There are good reasons to save yourself the stress of having your own website and use a third-party service instead. Rather than having a WordPress blog, you could use a site like Medium or, instead of a shop with WooCommerce, a seller account on Amazon. Relying on such platforms does, however, carry some risks. In this article, I’ll explain exactly what these disadvantages are.
For me, nothing beats having your own website. At the same time, I completely understand why third-party platforms are so tempting. If I blog on a site like Medium for example, I don't have to worry about technical issues. Not only that, the service is free to use. Through their premium program, I can even earn some extra income.
However, the service is only attractive as long as I don't keep coming up against the limits of what's possible. Because if technical issues are not my concern, I also have no direct influence on what is possible. When a site like Medium one day decides my content is no longer interesting or even violates a new rule, I’m equally left high and dry.
Own website vs Facebook page
Let's take a look at how having your own website compares to using social networks. Today, hardly anyone would recommend giving up your own website in favor of a Facebook page. In the past, the situation was quite different. In the euphoria surrounding Facebook's enormous growth, many people left their own online presence behind and relied entirely on the social network.
I still see smaller and local providers today relying on their Facebook page. Their websites may even still exist and contain more or less up-to-date information. But if I want to make sure the information on them is actually correct, I'd better double check on Facebook.
Why do some companies still prefer Facebook pages? For people with little technical know-how, Facebook pages are easier to maintain and update than company websites. With websites, you might need to ask a service provider to have a link corrected. If this is the case, do you really want to be constantly changing opening hours or updating your offers? With Facebook, on the other hand, this is partly done automatically, is very easy to understand and does not cost anything extra (not directly at least). Paid advertising via Facebook ads can also be effective.
At some point when viewing their Facebook statistics, however, people realize each post only ever reaches a fraction of their fans and followers. This trend has been emerging for years: Commercial content is becoming more and more difficult on Facebook. This is hardly surprising as people prefer to interact with people rather than brands.
Guides: How to successfully distribute content
Yes - you can do something about it. I’m sure there are still some Facebook pages out there today with decent reach. Examples are welcome in the comments! But that doesn't change the fact that Facebook could bring in new rules tomorrow and these pages would suddenly have no reach at all.
As the owner of a Facebook page, what happens when you want to use a different social network in the future? It’s not going to be easy to take your fans and followers with you when you leave.
Newsletter vs Messenger
Email probably seems outdated to a lot of people and, for some target groups, it’s not the best medium to use. But in many cases, it remains the perfect channel to reach interested people.
Messengers, as "modern" communication tools, have the same problem that Facebook and other social networks have. The rules are made by someone else and you can’t take your contacts with you if you leave. The different messenger systems aren’t even compatible with each other. You can’t send a message to a Twitter user from WhatsApp, for example. Only Facebook wants to link its various services. The providers aren't interested in having a uniform standard. Instead, each provider is determined to beat the competition.
In contrast, I can reach anyone via email, regardless of where the email address is hosted. If I’m no longer happy with a newsletter service provider, e.g. MailChimp, I can simply move my subscribers elsewhere. In fact, I did exactly that a few years ago when MailChimp’s automatic system froze my account and the support did not reply to my messages. Now I send my newsletters via Amazon SES using the plugin Mailster instead. I'm very pleased with the service at the moment.
If I ever changed my mind about the plugin, I would simply look around for an alternative. As it happens, I do check out other services on a fairly regular basis. I greatly appreciate my freedom of choice here.
WordPress vs Medium
It's a similar story with blogging. Should I have my own WordPress installation or use a site like Medium instead? As mentioned at the beginning, a site like Medium is not only free to use, I can even earn money on it.
At least that is the case right now. Medium has changed its business model and conditions several times over the years. At one point, it wanted to be a site for well-written texts, then a platform for publishers, and now a service for paid content. Some businesses shut up shop on their own site and moved to Medium when the startup promised them the sky and the stars. When things didn’t progress as hoped, Medium suddenly dropped these previously valued "partners”.
It’s hardly surprising then that some people vented their frustration publicly. With WordPress, on the other hand, I can do both. I can start my blog on WordPress.com first. Then I don't have to worry about anything for a while. If I want more options at any point in the future, I can move the site to a separate installation. Specialized WordPress hosts like RAIDBOXES make migrating really simple.
