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In times of isolation and working from home, we have all taken a step or, mostly likely, a leap in digital transformation within our work. Our worlds have shifted, businesses readjusted and outlooks changed somewhat and it looks as if this is here to stay - for the most part - until the end of the year.
If we ever doubted that digital marketing was synonymous with marketing itself, then now, in these times we must surely be convinced. Although we now crave human connection, we have all found our way to get a digital version, and tried out click and collect, Zoom calls and Google Classroom.
So, for sales and marketing, we need to adjust and adapt the very hub of our online presence, our websites and our business window to the world. In this long read, I will talk about making the shift from a traditional B2B brochure website to a more interactive, engaging and profitable one - the ‘why, where, what and how’ - plus the elements and approaches that will help you do this.
1. The Sales conundrum
2. Tipping the marketing-sales scales
3. Time for that website update
ONLINE SALES OFFERING
4. Basic onpage SEO - being found
5. Rethinking your online offering
a. Halfway house service
b. Common entrances
7. Content structure
8. Using video on your website
9. On page engagement ideas and CTAs (Calls to Action)
a. Basic engagement elements
b. More sophisticated engagement elements
10. Vlogs and podcasts
11. Animation effects
12. Website functionality and integration
13. When to use microsites on sub domains
14. Digital renaissance and the marketing technology “Catch-22”
15. Measurement of visitor engagement elements
With many staff furloughed, there is a lack of sales activity - yet often from a business perspective, companies need more business to justify their return. That said, their job to generate and prospect for leads is now much more hampered. It will be harder for them to prospect through the traditional channels they were used to. To get through to prospects with many companies and decision makers working from home on the phone, is going to get trickier. And with their present clients on the other end of a call and not a desk, it may be harder to pull on those relationships as before. They also do not have networking events, exhibitions and conferences to meet new contacts. Instead, they have been replaced by webinars, where it is often the experts talking and discussions are so much harder to start. Their worlds have completely turned around and they will have to adapt digitally with more ‘social selling’ which in itself needs more marketing support. Inevitably, marketing will have to take up the slack and the mix of marketing and sales will shift significantly to the former in many cases.
Depending upon the persuasion of each company, I believe that in general, the pressure on marketing will increase significantly from not only being targeted at marketing qualified leads (MQLs) but also on sales qualified leads (SQLs). If this is not now, it will be in the near future. Of course if marketing was never given much importance in a company, this is unlikely to change now, but either way it is also marketing’s opportunity to shine and step forward in these tough times where restructuring might be on the horizon for either or both departments.
Whereas the traditional brochure website was there to offer information and updates to support the brand and the sales process, it will now need to attract more visits, significantly engage more with the visitor, nurture them and convert enquiries more often.
If you have considered taking your website further but never got the budget or inclination to do it, now is surely the best time.
Before redesigning your showroom (website), it might also be worth checking the street signs (SEO) to make sure you are being found. There are many B2B websites out there which have not applied some basic SEO to their pages. I find that this is something marketers often either outsource and go the whole hog, or don’t do at all. Some basic SEO research and set up is not too difficult or expensive, and can give direction to content in the future.
The biggest mistakes are often made on the website itself. Companies have service pages with general headings that don’t rank, lack content, don’t use internal linking, aren’t set up Google My Business and then even more so, don’t keep an eye out on Google Search Console and Google Analytics.
The first thing needed is a good keyword strategy - which combination of relevant keywords link to which pages throughout the site.Once everything is set up, this can give more focus to your content going forward and does not need that much analysis work each month.
I find that companies who previously did not think this was important in their marketing are now looking at this much more.
For those who solely sell online, SEO is a full time business and both inhouse and outsourced resources are necessary to keep things alive and ticking over.
a. A halfway house service
Many B2B companies have high ticket services and long lead times, and so the idea that a visitor is going to browse the website, read a bit and be ready to buy is very unlikely. So why push the big ticket item so much? Why not break the service down into something smaller, with a significantly lower price point, or even make it free? This enables the visitor to try before they buy, order an audit or assessment or be a subscriber which gives them access to valuable resources. It also needs to be a transaction; giving something to get something - it could be more of their details or a financial contribution. Many service orientated companies offer a free consultation, but it is well known that this can be a sales exercise - so it can’t be something like this.
It may not be this simple but if it is possible to craft something like this, it may be easier to convert on the website with a bit more engagement. The big advantage too, is that once they take this new augmented service, it will surely be an opportunity for them to engage even further and for the sales team to nurture them through the process.
