Materials and musings that will help you make your marketing more effective and help you understand why your marketing is or is not working. Website development and digital marketing strategy specialists since 1996. Message is everything.
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
One of the traps I find myself fighting hard to keep from falling into – over and over – is allowing the urgent to push aside the important. Nowhere is this more difficult to counteract (for me) than the inbox.
Responding immediately to one email that you know is going to occupy your thoughts until you triage it isn’t going to keep you from doing the important work of your day, but responding to 20 or 30 or 50 of them most certainly will.
So while it’s great advice to always immediately answer any email you can attend to in less than 90 seconds, that “immediately” needs definition. It shouldn’t be defined as immediately upon arrival. You shouldn’t be checking email constantly. It should be immediately upon you getting to that point in your day when you’re batching through your inbox. (And then not visiting it again for 2 hours – or more if you can.)
What’s all of this have to do with digital marketing? Or with Mr. Shaw’s contention that communications doesn’t occur nearly as often as we think it does? Well, let me tell you …
Haste Makes Miscommunication
These two ideas come together when, in your haste to get to “inbox zero,” you fail to respond to an email with your information and the recipient’s perspective. He or she doesn’t know you’re in a rush and that your terseness isn’t a sign of annoyance.
Marketing Depends on Answering the Right Questions
And while I see this most frequently in email communication, and realize I’m guilty of it from time to time, it creeps into other marketing channels, as well. The question to ask is, do I really understand the question my audience is asking, and am I answering it.
Yes, there are other layers that matter – being human and authentic, shelving the hard sell – but ultimately communication only ever happens if we pause to listen, reflect on what we’ve heard, and respond thoughtfully.
That’s also the only way marketing works.
(You’ll notice that the quote at the head of this article is not attributed. You can Google it to find out who said it. And you can subscribe to our email newsletter to find out why the answer you found is wrong.)
It takes a lot of thought to organize a multi-page marketing message so that it
appeals to the general audience that might show up at the home page
answer the critical questions for each of a number of different audience segments
attracts and converts those audience segments via organic search, PPC advertising, and other means
Never Let ‘Em See You Sweat
The best sites make it look easy because they’ve been designed to be incredibly easy for visitors to use. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean it really was easy. In fact, the best sites are almost always the result of deep thought and intense teamwork to consider all angles. Message and copywriting are as critical as technology and graphic design.
And that’s why DIY platforms and “website in a minute” platforms often fail. The tools themselves aren’t necessarily flawed; the process is. A single person sitting down to create a website with a new-to-them tool is always going to be at least partly focused on “how do I” questions rather than the more important “why am I” issues that drive marketing performance.
The Power of Perspective
What’s lacking is the back-and-forth, the probing questions, and the challenging of assumptions that can make for tense and difficult conversations but that when resolved, lead to elegance and effectiveness.
Sure, that process can also lead to design-by-committee disasters where compromise ruled the day. You have to guard against that possibility. But the value of varied perspectives in building a website for digital marketing can’t be understated.
All this is a long way of saying that there’s nothing wrong with using an inexpensive and easily-maintained platform like Wix or Squarespace, as long as you’re willing to invest in the planning process to ensure your website will deliver the results you need it to.
You can invest your own time or pay for the time of an expert team, depending on what suits your situation better. Just don’t expect to cut this particular corner and still create the marketing magic that is the combination of great user experience and effective messaging.
B2B marketing continues to evolve from the stuffy, inward-facing efforts of yesteryear to the more modern approach that puts the client front and center. Along with that change comes a change in voice, too. Less formal, more friendly and much more cognizant of the idea that any buying and selling that happens, even in a B2B relationship, still happens between two human beings.
Change Your Mindset
You may or may not feel that buyer persona development is a worthwhile exercise. I’ll argue that it is. Either way, have a person, as shadowy and vaguely-defined as he or she may be, in mind when you create your marketing. Companies don’t buy from you. People do.
Drop the Jargon
Yes, you need to make it clear you know what you’re talking about. You have to speak the language. But too often companies use jargon like a cudgel, trying to beat prospects into being impressed.
Try this instead: what’s the bare minimum of industry jargon you can use and not sound like you’ve never actually worked in the industry? That’s probably the appropriate way to use specialized language. Because your audience really doesn’t care about the jargon. They care about whether you can provide them with a solution to their problem. (And a good portion of your audience may be new to the jargon themselves. Making them feel stupid isn’t going to win you any good will.)
Balance Automation and Humanization
People love eliminating unnecessary friction in transactions. Do all you can to aid that process and let people self-serve wherever possible.
At the same time, be sure you give them a way to easily make contact when what they need can’t easily be defined by a phone tree or online form.
Stress the Story
Put your product in your prospect’s life. Use examples. Narrative connects your prospect and your product on an emotional level. That’s where marketing is most effective. And that’s where the sale happens.
