The value of an effective website sometimes gets lost among all the churn and coverage over Social Media’s impact on marketing. Experts who once argued that small companies only need a “FaceBook” page, that SEO dollars should be repositioned to Social Media, and that the Web was a dead medium are rethinking the value of websites. A marketing model that uses Social Media as a tool to drive traffic to a well-branded website with comprehensive information has now become a standard. In my Internet Marketing course I use a book called the Zen of Social Media Marketing, by Shama Kabani. Kabani offers excellent advice because she understands the value of digital integration and shows how websites convert customers. Her ACT model – attract, convert, and transform – explains how websites are still vital in converting prospects from Social Media into paying customers.
In retrospect, some of this should be a “Duh” moment to all of us with marketing skills. Despite their networking value, none of the social media platforms will ever develop the e-commerce, document delivery, or persuasive elements necessary to convert new customers. There is a shift towards the narrow as media condenses: websites contain everything, Facebook pages contain brands, Tweets contain offers for a brand product, and Pinterest or Vines show one small element of that product. As we move to increasingly condensed communication it is our comprehensive website that provides the platform for prospect conversion.
However, not all websites are as usable and well-designed as they should be. I had a conversation with my friend Ann at a tech mixer and she noted how horrible many B2B websites have become. In a rush to provide catalogs, sales materials, and site search-ability many companies have lost the marketing components of benefits, differentiation, and application. These sites compound their problems with poor information design, low usability, and a stagnated ability to interact with the company.
15 years ago when I ran my own agency I was forced to develop models for website ROI. Early ROI was a challenge. Low hanging fruit like regional websites for auto dealerships, credit unions/banks, and real estate brokerages were easy to demonstrate ROI. But Manufacturing companies, machine fabricators, and B2B companies needed a better ROI model to justify expansive websites in the late 1990’s. Often, it was not until I showed companies that a website would increase business, if built correctly, or reduce expenses, such as telephone calls or technical support, that I was able to build a case for many industries. Today, web presence is expected, but its use as a B2B conversion tool is not always considered in the ROI.
Here are a few tips to improve the ability of your website to convert prospects into customers:
1. Use landing pages. Use analytics to determine how people get to your site and build pages to support their needs.
2. Do the Jekyll/Hyde. Prospects are not the same as long-time current customers. Build site elements that convert prospects as your front and bring current customers into the parts of the site (or an extranet) that facilitates their needs.
3. Learn your audience expectations. Ask current customers about what differentiates your company and how they evaluate the benefits of products on your current site. Use this knowledge to inform design or modifications to the website.
4. Improve search-ability. A comprehensive website with search granularity is an immediate selling point. How many times have you abandoned a source because you could not find something among hundreds of results? Get everyone into tagging content and building folksonomies for efficient search-ability.
5. Architect information for ownership. Too many companies select a CMS or back-end based on features without asking who owns the different pieces of content. Develop ownership over every piece of information on your website. Use Marketing and PR to provide the strategy and optimize content but have the organic updates to information come from owners of content, not the marketing folks.
6. Don’t forget the call to action. In technical marketing this seems to be the biggest mistake. You drive traffic to your site from Twitter. The site presents a persuasive list of benefits for the product the person is evaluating. Now make her perform an action that will engage her instead of just reading…then leaving.
Websites have become enormous, comprehensive, and often a challenge to manage. It is sometimes difficult to remember that the website is a conversion tool, especially when it serves so many functions to so many audiences. For effectiveness, build features, content, and brands into you website to accent the differentiation and engage prospects. Make your website the most comprehensive and accessible platform for prospect conversion and reap the benefits of all forms of Internet Marketing.