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Do You Really Need A Website

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Erika Meyer

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User since: 06 Apr 2000

Articles written: 13

Back in 1999, as I was developing my freelance business, a friend of mine, who had recently opened a Tapas restaurant inquired about a website. I proposed a simple 3-5 page site which would include location, hours, and menu selections, along with any photos or other information she had. For design, development, and search engine submission, I quoted her a "friend" price of $300. She looked crestfallen. $300 was clearly more than she was willing to spend.

The next year I moved to Portland, Oregon where my daughter and I began to regularly frequent a neighborhood Japanese restaurant called Kappaya, which had just opened about six months earlier. Over the years we've been solid regulars at this restaurant, and we think it's one of the best neighborhood restaurants in Portland. As a web designer, it was always interesting to me that Kappaya has never had its own website.

However, when I need to find contact information for Kappaya on the web, I could, and for years it was only due to a portal called Portland City Search. So at first, it took a bit of effort to find Kappaya online, but around 2007, that all began to change—and quickly. Kappaya became a web presence, and that presence began to grow, rapidly. Today, even without its own website, a google search on "Japanese food southeast portland" brings Kappaya up as result #2.

What changed? The web changed.

Creating a Web Presence without a Website

Kappaya didn't need a website because it was a neighborhood restaurant, and advertised mostly by word-of-mouth. Today Kappaya doesn't need a website because others have created content about Kappaya, in the form of reviews, on larger websites.

In addition to growing reviews on Citysearch, Kappaya has reviews on,, yahoo local, tripadvisor, msn city guides,, etc etc etc... every one of these sites brings Kappaya up in google. These user-submitted reviews nearly overwhelm the more traditional restaurant reviews published in online versions of local papers such as the Portland Mercury.

In fact, for a small neighborhood restaurant, the sheer volume of reviews for Kappaya now available online, is already staggering, and seems to be growing exponentially. Where will it all lead?

About three months ago, sitting at the sushi counter, I broached the subject with the restaurant co-owner and sushi chef, Terry. So, I see there are a lot of reviews of Kappaya online, I said.

Terry smiled and replied, Yeah, I don't really read those. I just try to do a good job with the restaurant.

Focus on creating a great customer-experience

Indeed, this is the key to buzz marketing: make sure you offer a product worth talking about. I mean, a good product worth talking about. If you have any doubts, try a twitter search on Windows Vista. As of this writing, the stream of tweets about reactions to the new Vista OS seem to range from lukewarm to poor, making potential customers like myself very hesitant to purchase this product.

Because user-generated content sites are inherently dynamic, all this buzz comes and goes... reviews that are good (or bad) now, may be pushed down as other reviews come up a few months from now.

What does this mean for traditional web marketing? In my opinion, traditional websites, mailing lists, etc, are worth developing, if only because they are the place online that a company completely controls its own message. However, Kappaya's experience shows that for a neighborhood restaurant, having your own website is not necessarily essential, if your product is exceptional.

It is clear that the best way to manage your online presence and overall brand is to make sure your customers have a great experience with your product. Increasingly, your customers are the worldwide voice of your product.

While this is particularly true for restaurants, as more and more user-generated-content niche sites go live, it will likely become more true for other small and large businesses as well.

Erika Meyer lives in Portland, Oregon, USA.

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