Does Your Website Keep 'Em Coming Back For More?
The very best starting point in creating a successful site is to ask: "What business objectives should the site accomplish?" There is usually a set of complementary objectives, but one typically predominates. Most sites' goals include a combination of the following:
- Be the source of reference information for the company and its positioning;
- Build credibility for the business by providing information about existing customers and their successes using the company's solutions;
- Provide detailed product and solution information for prospects;
- Act as a lead-gen tool, collecting prospect information for use in the sales/follow-up process;
- Provide a transaction medium for e-commerce.
It is important to select a primary objective, and then categorize others as secondary objectives. To help select a primary objective, ask: "What actions do we want visitors to take, both while they are on the site and afterwards?" Answering this question will likely lead to a clear and unequivocal primary objective, based on the business model, the market, and the company's solutions. Make sure the primary objective is the guiding principle behind major decisions.
Identify the target audience:
- Who are they? (existing customers, prospects, decision-makers, technical personnel, marketing, etc.)
- How do they make decisions?
- What questions are they likely to have about our company/solutions?
- Do they perceive any risks in doing business with us? If so, what are they?
Once key pieces of visitor information have been identified and considered within the context of the site objectives that have been laid out, a strategy can be built. The strategy should define a path to answering visitors' questions, specifically address any concerns/perceived risks, and direct them clearly towards the answers they seek.
Based on the audience profile, information should be presented in a manner that addresses patterns of research and behavior. Are they technical, looking for analytics, details, specifications? Or are they creative, looking for anecdotes, inspiration, ideas? And remember that people don't always read information on websites -- they typically scan information there. This scanning often transpires in the shape of an "F" -- across the top and down the left hand side -- so key information should be placed to mirror this motion.
From a marketing perspective, it is key that company and product positioning statements are clear at each level of the website. Users will navigate around a site in a non-linear fashion, so a cohesive story in a particular sequence can't be delivered. Importantly, each section (or even each page) needs to be focused on one idea, or one message. The more specific each section is, the more likely that message is to be understood and retained by the audience.
Keep things as interactive as possible, engaging the audience in the delivery and reception of each message -- rather than expecting them to read, or watch passively. The more they can interact with the site via interactive virtual product models, for example, the more engaged they will be, and the more they will learn and retain about your solutions.
Identifying the core message for the site, and indeed, for each sub-section of the site, is critical for another reason: it is this core message (or the series of messages for each section) that leads to the list of keywords that should be highlighted in the site. These keywords will be the focus of SEM efforts and will ensure that (a) the site is found by people looking for solutions in your market, and (b) the appropriate differentiators are highlighted to those people who do find your site.
The website is one of the important touch-points in a multi-channel marketing strategy that creates a single, consistent customer experience at every venue. Thinking about interactivity, for example, should not be limited to the online medium, but it should pervade every opportunity where you and your company interact with prospects and customers. Often neglected is the subject of measurement and analytics, but this may be the most important benefit of a website. Key statistics to measure include: total traffic, click-path analysis, referring sources, search sources, geographic targeting, time-on-page and conversions.
This is a highly measurable medium, and the benefit of these measurements is not limited to understanding behaviors on the website, but also how marketing messages, programs, and strategies are working in general. Using the website as a tool to optimize marketing in general can be a highly effective and efficient resource for testing marketing ideas, obtaining feedback from customers and prospects, and for launching innovative marketing programs globally.
A website that is integrated into the overall marketing program in a seamless and cohesive fashion can be the most powerful lever in a marketer's toolbox. This result does not happen randomly, however, and requires a thoughtful and structured approach. The benefits of thinking about your website as an extension and broadening of your marketing program transcends the online venue -- it can transform your entire marketing experience.