Season 1 - Episode 05

Are Websites Dead? Not When They Grow Your Revenue Like THIS.

Discover why websites are vital in today’s digital age, debunking myths about their relevance amid social media's rise, especially for social impact brands.

DT Episode 5 Website

Are websites a dying relic of the internet’s past? 

With so much of our digital engagement today happening through social channels, there’s an ever-growing narrative that your website just isn’t that important anymore. 

A narrative that says what you really need to do is nail your content strategy. Get big on TikTok. Tell your story through short form video. Build supporter trust through influencer campaigns. That Gen Z doesn’t even use websites anyway. 

That narrative couldn’t be further from the truth — especially for social impact brands. 

In today’s episode, we cover: 

  • The changing nature of the internet and how it’s shaping our modern culture
  • Why most websites don’t convert, and the top 10 issues we see with most social impact websites
  • And the specific strategies and tactics that can turn your website into an activating, revenue-generating, digital flywheel



Are websites a dying relic of the internet’s past? 

With so much of our digital engagement today happening through social channels, there’s an ever-growing narrative that your website just isn’t that important anymore. 

That what you really need to do is nail your content strategy. Get big on TikTok. Tell your story through short form video. Build supporter trust through influencer campaigns. That Gen Z doesn’t even use websites anyway. 

That narrative couldn’t be further from the truth — especially for social impact brands. 

Look, social platforms will always be an important part of your broader marketing and content strategy. But they’re fleeting channels that shift as quickly as our cultural tastes evolve. 

And when you over-index your efforts on social platforms, you’re building your brand on rented land. 

And sometimes, the billionaire landlord in charge of these channels decides it’s time for a change.  And then all your efforts — and your hard earned following — comes crumbling down. 

People have been predicting the end of the website since “Web 2.0” was a hot new buzzword. And people will probably be doing this 5, 10, and even 20 years from today. 

If anything, current trends actually suggest a yearning for more of our interactions online to happen outside of these social channels and on open and distributed digital infrastructure, like websites, podcasts, email, and niche communities.

Of course, your website can’t drive action and grow revenue in a vacuum. But when it’s supported by creative content and a solid distribution strategy, your website is still the number one owned asset for your brand.

At Cosmic, we’ve built websites for social impact brands of all shapes and sizes. And we’ve learned the important differences between websites that sit stagnant, collecting digital dust, and websites that become a flywheel for action, growth, and revenue generation. 

Building best-in-class digital experiences for your brand isn’t something you can fix overnight. But there are a few important strategies that you can use, today, to make your website significantly more likely to create the results you’re looking for. 

And we’ve seen these changes add up fast for social impact brands who have struggled, often  for years, to get traction through their digital channels. 

In today’s episode we explore: 

  • The changing nature of the internet and how it’s shaping our modern culture
  • Why most websites don’t convert, and the top 10 issues we see with most social impact websites
  • And the specific strategies and tactics that can turn your website into an activating, revenue-generating, digital flywheel

Let’s get to it. 


Part 1: How the Web is Changing and Shaping Modern Culture

Before we dive into the common issues and strategies, it’s worth taking a brief look at how our digital landscape has evolved over time — and how it might be on the cusp of another major shift right now.

The web started out as a bold experiment. A new technology that promised to connect us, instantly, across the globe. Information, democratized, at the speed of light. The great equalizer.

And the beginning of the web really felt this way. This probably won’t make any sense to younger listeners, but to this day I remember the excitement I felt when starting up the AOL dial-up sequence, as it played its 30 second 8-bit musical performance connecting my boxy, first generation iMac to the world wide web. Those sounds still trigger a wave of nostalgia.

The early internet had its problems, but the overall vibe was one of joyous wonder at how this new technology might improve society and bring us all closer together. 

The internet began as a distributed network. Anyone with internet access could now publish content, media, and ideas, and everyone else could consume them. 

But you had to know where to look.

