoCascio Launched His Business in 1995.

Maybe they do, compared to the performance of the first early-adopters from decades ago. As we’re seeing with Facebook’s cost-per-click right now, as more people move towards an ad platform, prices rise. When traffic gets more expensive, your results aren’t as good as they used to be. The web, contrary to Mr. LoCascio’s point, is becoming more crowded, not less. As more websites come online and more businesses invest in online advertising, results overall will take a hit.

Some of that can be mitigated through proper digital strategy and campaign management, but, for example, I don’t think any strategy is going to get you a 44% click-through rate on a banner ad, like the first banner ad netted in 1994.

Of course there are other benchmarks for success than “can you drive the same amount of traffic you could over 20 years ago for the same cost?” Obviously in 1994 e-commerce didn’t make up 15% of revenue for businesses. In fact, it has grown steadily, year-over-year for the last 20+ years, with another year of healthy growth projected in 2018. In 1994 there were nowhere near as many options for online advertisers to choose from, nor as much granularity and ubiquitous tracking and targeting. While traffic may be more expensive, it’s easier than ever to reach the right audiences and to achieve real business goals, like lead generation, in a way that is very cost-effective and provides an incredibly strong return on investment.

Websites Lead to More Calls for Businesses

I really don’t see the problem here. Maintaining staff and phone infrastructure to field calls from prospects who want to give you their money is a cost of doing business. Yes, it might be expensive, but as long as you’re making more than it’s costing you, you’re doing it right.

I run digital advertising campaigns for many industries, tech, high-end real estate, and much more. Driving leads to make phone calls is a goal we optimize for, it’s a desirable outcome that our clients want to see. It’s a result that helps them make more money. A well-built website is at the top of the lead generation funnel, it gives just enough info to get prospects interested enough to talk to someone, either by email or phone. From there, they convert into a lead and are eventually sold to.

It seems like Mr. LoCascio’s goals are very out of line with the goals of a brand that wants to advertise, either for lead gen or brand building purposes. He states that his goal when he started his business was to see commerce shift away from brick and mortar entirely and that success for him was seeing most, if not all, commerce happening online.

Brands don’t care if all or most of their leads or income are from online sources, they care that they can invest money in what I’m doing and get a large return on that investment. As long as that is happening, those brands will be happy to continue to invest in digital lead gen campaigns, and to have websites. They want to have people calling their businesses who otherwise would have never heard of them, because of those lead gen campaigns, and because of their websites, which are an integral part of those campaigns.

Mr. LoCascio is a guy who wanted to change the way the world does business. And, my interpretation of his article at least, was that to him anything less than completely changing the way the world shops is, in his eyes, a failure for e-commerce. Brands don’t care if he changes the world or not. They just care about making a solid return on their investment and being able to do so at scale. Digital campaigns that push qualified traffic to websites accomplish that, so brands are happy to invest in those campaigns and their websites, even if 100% of purchases aren’t online.

I don’t see any compelling reason for a major brand to shut down their website. Mr. LoCascio has some great points about how frustrating non-lead gen phone calls (customer support) can be for large brands. Self-service support for global tech brands is a problem I’ve worked on as well. Building effective knowledge centers and apps, and other technologies that tie into such knowledge centers (like chat or AI) can definitely help alleviate those problems.

Those technologies are a complement to a website though. They don’t replace it. Just as there are people who prefer live chat or to make a phone call, there are people who prefer to be able to search your knowledge center or to have results from your knowledge center show up in a Google search.

If you take away those options you’re just causing the same problems the article bemoans, overwhelming the available support options and pushing people towards an experience they don’t enjoy – you’re just changing which platform they get to suffer through. Now instead of hating that they’re stuck on hold, they hate that they’re stuck talking to a bot when they could have had an answer to their question in 5 seconds if your website had a knowledge center, or if you had a website at all. The more options you can offer, the more you can balance the load between them, avoiding overload, and the more your customers and potential customers can self-select for their preferred method, improving the user experience as well.

Mr. LoCascio’s article had some meaningful insights in the self-service support space, but the headline and the prediction that the website is soon to be dead and Google will topple was, as expected, a bunch of click-bait bullshit.

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