It seems like an innocent question, but it has plagued many a site owner. A quick google of the question turns up an awful lot of conventional wisdom on the matter. Within the mix are some of the usual suspects when it comes to these sorts of questions (slogs of SEO blogs).

Before we get to the conventional wisdom, let’s ask a much less obvious, but perhaps more pressing question. If generating revenue isn’t an objective for your site, should it even exist in the first place? Take a deep breath. Think for a moment.

If you answer “YES, my site should exist even if it doesn’t generate revenue!” there arise other burning questions. How do you define a site strategy and measure its performance? What does a success story look like if it’s not directly tied to revenue?

Conventional Wisdom

At this point, let’s turn back to the blogosphere for conventional wisdom. To summarize

Jeff Baker at answers the question of site existence unequivocally with one word: money.

While Kaushik often waxes cleverly eloquent about ninja segmentation techniques to make money, he takes a broader approach to the question of existence, placing the answer firmly within clearly defined business objectives.

David Rosam offers several viable options for site existence (including selling products, extending the business, engaging with customers), but dismisses the very real need for corporate sites to have a presence just to have a presence. He goes so far as to say that “Because we have to be on the Internet is not an acceptable answer.”

Unconventional Wisdom

To say that a site can/should only exist to generate revenue, or that it couldn’t/shouldn’t exist just “to be on the internet” dismisses out of hand some of highest-trafficked sites on the internet, not to mention corporate sites for the world’s highest-valued companies.

In this regard it’s incomplete because it fails to address the very real need for a viable content and measurement strategy for various corporate segments who have legitimate (albeit complex) reasons to be

  • Investor Relations – the raison d’etre for this segment is mix of legal obligation and brand maintenance. Even though investors are not putting money into the website and production team per se, the design and function of the site impact user perception of the credibility and competence of the brand at large.
  • Careers – for this segment is to draw interest from the highest caliber of employee prospects and draw them into the HR funnel. The long-term success and value of a company is directly correlated to the caliber of employee they can attract and retain. If your company wants the best of the best, you should know that they will not put up with broken online tools or poorly written content.
  • Thought-leadership and Media – the raison d’etre of this segment is twofold (1) to delight site visitors with educational and thought-provoking content and (2) to curate the message about your brand. To succeed in making your flagship site the place for news about the company or resources on your industry is to clearly distinguish yourself from your competitors.

A quick side-note about the legal obligation for investors. If you or your company is new to this space, note that publicly traded corporations are required by United States law to make certain information available on their website. According to the SEC website: “all investors, whether large institutions or private individuals, should have access to certain basic facts about an investment prior to buying it, and so long as they hold it.”

The legal ramifications of the quotation from the SEC site fit the very definition of a site needing to exist just because it has to be on the internet. While this content doesn’t directly generate revenue, things like providing a good user experience, clear access to news, and easily discoverable fiduciary documents, do remit value to the brand. If that statement doesn’t immediately strike you as the truth, switch everything to the negative and think it through again.

Negative: A corporate site whose design / functionality / content result in a poor user experience, limits access to news, and whose financial documents are hard to find or outdated inevitably costs more money to maintain, is ripe for SEC fines, and reduces brand credibility. This should last point should not be underestimated just because it is difficult to measure.

In case you wonder whether or not the SEC cares about the investor section of your site, consider the following statement from their website: “Only through the steady flow of timely, comprehensive, and accurate information can people make sound investment decisions… Crucial to the SEC’s effectiveness in each of these areas is its enforcement authority. Each year the SEC brings hundreds of civil enforcement actions against individuals and companies for violation of the securities laws. Typical infractions include insider trading, accounting fraud, and providing false or misleading information about securities and the companies that issue them.”

Unconventional Strategies

Unconventional wisdom leads to unconventional strategies. And that’s a good thing! It turns out that these types of questions about a site’s existence, and content and measurement strategies are harder questions for a corporate site to answer. They are hard questions because they open up a larger and squishier discussion about value, cost, and necessity that doesn’t always lead to clear-cut ROI measures.

This series will focus specifically on the strategy and measurement challenges faced by corporate sites (and their larger domain portfolio). Site strategy in the context of this series relies on a schema for the three main types of corporate web properties, namely

Purpose: to sustain the brandPurpose: to promote products (and also to sustain the brand)Purpose: to grow the brand (also sustain and promote)
Audience: corporate interests (investors, employee, prospects, etc.)Audience: corporate interests and to a lesser extent customers and prospectsAudience: focus on customers and prospects while still providing access to corporate interest content
In a standalone strategy, products or corporate interests are the sole focus of a site.Corporate users are the main focus of a federated strategy but products can be included. Federated sites typically reflect the following principlesCorporate users, customers, and prospects share the focus of an integrated site.
Typically with a standalone site no effort has been made to associate corporate sites with product sites.Associated with parent brand.Deeply integrated with parent brand
Streamlined corporate site that includes limited product information, and/or links to products or product sites.Products and corporate interests are included in main site navigation
In certain cases product sites may link back in global navigation to parent site.Typically belong to the same domain and folder structure as corporate pages
Clear and concise messaging not diluted by an effort to speak to multiple audiencesCorporate site can be trimmed down to focus specifically on corporate audienceCan rely on the same technology infrastructure and support
Fewer restrictions on technology platform as the site is very focused on few user actionsProduct or business groups are not restricted by the corporate platform messaging, technology, or timelines for their campaigns or sales cycle.PBenefit from close brand association and search equity
Maintains cohesive branding across multiple business groups and products
Greater opportunity for up-sell and cross-sell
Frustrated customers or corporate audience who cannot find the information they are looking forProduct sites may not receive the same benefit from the close association with the parent brandSite can become overly complex
Limited opportunity to use general brand awareness to grow the businessCustomer confusion may arise due to differences between parent brand, products, and wholly-owned subsidiariesPriorities between corporate users and customers can be hard to sort out
Fewer opportunities for up-sell and cross-sellIf poorly designed and executed, neither the corporate nor the customer audience has a good site experience

In the Series