This led to the beginning of directory sites that helped aggregate that content. At this time, all content on the web was hand-curated by the webmaster in charge of whatever site you visited by manually typing the URL into your browser bar. 

But as more and more content started growing on the web, it was becoming increasingly difficult to find and discover the information you were looking for. 

Enter internet search. Search truly became integral to the internet experience with the rise of Google. Around the year 2000, Google quickly grew to become the de facto internet search engine. 

Search was a transformational moment in the internet’s maturity, but in a way that many people didn’t realize — especially at the time. Because for the first time, a major brand had an outsized control on what information we saw and what information we didn’t see on the internet. 

And all of this was determined by a black-box algorithm designed by engineers at Google, that everyday internet users had absolutely no control over. This same black-box algorithm — although it’s changed many times since then — still shapes how much content on the internet is created to this day. 

But search was helpful, and life on the internet was largely good. 

The next big shift was “Web 2.0.” The social internet. 

Whereas “Web 1.0” was largely a passive experience for most internet users, “Web 2.0” suddenly shifted to a more social, conversational internet. 

In the early days, this took the form of blogs with comments, where lively, active discussions around different niche topics sparked exciting conversations. Pretty quickly, social platforms and networks started to eat the web (and websites) that made up much of “Web 1.0”. 

By 2010, if you were on the internet, you were likely active on at least 1 major social network.

Social networks promised a web that was more personal, based on connecting us with our peers from real life and others around the world. A web that was shaped more by human connection and less by institutional publishers and content hubs.

Social networks fundamentally changed how we interacted with each other on the web, and even in real life. Because by now, the internet had begun to deeply influence our culture — and not just online. 

A few key features of these networks that fundamentally changed our digital experiences are still with us to this day — in more advanced forms. The concept of “friends” or “connections” online. Subscribing, following, commenting. The invention of the “Like button.” 

All things we don’t even think twice about today, seemed like revolutionary shifts during this period of the social internet’s growth. 

Then another major shift started to take place. 

In the early days of these networks, our feeds were all about timeliness. We wanted the latest and greatest updates from our friends and brands that we followed. Our feeds were chronological, and we refreshed compulsively to get the newest updates.

But that all changed when social networks started to prioritize engagement over timeliness. As these networks worked to boost daily active users and time on platform as key metrics of success, they learned that timeliness was not necessarily the best strategy for engagement. 

On top of that, they also found that the most engaging content wasn’t content that users had opted in to see. Soon, content from accounts and brands that you hadn’t subscribed to or followed started populating our feeds as well. 

Updates from our friends were suddenly replaced with profanity-laced political tirades and misleading clickbait that hacked our psychology for likes and comments.

And now, creators and publishers were incentivized to create content based on the business model of the social platforms versus content they believed in and that could best serve their audience and followers. 

Social platforms literally hijacked and manipulated our attention in order to grow advertising revenue. 

Are you seeing a pattern here yet?

Today, we’re all too familiar with how our social feeds and media consumption affects not only our experience online, but our individual understanding of reality and our broader global society — for better or for worse.

And although there’s more people than ever on social media, there’s also an emerging cultural rebellion against the centralization and privatization of the internet. We’re all becoming more aware that the current version of the internet might not be sustainable in the long run. 

We’re seeing a growing trend and resurgence of open-distribution media gaining popularity. Podcasts, newsletters, niche communities, and yes, websites are quickly gaining traction with users who want more control and autonomy over what content and information they give their time and attention to. 

There’s a movement towards building out protocols and infrastructure to support a decentralized, distributed version of the social web dubbed the fediverse — where your content, followers, and digital relationships aren’t controlled or owned by any individual platform, but instead by you as an individual creator and consumer of digital content. 

In short, we’re on the cusp of the next big shift around how we interact online.

So what does this all have to do with your social impact website strategy?

The big takeaway here is that the channels you truly own and have full control over are sacred within this rapidly-evolving and unpredictable digital ecosystem. 