They could have access to your software for a limited time (IT firms do this very well), or access to certain documents on a portal that only your clients have. It may be that they have limited access to your advice or resources per month.
If you can create something like this, it puts your other engagement elements into perspective and creates a simple sales funnel objective for your website. This helps engagement significantly - with the company, brand, service and if it is transactional, it’s a sale and they become a client.
b. Common entrances to your services
Another way of reevaluating the service offering is to examine how you gain customers. It could be that out of five parts of the business, there are one or two that clients engage with easily and over time they cross sell into the other parts. If you are not sure, it may be useful to find out and evaluate new business across your service offerings. Then focus the message and call to action to those areas and find the halfway house offering of this service for the website to focus on.
The way we consume content on websites is changing. We skim read to find information when we come across a site before digging deeper.
Here are a couple of tips and features to think about for your service pages, blogs or news articles:
- Break up the content
The more I come across articles that are doing well, the more they seem to have headings or expandable sections and lists to give variety, helping the reader navigate quickly and hold their attention for longer.
- Highlight the highlights
Magazines do this well, emphasising that one statement per page or section that really sums up the point. This catches the eye of the reader and entices them to dive deeper into the subject and engage more.
- Internal links
It’s amazing how many articles or service pages on the site don’t have links to other sections in their content. Doing this in a natural way is an art and can be very useful in creating more page views and adding value for the reader.
To keep the reader entertained, a good sprinkling of relevant images and effects are good - not only stock images, but those that look like they belong, tell a story and are informative or factual.
A couple of years ago this was the big buzz but having video on social media and on your website is now the norm for engaging content online. Many B2B companies went out and created a big budget corporate video, added it to their ‘about’ page and YouTube channel and have not touched it since because it was expensive and did not get thousands of views. Video is not a silver bullet but it is easier to consume and engage with, and should be used more often within your website where possible. Here are some tips:
Use a short edited version for your front page
There is nothing like a video on your front page to grab attention - a 30 second overview is great for this.
- Service pages
A great way to describe how your approach to your services differ to a competitor’s is using animation or interview videos with subject experts. You may already have this in your company video or footage that was not used in the overview edit, so this may only require some tweaking. If the service is more complex and shooting video is more problematic, then animations are a great option.
- Profile pages
The usual profile pages on a service orientated B2B company can be flat, factual and lack personality. Introducing a short video on your expert’s profile may make all the difference versus your competitors and a human connection can justify your services and staff.
- Logo animation
If you have a tighter budget, it is also possible to ask your creative agency to produce a logo animation, intro and outro and you can then shoot the videos yourself.
- Shorter videos
Engagement starts on the first page your visitors land on. This is most likely to be the home page, your blogs or article pages (your analytics should reveal this). You should start on these pages first and here are some engagement elements you should consider:
a. Basic engagement elements
Subscribe function - to a blog or article alerts that can be category-based or a regular newsletter. Having the functionality for your visitor to choose his/her areas of interest can make the difference to them returning to the site or not.
Share buttons - experiment where to place them best for your audience and measure the amount they are used. It’s always useful to ask for the visitor to share at the end of an article.
- Revealing key information
Creating animated effects to reveal lists, answers or more information on the page are small but engaging options to keep the visitors exploring. It may also be useful if you have lots of information to show, but you don't want to clutter the design too much. This also gives you the opportunity to measure engagement with event tags - see engagement measurement below.
The traditional blog was designed as an interactive article and usually has comments below. The majority of B2B companies do not include this, due to the fear that it may attract unwanted comments. This is something worth reconsidering as blog platforms normally offer a moderation function, so unwanted comments can be deleted if needed. The advantages are quite strong as this can start conversations, showcase your approach to questions and also get the conversation started - is that not what we want anyway?
b. More sophisticated functionality
- Gated content
This form of campaign is being used more and more nowadays. This involves attracting the prospect through email, social or other digital channels to a landing page. This page looks to offer some restricted content, like a white paper, webinar or video in exchange for the visitor’s information. It is a great idea to engage with the visitor, as the transaction increases the value of the service, even if it’s just personal information given.
This page is important as to get the conversion (the sign-up), you need to sell the value of the resource and so you need a very focused page with clear benefits. Measurement and experimentation on a page like this are of course very important, as is the flexibility to change layout, functionality and design.
