Websites Aren’t Just for Businesses

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Most websites are for personal use
Image: Markus Spiske

With the amount being spent online nowadays one could be forgiven for thinking the web — and its sites — has primarily become a place of business. Each year sees ecommerce sales claiming more of the retail pie, and 2017 saw online advertising beat its TV counterpart for the first time. Money talks, and that’s what we hear.

That’s not necessarily what’s true, though. A recent project by our research team has shown two thirds of websites are for personal use, not financial gain (not that some wouldn’t appreciate a little overlap).

It’s personal

The primary focus of our study was to see what the primary obstacles were to people who wanted to set up a website. The hypothesis was, loosely, time, effort, and money. We spoke to 1881 people to find out the real story.

Of those who said they have website, 58% said it was for personal use, whereas only 25% said it was for business. The remaining 17% said they had both, which equates to roughly two thirds of websites being for personal use. Given that there are approximately 200 million active websites, that means almost 140 million of them are personal.

What’s the difference between a personal site and a business one? Money. Business sites exist to make money, personal ones don’t — though they can. A portion of ‘personal’ sites have ambitions of making the jump over, but the divide is clear.

People stick with their first program they built their sites on. Only 21% have tried another. Given how many website builders there are now and how different they often are, this seems like a wasted opportunity to try different services and settle on one that fits. It’s possible 82% of people find their perfect match the first time round, but we doubt it.

With the recent strides of ecommerce platforms like Shopify and BigCommerce, some might think there’s no room for the hobbyists. There is. In fact, they’re still a comfortable majority.

What’s stopping people?

People aren’t making websites because they don’t think they can, not because they don’t want to. Only 15% of those we spoke to said they had ‘no need’ for a website. A massive majority of those without a website would like one — be it for personal or business purposes — they’re just not setting them up.

Why not? There’s not one single big answer, though there are several key ones. 41% of those without a website identified inexperience as the main obstacle, with a further 31% aligning with our starting hypothesis of time, effort and money.

The largest misconception was that websites are for businesses, not personal use. Most of the internet doesn’t exist to make money, contrary to what you might expect.

The study also shed light on the vulnerability often felt online. 7% of those without a website said the primary reason for that was embarrassment and/or fear of failure. Criticism, exposure to trolls, and googleability were all highlighted as concerns.

For some, websites are opportunities for expression, for others they’re another potential reason for employers to throw resumes away. As one subject said, “If I say something and people don’t like it, I could get fired/not hired. So I just say nothing at all.” We understand this was one of the longest statements ever put on record by a lurker.

Social media =/= a site

It bears mentioning that 2% of those without websites said their social media channel effectively was their website. It’s not uncommon for people’s main presence online to be their social media account, but conflating it with a website is a risky game to play.

A social media channel is not a site. The only thing we can rely on online is our own site, everything else is ultimately beyond our control. Diversification is a healthy thing, and the same is true of social media.

Mixing business with pleasure

64% of people think a website would benefit them or their business, but only 39% have one. There’s a margin to be closed there. Given how easy it is to get online nowadays there’s no real excuse not to if you think it’s in your best interests.

The internet doesn’t (just) belong to techies anymore. Be it for business or pleasure, setting up a website isn’t beyond anyone. And it can take you places. Some of the largest business websites in the world can be traced back to the passion project of some pioneering nerd or other.  

If you’re among those who have stepped into the big wide world of the web, well done. Keep at it. A good website is never finished. For those of you tentative about dipping your toe in the water, give it a go. It’ll probably be fine.

Written by:
I know from experience that building a website is only as hard as you make it. The internet is more accessible than it’s ever been, with all the resources you need to join in and stand out. Anyone can get online. I’m here to help you do that.

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