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5 Questions About Microsoft’s New Website Builder Service

 

In an era where digital enterprise is dominated by a handful of companies falling under the Big Tech bracket, it is somewhat remarkable that one of the most fundamental online services – building a website – has never been quite in the grasp of companies like Amazon, Google and Microsoft. Sure, with options like AWS and Microsoft Azure, they control most of the hosting and cloud services, but it seems strange that they have never been truly big players in the market for website building. Something like Google Sites has been available for 13 years now, and it has only a tiny fraction of the market share of the big players like Wix and Squarespace.

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But is that about to change? Last month, Microsoft announced that it would be offering a free website builder service. Designed to be another tool in its Microsoft Digital Marketing Center, the website builder will allow you to import details directly from a Facebook page or advertising campaign, with the software automatically taking care of the formatting and design. It all sounds very interesting, but some of the detail is lacking about Microsoft’s goals on the project – so we want to pose five questions:

Who Is Its Target Market?

The short answer is “small business”, as that phrase is repeated again and again in Microsoft’s original post on the subject. However, small business is a very broad term. For instance, a small business could mean someone making a few hundred dollars a week selling craft items on Facebook. But the US Small Business Administration defines a company with up to 1,500 employees and $35 million in revenue as a small business – that creates a very broad range. It is our assessment that Microsoft is targeting the former demographic rather than the latter, particularly given some of the limitations in scope (see below) and eCommerce solutions.

How Does Microsoft Intend to Monetize This?

The best way to think about this is that Microsoft wants to bring small businesses into its eco-system. While the website builder is free, it operates under Microsoft’s Digital Marketing Center. That’s basically Microsoft’s ad platform, from which it manages campaigns on social media and search engines. In short, it seems that the idea is those using the free website builder will eventually elect to advertise their product with Microsoft, thereby creating revenue for the company.

Is The Market Already Saturated?

Just a month before Microsoft made the announcement, WordPress, which is often erroneously called a website builder (it is a CMS), announced that it would be entering the market, with the paid-for Build By WordPress.com. But one wonders whether WordPress and Microsoft are entering a market already reaching its saturation point. Wix, GoDaddy, Squarespace and dozens of others already have a firm grip on the market. And while Microsoft cited research that 36% of small businesses don’t operate a website, it should not be taken as a given that all of those businesses want – or need – a website.

Is It Worth Building a Website with Microsoft?

Some of the reviews we have encountered in the month since Microsoft launched the service have been quite poor. Mostly it involves the limitations of the service. One review talked about the lack of eCommerce, the limited options for customization and the fact the service is only suited for single-page websites. If you compare that to a specialist small business website builder like Hibu, and you can read more about it in this link, Microsoft’s offering is a world away from the professional services offered to an ambitious small business owner. Again, it probably goes back to what we said about Microsoft’s target market. If you are selling scented candles on Instagram Checkout, then it might make sense to build a website (basically a landing page) with Microsoft. But if you are a small business with multiple facets and big ambitions, then choose an option like Hibu.

Will Microsoft Succeed?

It depends on what your definition of success is. It’s probable that Microsoft does not have ambitions to upend the market and dislodge the big players like GoDaddy and Wix. But it has arguably identified an area that is ripe for exploiting. It’s no coincidence that Microsoft mentioned importing details from Facebook in its pitch. The idea is that it targets – let’s call them – microbusinesses and allows them to create a static presence with a basic webpage. But those companies that provide tools for sophisticated website building can probably rest easy that one of the world’s biggest companies is not likely to muscle in on their patch – yet.

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