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Can a Facebook page replace the need for a website?

facebook fan pages, custom fan page tabs, facebook custom landing tabs, facebook static fbml tabsWe’ve had a large number of requests as of late to build new home bases for our clients on the web. Usually, this means either a new or redesigned website.

Strangely, we’re seeing an increasing number of clients wanting only a customized Facebook page. Having mulled over the pros and cons several times in the past few weeks, I thought it was time to cover those issues here.

Facebook page options:

Facebook pages allow for a great deal of customization using any number of tools, whether it’s a purchased solution like those at HyperArts or Involver or a Static FBML custom tab. Facebook allows page owners to direct visitors to a different tab depending on whether or not they are a fan of the page. Page owners can also “reveal” new tabs and information when users become a fan of the page – another little technique to encourage visitors to convert.

One thing is for certain: Custom Facebook page landing tabs have a huge impact on encouraging users to convert into followers.

How it might work:

vitaminwater facebook page website, replace website with facebook page

Vitaminwater's logo from their Facebook Fan Page

First off, how would you replace your website with a Facebook page? Vitaminwater is one example – Vitaminwater.com now redirects to the company’s Facebook fan page. The page is set to a “home” tab for new visitors that have not previously become a fan of the page. The page has upwards of 2 million fans.

We would also recommend connecting to rich media – using a YouTube tab from Involver.com, which we prefer over direct uploads to Facebook – and ensuring that you delete any empty tabs (Discussion and Reviews if you aren’t using them).

Pros of the Facebook Page-only approach:

In a word, simplicity. As detailed by Guy Kawasaki’s post on how he chose a Facebook page for the promotion of his upcoming release, Enchantment, it’s generally easier to create a robust Facebook page than to design and develop an entire site – even if you’re only spearheading the effort, and not doing the grunt work yourself.

In this case, less is more. Less to build and customize means less cost than the average website. Less time and fewer revisions are likely. Less effort will go into maintenance – perhaps.

By virtue of existing within Facebook’s monster of a network, your page is more likely to find some traffic – and that traffic is more likely to build virally as people click the “like” button.

In addition, a Facebook page is a great starting point if you need to get up and running while a site is being developed. Due to Facebook’s partnership with Microsoft Bing, simply having a Facebook page can help with your SEO. As confirmed last week, social mentions are also a factor in your site’s SEO, so a Facebook page/site might be a good precursor to your eventual home on the web.

By confining your content to Facebook’s sphere, you also save yourself a bit of work maintenance-wise. There’s no site to maintain – though you should keep and eye on comments – no content management system to upgrade, no plugins or themes to worry about. Hacking is less of a concern, assuming you have a solid password.

In addition, you don’t have to worry about search engine optimization and getting your website found by ranking for keywords among relevant target market traffic.

Cons of the Facebook Page as a Website approach:

With a few exceptions, here’s why we still wouldn’t recommend it. Several issues can vie for top honors, so these are in no certain order. This list could go on a lot longer -we’re just picking the low-hanging fruit.

You’re not building up any search engine ranking: The “ignorance is bliss” approach to SEO means that your work and content aren’t helping you accumulate any increased search engine results rankings for your content. By not allowing you to influence so many of the factors that go into ranking, Facebook is taking you out of a potentially large market of prospective clients. If search is a major source (or prospective source) of potential new clients, you’re going to need your own site with control of your SEO. Content is a huge and resource-heavy aspect of web-based marketing. When you take the time to create good content, make sure you showcase it on your own site so you get the absolute most benefit from it.

You’re at Facebook’s mercy: While I think Guy makes a good point that Facebook isn’t likely to disappear any time soon, that doesn’t mean that the Fickle Facebook Finger of Fate won’t put the kibosh on your well-laid plans. As the well-known proverb goes, “Man plans, Mark Zuckerberg laughs.” For example, you might remember that several months ago Facebook planned changes to pages that would prevent smaller pages (less than 10,000 fans) from directing new visitors to a specific tab (which, as seen above, is crucial to conversion rates). It was a huge slap in the face to smaller business and non-profit pages, as well as anyone who was starting from scratch. Although they reversed the decision, there are no guarantees. As with all efforts within social networks where you haven’t paid a fee to play, remember: You’re playing in someone else’s sandbox, and you can be told to go home at any time. They don’t owe you anything and their interests almost certainly aren’t the same as yours.

Oh look – there’s a competitor’s ad! Facebook places advertising in the right sidebar on pages. If your competition is advertising, it’s entirely possible, if not likely, that their ads will appear directly opposite your own content. You need one place on the web that is all your own – a website is an excellent and cost-effective way of achieving that.

Ch-ch-ch-changes: While there’s no CMS, that doesn’t mean there aren’t changes. Earlier this year, Facebook trimmed with width of page tabs to 520 pixels, which meant anything from minor tweaks to a major overhaul for all page tabs and applications. They also killed page boxes. Next up, we’re expecting the switch from Static FBML to iFrames as the leading way to develop pages – although FBML isn’t going anywhere, new pages won’t be able to use the application. Meanwhile, iFrames aren’t available, meaning developers are somewhat stuck between a frame and a hard place.

Analyze This: While Facebook Insights have generally improved and certain applications add additional functionality to track page traffic, the options aren’t as strong as what’s available for tracking site traffic and conversion rates on your own website.

We’re just hitting the tip of the iceberg here, but hopefully it offers some food for thought.

So, when would we recommend using a Facebook page in lieu of an entire website? Here are some possibilities.

A one-off event: If your goal is to promote a one-time event, a Facebook page might be just what you need. You’ll have the calendar functions to encourage RSVPs and the viral properties of the share button. And for follow up, photo galleries and video apps help take things full circle. Guy’s book release is a perfect example.

A targeted subsection of another site: If you need to brand and market a subset of your organization and the gap between the markets or messages is too diverse, a Facebook page might offer you a home on the web without the need to develop another site. That said, WordPress can be an easy way to get a strong site up and running – we’d recommend giving it a good look before ruling out another site.

When you want the site to die out: If your goal is to make a splash and dash, without the goal of building ongoing community or search engine ranking, a Facebook page is a less messy way of creating a web-based home to direct traffic to for a finite period. If ongoing maintenance is a concern, a page might be your best tool for the job.

What have we missed? Are we crazy for admitting there might be a few times to go all Facebook? Or are we ridiculously old fashioned for pushing for a good old website? We can’t wait to hear what you have to think.

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