Social channels are great for discovery and distribution. And you should use them to build awareness and credibility for your organization and your mission. But ultimately, you need to invite your audience to join you in your owned channels so that you can build deeper, lasting relationships over time. On your terms, free from the pressure of social algorithms and the influence they have on your content strategy. 

And the most important owned channel of all is your digital hub: A storytelling center. An action center. A digital community center. 

Your Website.


Part 2 - Top Mistakes Social Impact Websites Make

So if your website is the most important owned channel for your social impact branding and marketing efforts, why do so many brands miss the mark here? 

Of course, some of the standard issues come into play here: Lack of resources and in-house expertise, focus on core program work over brand-building, and so on. 

But we still see major issues outside of these standard obstacles. Let’s dig in to a few of the most common ones.

Number 1: Dated, clunky, overwhelming sites

We see so many social impact sites that look like they were built in a time where blackberry phones were the cool new thing. 

Sites that don’t reflect the current or future state of the organization. That have hundreds of pages of long-form, wall-of-text content.

When users land on a site like this, they hit the back button faster than you can say w

Number 2: We-focused messaging & storytelling

When your website focuses on telling the story of your own organization, you fall into the we-focused messaging trap. Your messaging needs to tell the story of your community, how they fit in to help, and what actions they can take to make a difference. 

Paint a picture of your mission. The future-state you’re working towards. The impact that can be unlocked with community support and action. 

Number 3: Static, information-centered content

Your website should inform first-time visitors, but that’s just the first step. If your site is basically just a static, digital brochure that describes your mission and vision with a donate button slapped on top, you’re stuck in a “Web 1.0” mindset. 

Number 4: Bad user experiences and digital friction

With so many modern platforms offering optimized out-of-the-box donate and checkout forms, there’s no reason you can’t nail the user experience for the main conversion points on your site. Our patience for friction in our digital experiences is lower than ever, and that’s not changing anytime soon. 

Number 5: Missing social proof and impact stories

Despite being widely discussed as key strategies for effective social impact marketing, we consistently see lackluster impact storytelling and social proof in our digital audits. This isn’t the place to cut corners or underinvest in your website content strategy. 

Number 6: Incoherent branding

If your website looks like an intern’s first Canva experiment, you don’t come across a reputable, effective organization no matter how effective you are in the real world. Gone are the days when “scrappy” was a term of pride — especially when it comes to your website. 

Number 7: Speaking to all of your audiences at once

Chances are, you’ve got a lot of different audiences you’re trying to reach and resonate with. But when you try to say something to everyone all at once, you end up with a weak and muddy message that doesn’t resonate with any of your audiences at all. 

Number 8: The only options are to donate, buy, or leave

If your website feels like a giant donate form or check-out experience, you come across as transactional. You’ve got to make it easy for people to take action, but if they feel like they’re being cold-pitched by a salesperson the moment they land on your site, you’re coming in too aggressive with your ask. 

Number 9: Not funder-friendly

Major funders, investors, and philanthropies will review your site when assessing your organization. Don’t have your finances 5 years behind, hide your impact metrics, and make it difficult to understand how your organization sets itself apart from others in your category. This is a fast track to funders bailing from your site and maybe even your organization. 

Number 10: Ignoring Accessibility

Accessibility is so much more than just optimizing your site for users with specific needs. And slapping an accessibility widget on top of your unoptimized site with slow load times, a clunky mobile experience, and wall-of-text content isn’t going to cut it here. Accessibility must be integrated into your entire website strategy, from technical implementation, to content strategy, and beyond. 

There’s a ton more mistakes than this that we see, but if you avoid these common ones, you’ll be well ahead of the average social impact sites in our digital ecosystem.

But you have to do more than just avoid common mistakes to turn your website into a conversion machine for your mission. 

For that, you’ll need a mix of strategy and creativity to build a truly modern digital experience, tuned to the expectations of our culture. And that’s exactly what we’ll cover next. 


