It’s easy to get hyper-focused on a website. It’s the one piece of the internet you can call your own, and there’s a temptation within that to keep it isolated. This is a mistake. As poet John Donne once (more or less) said, no site is an island entire of itself; every site is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.
Your website is important, but it needs to exist within a larger framework to truly shine. Website building giant Weebly announced integration with Facebook Messenger this month, which has got us thinking about just how much integration goes into a good website. Most of us are familiar with social media sharing icons, but those are the tip of the iceberg. Cross-channel integration makes for an open internet, and tapping into it makes for a healthy site.
Channel integration means aligning different outlets and services to create a shared user experience. It applies to every brand, every service. The New York Times needs its website to resemble its newspapers; Microsoft needs the tone of its emails to match that of its Twitter account.
Strong channel integration creates a united front for a brand. It also offers choice to the user. Interacting with the world through a single channel is a risky game. If that channel falters, so will you. With multiple channels people can use the ones they’re comfortable with and skirt the ones they don’t care for.
That’s as far as the thinking had to go back in the day, but in the digital age there are new dynamics at play. Channel integration today is not only a question of how you share, but how you’re shared.
Cold wars and diplomacy
Most online services are businesses in competition with each. Whatever space you’re in, be it social media or website builders, there are countless brands fighting for your time, attention, and money.
At its worst this competition translates into a kind of cold war. Twitter users @ other Twitter users, Facebook users share with their Facebook friends, Reddit users write smarmy responses to other Reddit users, and so on.
This may seem like a duh observation, but we also recognise that completely impenetrable silo walls are usually bad for the user. Integration benefits everyone. Services keep their exclusivity, and users can connect with different communities and user bases.
Shopify, for example, is a standalone ecommerce platform, but it all also offers integration with the likes of Wix, Squarespace, Facebook, and Instagram. 12 million customers use MailChimp to keep their email lists manageable. There is much more to be gained than to be lost.
What’s this got to do with your website? Connectivity and convenience are king, and odds are you’ll need good channel integration to provide them. Website builders have hundreds of tools at their disposal. The right combinations can make a serious difference to your success.
Cosying up to a platform too much can make you over dependent, but shunning them entirely leaves you isolated. Those of us without enormous budgets and legions of staff need to strike this balance ourselves.
Don’t shy away from plugins. ‘Plugin’ has a tacked-on subtext to it, but the level of integration ultimately falls on you. Does your website need a photo gallery? Does your brand have an Instagram account? Why not kill two birds with one stone and embed your feed as your on-site gallery? Beard product titan Beardbrand did that and it works a treat.
Or up your social media integration. Highlighting text in The Guardian and Medium gives you the option to share it on Twitter or by email. Little touches like that add up into a highly connected, useable site, and anyone can do them.
What channels are appropriate depends on your field. Fashion and clothing sites get a lot of joy out of Instagram, because it’s a visual medium. Fashion houses like Armani boast millions of followers. As mentioned above, Weebly’s rollout of integrated Facebook Messenger means communication between site visitors and site owners can be convenient for everyone involved.
Any website builder worth its salt has a vast and growing catalogue of plugins. Look at the sites you admire, that you’d like to emulate. What are they doing? Odds are there’ll be a plugin for it. WordPress has a highlight and share plugin, Squarespace has seamless integration with over 30 social accounts, and MailChimp have a dedicated app for Shopify (and others).
Channel integration is integral to most of the sites you admire. Contrary to what you might think, the internet is not competing services keeping to their corner and snarling at the competition. Collaboration breeds success. Website don’t just spontaneously generate traffic, not to begin with anyway. And it works both ways. Platforms creating plugin versions of themselves for other services are themselves pursuing channel integration.
Everything should revolve around your site, but don’t stand in the way of a fluid online presence. Trying to force users down funnels will force them away. Trust them to interact with your brand on their terms and your site will grow.
The walls are coming down
It’s early days yet, but the web looks like it may be moving away from silos. It’s in the interests of users. Webmentions — internet-wide @ing — became a W3C recommendation in January 2017. It took less than a year to reach the 1 million webmentions mark, and we’d expect usage to grow exponentially.
That’s just one example. The walls between internet services are eroding. Users want to stay on platforms because they’re good, not because they’re forced to.
So embrace your website as a melting pot. A site can be built on one platform, sell through another, email via yet another, and still work like a dream. Identify services that fit your needs, be they in social media or ecommerce, and find combinations that work. Connections build strength. This is the web, after all.