- Web portals
Web portals are a great way to engage with your visitors, as either part of the halfway house service or for qualified prospects or clients. Sales cycles in B2B service companies can be long - nurturing and engaging your audience can be easily set up and automated in part through a web portal. These are exclusive parts of your website, where you can offer your client or prospect login access to files, resources and messages that are relevant only to them. The functionality can also include any information available from your other databases, such as CRM, accounting packages or inventory. This will require website integration and the functionality or access will be bespoke to the application and personalisation required.
- Virtual tours
If part of your sales cycle includes a showroom visit or factory or office tour, then a virtual tour can bring this experience to your visitors. This can be done in the same format and using the same technology as Google Street View. Using an accredited Google Street View photographer is relatively inexpensive and this can be connected to your Google My Business listing on Google Maps as well as embedded in your website.
- Online Chat
If you decided against this a while ago, it may be worth reviewing.
Starting any conversation is a good thing these days, and the amount of chat software out there is so varied. If you are seriously looking to do this and have a large proportion of mobile visitors, WhatsApp Business offers something very interesting and by connecting to the app, continues the conversation far beyond the website.
- Make your CTAs (calls to action) visible at all times
You may think you have all of these in the header or footer but are they always visible and distinguishable? Keeping your CTAs visible and clear is so important. You may even want to have these ‘pop out’ at the visitor. Be careful and timely as they may irritate - there is nothing worse than landing on a page you are interested in reading only to have the pop up window blast at you within five seconds! Do this strategically and if you need to do it, do it at the point you find the stats say most people turn away (found in your Google Analytics under behaviour). It could be you drop people between 90-120 seconds - so do this after 100 seconds or have the window pop out as the person’s cursor leaves the window.
Other formats to explore are vlogs and podcasts. Vlogs are really taking advantage of the fact that many people are consuming more video than text and nowadays social media feeds are prioritising video over other posts. So if you are considering vlogs, they can gain much more attention if you have a teaser video on social media and a link to the longer version on your site.
Podcasts have always been a favourite of mine, but I have noticed a lot more companies now consider this as a new medium for blogs. With all the walking we are doing in lockdown, and working from home - it is a great medium for people to take with them - for a run, walk or in the car!
Animation can be the oil that keeps your visitor scrolling, clicking and discovering. Researching something can be time consuming - loading page after page, looking for the right information, trying to decipher if a company is good enough to enquire further or just looking for something different and inspiring. Make pages interesting, great to look and entertaining with animation effects that are different, quirky and reflect your brand, message and personality.
It could be how something reacts when you click on it (like a reward of some sort). It could be how a page loads, a transition or just how the icons randomly change and draw your attention. The objective is to entertain, draw attention and lure the visitor to take an action. It’s a small thing but in the world of marginal gains and keeping attention fixed, it could be that little extra feature that keeps your visitors on the site long enough to take that next step.
What about doing something completely different, adding functionality that is out of the norm or not on any of your competitors’ sites but will add value to your visitor’s experience? We recently did an analysis for a carpet company and the platforms the competition were using were all the same - packaged slightly differently in different styles and colours, but essentially the same. So we came up with another idea - for a visitor to create their own project portal, adding their details (rooms and room sizes) as well as inspiration pictures and products. With a custom website, this is something that you can start thinking about, as there are essentially no restrictions to what you can build. If you had a blank canvas - what would you build, what would be great? Go from there as those big ideas are going to have more impact on visitors.
Without the myriad of marketing events and the difficulty of traditional channels for sales activity, there is undeniably a shift in focus in the marketing mix to digital channels and the use of marketing technology. Budgets will shift and the percentage spent on these channels will increase to take advantage of the accessibility and agility of digital. Online and the use of technology will be marketing’s saviour in these times as the ability to cover all markets, research competitors, spot gaps and launch products or services to market (or augment existing ones) quickly, effectively and relatively unrestricted is great. Some are calling this a tipping of the scales and a digital renaissance of sorts.
But there will be more technology coming out as digital companies will spot opportunities and surely bring out more products to be accessible on the web.
The Catch-22 is the management of this tech stack. Technology for marketers was always a minefield, as it is not only about your website and email programme. There are a range of tools for communications, social networks, customer data, competitor and audience research, profiling, advertising and PR elements too.
But what sits in the centre of all of this marketing technology is inevitably your website and integration with all this technology to measure, direct, adapt and personalise can be very daunting. So simplifying all of this and integrating it to your website is the Catch-22. Custom integration and bespoke platforms to consolidate datastreams and marketing automation is something that the marketer will need to look at to get the benefit of the data without exponentially increasing their workload and budget.