Part 3 - Things Your Website Must Do Well To Drive Action and Revenue

Your website has the power to convert passive visitors into engaged supporters.  To inform the world about the problem you’re working to solve. To build and nurture a powerful community and a movement that creates real-world change.

But this is only possible if your website is designed and built in the right way, with the right elements in place, and supported by the right activation strategy.

To get started, there are 3 foundational things your website must do really well before you start worrying about optimizing it for conversion. 

Number 1: Clearly define the problem

You can’t assume that people visiting your website are aware of your issue area or the problem you are working to solve. Your high-level messaging should name and frame the problem, and do it in a way that is tangible, clear and relatable to people outside of your space. 

Number 2: Explain how your work is solving that problem

You also can’t assume people understand how you’re solving this problem. Here you get to educate your community about how your unique approach and organizational strengths have led to meaningful progress towards your mission. 

Number 3: Activate your visitors to help drive positive change

You need to activate and inspire users to get involved, take action, and join your community. A donate button in the top navigation bar isn’t enough here. Look for creative, specific, and timely ways to invite your audience to take action, making sure to provide options to meet your visitors where they are. 

A first-time visitor should be able to understand these 3 key points by casually browsing the homepage of your website in 30 seconds or less. And that’s a generous benchmark. Although these 3 key elements are fundamental, they aren’t enough on their own to reach the true potential of your site and turn your website into a flywheel of action and revenue generation. 

For that, you’ll need to consider some additional strategies.

Number 1: Build credibility for your brand

Even if you’re a big-name brand in the social impact space, you have to continuously build credibility for your cause. Visitors to your site are looking for signals of social proof, stories of impact, and external validation that you’re a reputable organization worth supporting. 

Number 2: Human-centered impact storytelling

Building on number 1, you’ve got to capture more than just the minds of your community. You need to capture their hearts as well. Emotional connection is the currency of generosity. You need to make your visitors feel something. And you have to do this in an authentic and ethical way. 

Look for creative ways to tell human-centered, personal, relatable stories about your work that helps visitors understand the human experience and impact — even and especially if your work is 2 or 3 steps removed from these personal stories. 

Number 3: A frictionless donation or checkout experience

The checkout experience itself won’t drive conversions, but if there’s friction in this process it absolutely will hurt your conversions. This one is a no-brainer. A few basics: Mobile-first, accept multiple checkout methods, keep your forms short and sweet, and encourage recurring giving vs. one-time donations. We’re going deeper on revenue generation strategies in future episodes. But for now, here’s a quick test. Could a first time user donate or buy from your website on their phone while walking and talking with their friend in under a minute? eNo? Try again. 

Number 4:  An action center

When people want to get involved, you want to give them easy onramps to action. And having a dedicated section of your site, an action center, is a perfect way to make that easy. 

Beyond standard actions like donating, buying, and volunteering, show your community that you can meet them wherever they are.

Spreading the word, sharing a piece of media, writing to their representatives, joining your private community or mailing list, are all zero-cost opportunities you can offer to new visitors. 

How can you activate your community to help build momentum and support for your organization? Keep in mind, this might look different online than it does in the real world, and requires fresh and creative strategies. 

Number 5: Your organization’s origin story

There’s a reason we put this one last. Although it’s important, we see so many websites focus 90% of their efforts telling their story but missing the mark on many of the other important elements of their website. But it’s still important to get this part right as well. Visitors do want to understand who is behind this work, how the organization got started, past wins and struggles, and the broader history of the organization. Just don’t lead with this and make it the main focus of your site. 

Ok, real quick before we wrap this section up. I want to leave you with a few bonus ideas to explore if you really want to take things to the next level. These are going to be a little harder to do well and will be bigger investments, so don’t feel like you have to get to these before the foundational elements we covered earlier are working well for you. 

Bonus 1: Interactive experiences

Can you take key elements of your impact story and build them out as interactive experiences rather than standard media and content? Go beyond your standard digital annual report here.  Think New York Times interactives or Spotify’s Year in Review.