WooCommerce vs Amazon
Anyone wanting to enter the world of e-commerce also faces the dilemma. Should I build something with WordPress and WooCommerce myself? Or shall I ride on Amazon's coattails? For guidance on the first option, check out our e-book Online shops with WooCommerce.
After all, it takes no time at all to get started selling on Amazing. But as so often is the case, the devil is in the detail. You'll soon discover that while the potential audience is huge, so is the competition. There are more than 240,000 sellers in Germany alone. And they are all jostling to be listed by Amazon as first choice in the "Buy Box". That's when the money really starts rolling in. Incidentally, almost 30 percent of the "Top Sellers" on Amazon.de do not come from Germany but China.
Even if things are going well, you shouldn't get too complacent on Amazon. Account suspensions crop up again and again. It doesn't matter whether you're the second largest trader on the German marketplace, as Rebuy found out earlier this year. Fees for important services may also suddenly be raised.
You may discover Amazon is your competitor. The company has almost 150 own brands on offer and these are not always easy to spot. According to their own statements, these products only account for one percent of their turnover. But compared to small retailers, this is still a huge amount and the figures are rising fast. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Amazon is so successful in its own marketplace, the company knows exactly what people are looking for and purchasing.
Amazon has publicly denied looking at sellers' data to then offer its own products. Officially, such behavior is forbidden within the company. It turns out, however, that this was nevertheless common practice.
Why not both?
To anticipate a typical objection: Yes, you can do both at the same time. You can write a blog on your own WordPress site as well as on Medium. You can have your own WooCommerce shop and sell on Amazon at the same time. Needless to say, it’s also a good idea to be active in the appropriate and relevant social networks. All of this can be a great addition – if you have the resources to do it.
With this article, I simply want to make the case for having your own well-maintained website available at all times. It should be a priority, even if it doesn’t have the same (potential) reach as the likes of Facebook, Medium or Amazon. See my article on content hub. In it you will find more ideas on how to make your own website the central hub.
Why is it worth the effort? Look at it like this: It’s the difference between a rental apartment and owning your own house. Owning your own home certainly entails more work and carries more responsibility. But you can decorate it when and how you please and can plan for the long term.
Moreover, there’s nothing like tenant protection laws on the platforms mentioned above: Facebook, Amazon & Co. may remove you from the platform at any time, with immediate effect and without giving reasons. Sometimes it's even an automatic system that blocks your account - just like it was for me at MailChimp. Only in exceptional cases will you be able to resist, and it will take considerable effort on your part.
For such large companies, you’re just an insignificant number. If your account is suspended, usually your only option is to move on and start again with your project elsewhere. Have you ever tried to get a real support agent on the phone at Amazon, Facebook or Google? It's virtually impossible as a small operator.
What are third-party platforms great for?
There’s one fact I’m not going to deny: third-party platforms are ideal for certain situations. I've already mentioned the built-in reach that a small business wouldn’t normally have. You should use external platforms to build up your own long-term relationships with fans, prospects, and customers – via email, for example.
These platforms are also perfect for experimenting. See my post on testing content ideas in advance. Here you can test the waters and learn from the competition. You’re not taking any risks and the effort required is minimal. This fits the Lean Startup idea: Find out as early as possible how well your idea works and what you need to improve.
Third-party platforms sometimes provide features that cannot be easily replicated by other means. You have the chance to engage with your fans and followers on the social web, for example. This often works better here than on your own website. It's a chance you should use.
The platforms may offer features that would otherwise be difficult to implement. Consider a platform like Udemy for online courses, for example. You don't want to set up a complete learning platform just to find out if you want to offer content in this format in the future. Even though it would be technically possible with WordPress. I use Sensei LMS and there are several alternatives available. I didn't implement a platform until I'd gained some experience on Udemy first.
Your presence on Facebook, Medium, YouTube & Co is only borrowed. It doesn't belong to you. You can achieve a lot of reach here and be very successful for a while. But there’s nothing to stop it all being over tomorrow.
All the better to create your own platforms and channels concurrently. These could include a website, a blog, a Podcast and your mailing list. No one is going to take these channels away from you any time soon.