Microsites are great tools if you want to do something your present site cannot or try something completely different without changing your current site. Many companies have difficulty changing their site for inhouse political, platform and international reasons or just that it would take far too long to change their whole site.
A microsite is essentially a small version of a site - so it would have for example, one to three types of pages within its navigation.
The other trick here is you can host a microsite on a completely different server by using a subdomain of your company’s domain, and you can do this by tweaking the DNS (Domain Name System) as part of your registration, which means you can still have your full brand in the URL.
So if your domain is www.company.com, you can register a domain such as www.new-service.company.com and have that built and hosted by a different company than the main site. This can help you out especially if you want to try something different quickly.
While many B2B Marketers know the basics of Google Analytics for their website, some do not measure the basics around visitor engagement let alone more detailed engagement elements. Some of the basic measurements of visitor engagement include:
- Returning visitors - this is the percentage of visitors returning to the site. This is an objective of nurturing visitors is a sought after stat and can be found in Audience - Behaviour - New vs. Returning
- Dwell time- the time the average user is on the site (Behaviour - Engagement)
- Page depth - the average page views per session (Behaviour - Engagement)
- Bounce rate - the rate at which a visitor lands on a page and then exits the site from the same page without looking at any others. The higher the bounce rate, traditionally the worse it is for your analytics. But for pages such as blogs this is normally very high.
But on their own, these stats do not give the overall picture and a measurement of how well the engaging elements mentioned above have done their job in drawing in attention. You might have a landing page which has one objective which can be achieved on that page itself, which would not give good stats above by their definition. The following metrics start to add more depth to the nature of engagement on a page:
- Events - this is a defined action that is triggered by a visitor and measured by the code on the site and sent to Google Analytics. It could be watching a video, clicking a button, expanding a list or scrolling a percentage down the page. The fact that someone has bounced your page may in fact show they have also interacted and engaged too.
- Goals - these can be specific actions like those defined in Events that visitors take, or a page (or series of pages in order - a funnel) that the visitors loads that defines if a goal has been reached. For example, a simple macro goal may be to gain enquiries from the site. These may come from various pages on the site to the contact page and only once a visitor completes a goal does a thank you page load. The goal will then be defined as a page view of the thank you page. Simply having this goal changes all your analytics to view in terms of that goal, making Google Analytics very powerful. You can set up multiple goals and although many marketers use them to measure their success, such as demo sign ups or enquiries, you can also use these for micro goals such as downloads or video playing events or behaviours you think characterise an engaged visitor.
- Campaign specific analytics - I see many companies who have not tagged their campaigns and emails with the right code to identify them. So using UTM code behind the link of any sort can identify where a visit to the site comes from - from an email signature, social post, PDF white paper, email newsletter etc. Many of these links are tagged as “direct” or social and thus you might not see what is working and analyse their subsequent engagement. You have a couple of categories and terms to use, so it’s not one term or category you can use to describe the source, medium campaign and even keyword if you need it. Use the UTM builder from Google, you’ll see what I mean and you can build the link on the page - to copy and paste for your purposes.
Experiments - experimenting with your engagement elements is vital to get the best combination, layout and strategy in engaging your visitors. There are some automated Google Experiments you can set up on pages too, which is a bit like A/B testing, but for websites.
Segments, views and filters - there are so many dimensions, cross-references and comparisons you can make in Google Analytics if you get to know it, and want more specific measurement for your online marketing analysis. You will need to customise and condense the KPIs into very specific driving measurements that over time indicate your company’s goals through engagement on the site. This will have to do with your sales funnel, target audience and the services you are promoting and selling.
Like many things in life, in these restricted times when some doors are being closed to marketers, others open up or become worth passing through. There are many opportunities to engage with visitors on their websites that B2B marketers have not explored to date, but there has never been a better time to explore them.
I know what you are thinking - "What about Storm12 - there are some things in this article they have not implemented on their own website?". Right you are and instead of giving you a story about a mechanic's car, I can tell you they are all underway, so watch this space!
I hope this sparks a couple of interesting ideas and opportunities for you and your website to improve your engagement and boost business. I would be happy to chat through any you would like to share, or if you have requests for ideas or further discussions if you want to get in touch
There are many suggestions in this blog and they all depend on the marketing you have in place already, but all look to aid in engaging more significantly, nurturing prospects and resulting in more client enquiries and sign ups.
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