The website of top author J. K. Rowling is “rubbish”; they are not my words, but those of Joanna Penn, the author and book marketing expert who said so in a recent podcast. In Joanna’s view, the Harry Potter millionaire’s website is not up to much. But, according to Joanna, that doesn’t matter too much because J. K. Rowling is already well-known and established. The podcast also said that if you were as well known as someone like horror writer Stephen King, you too wouldn’t need to worry about your website either.
The point being made by Joanna is a good one; websites do not have to be perfect if you already have a huge offline following and are already well-established. But, if your business is not that well-known, if you are trying to establish yourself, then your website needs to be pretty darn good to stand out amongst the competition. Is that right? Can you get away with a rubbish website if your business is so well-known?
Perhaps. Both J. K. Rowling and Stephen King enjoy roughly the same online success. They both appear at around the 100,000 level in the Alexa rankings and Compete.com shows that, apart from book or movie launches, the two authors run side-by-side in the Internet stakes. In other words, the evidence suggests that they are both doing quite well online.
So what do their websites look like? Well, Joanna is right; J. K. Rowling’s is poor. In fact so poor I can’t access it. That’s because when you go to the home page you have to choose your country by clicking on black and white flags which are all tinted green. So, picking out your preferred starting point is already difficult as flag recognition really only works in colour. But if you do manage to see your flag, you might not get any further because having then reached your second page you will almost certainly be presented with the message that the site requires you to switch off your pop-up blocker for it to work. I didn’t venture any deeper into the site because I was already annoyed.
Stephen King’s site, however, is well-made, clear and easy-to-use. But here’s the problem for him. In spite of a well-made website, he doesn’t really do any better than Harry Potter’s inventor online. One rubbish website, one very good website – same results. In other words, the website itself is not related to the online effectiveness of these two authors. Something else is happening.
In Joanna Penn’s Creative Penn podcast there was a clue; if your writing is not well-known you need a good website, she said. You can translate that into “if your business is not well-known you need a good website”. Alternatively, you could say, “get well known first and then you don’t have to have a good website”.
In fact, the J. K. Rowling example is more evidence that even in the Internet age, offline marketing is still much, much more important. Get yourself established offline and you can get away with being second-best online. Get an offline following and people will still flock to your website, forgiving your poor design or your technical inaccuracies, simply because they already like you. Penny Power’s book “Know Me, Like Me, Follow Me” makes a similar point about social networking. In order to get people to connect with you online, they first need to know you and like you. It is the same for business websites, your customers and potential customers need to know about you first, then they need to like you and then they will engage with your Internet offerings.
Online businesses owners are largely focused on search engine marketing. And when they are not worrying about that, they are concerned with either website design, or the new fashion for “widgets”, or some other technological enhancement. And whilst these all have value, they pale into insignificance to simply “being known”. The place you are most likely to start getting known is not the Internet. The offline world is where you need to start.
Get an offline following and you too can have a rubbish website like Harry Potter’s mum. But if you can’t afford as much offline marketing as you need to get well-known, then you have no alternative but to have a brilliant online presence. In other words you have a choice; either spend your money on establishing your brand using good, old-fashioned, offline marketing and PR techniques – or put all your efforts into making your website much, much better than J. K. Rowling’s. That would be a wizard move.