These experiences, when built and marketed intentionally, have the potential to go viral, nurture engagement, and help your brand and mission stand out. Think of them like features in a magazine, and aim to do 1 or more of these per year if you can. And if you can use donor and customer data to personalize these they can be extremely powerful for helping your supporters feel like they made a real difference. 

A quick example: We helped one of our clients, Equality Fund, build out an interactive experience where you could browse through a digital deck of playing cards that had positive feminist affirmations paired with feminist artwork sourced from their community. Once you found your favorite card, you could share it with your friends with a single click or tap. That was a fun one to be part of.

We’ll link to these examples and a few others in the show notes, so be sure to check that out. 

Bonus 2: A brand narrative video

Video is a powerful storytelling medium. And you should already be including short form, lower production value video in your ongoing content strategy. 

But a higher-production value brand narrative video is a priceless asset that can serve you for years to come. This is one that’s worth investing in and featuring right on your homepage. It should hit the same 3 key elements your website does: Your problem, solution, and how viewers can get involved. But the format of video is uniquely positioned to elicit emotional responses from your audience, and should be focused on deeper impact storytelling. 

We’ll also link to a few examples of great brand narrative videos in the show notes to help get you started.

Bonus 3: A community hub

Can you use your website as infrastructure for community-building? A community-first mindset is the future of social impact. Your digital hub is an opportunity to create virtual spaces for relationship-building, activation, and social engagement. 

You’ll likely build your online community on a third-party platform, but your owned website can also promote that community, showcase the benefits of joining, and integrate with this platform to provide member-only content and personalized experiences. 

Make your community feel like they’re part of something special and getting member-only benefits and opportunities. 

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by these tips, don’t feel like you have to do everything we just covered. Your website should be approached with the mindset of a gardener. Constantly moving between cycles of planning, building, nurturing, growing, and pruning. You don’t need to go from 0 to 100 — and you shouldn’t try to. 

Start with the 3 foundational points: Clearly define the problem, explain how your work is solving that problem, and activate your visitors to help drive positive change. Then begin to weave in some of the more advanced elements and strategies over time. 

Most importantly, remember that your website is not a one-off project that you set and forget. It’s digital infrastructure that needs to be used consistently by your team and your community. 

As you iterate on your website, be sure to include cycles of listening and feedback from your community. Are there points of friction, confusion, or missed opportunities to explore? What resonates and activates your supporters? What content and sections of the site seem to get the best engagement? Adopt a mindset of curiosity and experimentation, and a balance of letting strategies play out but also being willing to let go of things that aren’t working as well as you’d hoped. 

Your website by itself will not drive action or help grow your revenue magically. It requires activation through consistent content creation & campaigns, iteration, and attention from your team.

But when your website is set up with the right strategies and elements, it has the potential to scale engagement, build movements, and grow revenue to entirely new levels. 



Our modern digital culture is an ever-changing, complex ecosystem. Digital platforms, content, and experiences shape our real world actions, beliefs, and even view of reality, more than ever before. 

Today, our initial joy and wonder of a hyper-connected, global society sometimes feels like a naive dream from an innocent past.

But our digital culture has also led to tangible progress for society. Information and communication are now democratized. Community is no longer constrained by geographical reach. Social movements ignite and spread more rapidly than ever before. 

You can use the power of our digital channels to expand your reach, start important conversations about your social mission, and convert attention into meaningful action and real-world progress. 

As you build out your digital strategy for your organization, make sure you give your website the proper thought and attention it deserves. You can take the power back from the unstable social channels that hijack our attention and build deeper relationships with your community on your own terms. 

You can use the strategies and learnings that we outlined in today’s episode to turn your website into a powerful digital flywheel that builds momentum for your cause and grows support and revenue for your organization. 

We’re on the cusp of the next big shift in digital culture. Join us in making sure the next wave of the internet becomes its best chapter yet. 


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