NOTE: Since this post was written Facebook has (of course) changed the way that Pages display multiple times. The below points remain relevant, however, even with new display parameters.

Recently I’ve been asked about which to invest in first for an online platform if you had to choose just one: a Facebook page or a website.  Like with most things, it depends!  There are a number of factors that will go into your decision, like what Facebook audiences have come to expect, how much content you have to share, and the overall goals of your project/business.  I’m going to break down these factors + the limitations of each, so read on to learn more about which is better for you when it comes to Facebook pages and websites.

  • What are you trying to do with your web presence? If you’re just starting out, want to build some buzz about what you’re up to, have some conversations with people who would be interested, have some juicy tidbits to share, but don’t have lots of content yet – Facebook is a great option. Facebook is optimized for small chunks of info that can easily be shared and discussed. People don’t go to Facebook to read lengthy prose, and the kinds of things they share are brief, educational, humorous, or helpful in some way. For example, a short, cute video of you talking about the reason you came up with your product/service & what it’ll do for the average consumer is far more likely to be passed around, discussed and “liked” on Facebook than a link to a press release-type page. On the other hand, if you already have lots of content you want to present in a clean, organized fashion – or products you’re offering for sale – or you want a blog – a website is probably the best place for you to start. There are no limitations to the way you present information on your website, so you can organize it however you want, in as many different sections as you want, linked together however you want. A simplified way to look at it is that your website is where all your content ultimately lives, and Facebook is a place you can promote/discuss/share what you’re up to with it. You can certainly create brand awareness on Facebook without a website, and you can certainly leverage Facebook sharing without having a dedicated Facebook page, but often they work best together.
  • Who is your audience? Many, many people are already on Facebook (not all of them regular users), but not everyone. And while Facebook is continually being adopted by more mature audiences, it’s still the stronghold of those savvy enough to feel completely comfortable with social media & the public nature of online life – read: younger people. Also, the Facebook audience has come to expect the ability to carry on a conversation with those involved. If your business is reluctant to share or discuss things publicly, Facebook probably isn’t right for you because a static page on Facebook won’t get you very far at all. Meanwhile, your website can implement discussion and comments, but in an environment you completely control.
  • What about SEO? Websites offer a way for search engines, and the people who use them, to find your site based on the keywords/phrases you use in the text throughout — and someone landing there for the first time might not yet know whether your site is something in which they’re interested. You can fine tune who finds you and when, based on the kind of content you put on your site, and you can analyze that data any time. And while you want to optimize your Facebook page with rich keywords and phrases, ultimately Facebook controls the way your page is discovered, and they can change it any time. Also, Facebook pages are frequently discovered through referrals, so there’s an implicit recommendation and expectation of common interests from friends. Facebook is designed for people who are connected to easily discover common interests, so the nature of discovery is a little different. This doesn’t mean that websites aren’t shared via Facebook, or people don’t find Facebook pages by searching – just that if you have to choose one over the other, it’s sometimes a choice of a wide net (website) vs a focused approach (Facebook). There’s no doubt that a target persona landing on your website is a win for you. The same people landing on your Facebook page may also benefit you, but always benefits Facebook.
  • What about Facebook’s limitations? Limitations!? Yes, even the 4th most powerful website in the world has limitations. And the limitations for Facebook don’t exist on your website where you can break apart you content into multiple, easy-to-use pieces in the way that promotes *your* brand. Facebook isn’t just a checkbox feature, nor is it a magic bullet. You don’t want to be a faceless brand – regular Facebook users are too savvy to spend time on a static, boring Facebook page. Your website will always compete with other websites for viewers, but on Facebook you’re competing within the same space. To stand out you have to have an active presence that offers interesting, sharable information & an on-going conversation. Also, design-wise, you don’t have lots of room to play. Facebook limits the width of your Page content to just 520 pixels wide. That’s not very much.
    I am 520 pixels wide.

    So not only is the space in which you have to promote your content severely limited, Facebook controls it and can change it at any time. With your website, sure you need to optimize above-the-fold, but you can create a great user experience throughout that you completely control.

  • What about a Website’s limitations? Unless you’re using an existing template-based approach, custom well-designed websites take a specific set of skills & usually more than an afternoon of work.  Creating a page on Facebook, by comparison, is super fast, easy, and anyone can do it.  Using a Content Management System (CMS), like WordPress, will give anyone the ability to create and update their own website or blog, but it’s still not as easy as posting something to a Facebook page and participate in the ensuing conversation.  And without promotion, even the best-designed website, optimized for search engines will float on the internet like an island unless you market it through ads or social media, etc..  Facebook, meanwhile, is built for sharing, and includes a built-in search feature.

To summarize, I often recommend that people create a staged approach – those willing and able to create an active Facebook presence, with juicy tidbits of content that are easily shared, with an aim to creating a community of people to follow their project(s) should start with Facebook, and move on to a website once they need the legroom. Those with lots of content that needs a home, with the desire to blog, or break up their site into branded, digestible sections with various calls-to-action should start with a Website, and move on to a Facebook page to help promote their projects when they’re ready to dedicate the time to community-building.

And like with most things, there are no hard-and-fast rules. I encourage you to do some explorations of how projects similar to yours have approached their site vs their Facebook page. What seems to be working well? If a brand has a great Facebook presence, why is that? How do they leverage their website via social media? A little exploration will go a long way to preventing costly mistakes!

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