After 23 years in digital marketing – last month was our anniversary! – we’ve seen and heard a lot. Like the “content is king” mantra alluded to in the headline above.
And we’ve heard just about every possible reason from clients for why they want to build or update a website. Some have wanted to change the world. A few have be dead certain that once their site launched, riches and retirement would follow, probably within days. (And we could build the site for free and get in on the action if we wanted …)
But for most clients, the reasons boiled down to wanting to win more clients for their business.
And that phrase – win more clients – really does need to animate every conversation you have about your website and your marketing overall.
What Do We Really Want Our Websites to Do?
Is the content you’re publishing designed with winning clients in mind? Will it help attract them and nurture them as they progress through their buying process?
Does your website meet audience expectations for performance and organization?
Have you tied all of your channels together so that they reinforce your efforts elsewhere? Social media supports your website which helps your email marketing which drives traffic back to your website and so on.
I’m not sure there ever was a time that websites stood on their own as productive marketing tools. Sure, a particularly interestingly designed or informative site could generate word of mouth the way an especially inventive menu might for a restaurant. But most of us, particularly in the B2B world, need more than word of mouth to break through the noise. We need websites that nurture relationships. We must create the level of trust that allows prospects to suspend their disbelief and feel that we can help them.
Is your website helping you do that? That trust – the conversion of a prospect who may never have heard of you into a person willing to trust you with an important part of their business – is what is needed for your website to help you win more business.
The NNG article goes into much greater detail and is, naturally, focused on usability and user experience. That is Nielsen Norman Group’s expertise. Given how central user experience is to marketing success, the article is a worthwhile read.
Key Take-Aways for B2B Marketers
“Whether your site includes a single About Us page or an entire About Us section, you must provide a clear explanation of what your company does.”
As with other kinds of content, About Us content must be labeled and organized to fit your audience’s expectations and your organization’s needs. That can mean a single About Us page or an entire section with individual sub-pages for topics like history, management team, mission/vision/values, and so on.
Other critical factors for successful About Us content include using custom photography over stock imagery, content of real substance rather than marketing fluff, and an informational tone rather than overt selling.
Perhaps most critically, your About Us content – and your site content across the board – must address your site visitors’ natural skepticism. They may not have any reason to distrust you. (If they did, they probably wouldn’t be on your site in the first place, but on a competitor’s site.) But they certainly don’t have any reason to trust you. Of course, telling people to “trust me” is a surefire way to get their “Spidey Sense” tingling. Instead, demonstrate your trustworthiness by providing value in your content. Then, make at least some of that value accessible before you ask for anything – even an email address – in return.
About Us content is too often overlooked. It shouldn’t be a tired recitation of historical dates and facts. When it’s not, it can be an enormous asset in your efforts to move site visitors from the “prospects” column into the “clients” column.
Compressing your website page code can shave seconds, not just milliseconds, from page load times. It works by reducing the data taken up by your HTML and other files. Less data equals faster load times.
Similarly, you can reduce the overhead of your CSS files by minifying them. We don’t need to dive into the difference between compression and minification to get it to work. Just know that as with compressing pages, you’ll save valuable bytes and decrease page load times.
Reduce the Bloat
If your site is more than six months old, I can all but guarantee there are page elements that aren’t being used. Site changes are made and often classes and styles that are no longer needed continue to hang around.
First, be sure all images are uploaded at the appropriate size and resolution. Provide guides for all image sizes that content managers might need to upload – page header images, team member headshots, basic editorial images, etc. Let them know the preferred format and pixel dimensions. And do not permit them to scale the image in your CMS. Uploading an image that is 1200×800 and then scaling it to display at 600×400 is pure laziness and will drag down page load times quickly.
Also be sure you don’t have content cowboys (or cowgirls) who know how to use a screen measurement tool and base their upload sizes on what they see on their own screens. Responsive coding means an image may need to be uploaded at a size other than the one you see on any particular device in order for it to display properly on all devices.
There are, of course, many ways to keep your site coding lean and mean. Your tech team may prefer different approaches than I’ve mentioned here. More important than what approach is taken is that page load performance is a priority that stays near the top of your team’s list. Monthly or quarterly benchmarking should be included right along side more purely marketing-oriented metrics.
It’s a cliché to talk about the marketing mistake of asking for your prospect’s hand in marriage on your first date. And most of us don’t make that mistake anymore, if we ever did.
That doesn’t mean we as content marketers aren’t sometimes guilty of diving too deep, too fast. And often our prospects aren’t ready to come along for the ride.
Frequently, this is because content marketing programs, even those that are well thought out and fully documented, neglect to plan for content that appeals to prospects at every step in their buying journey.
Who Is Your Prospect?
To combat this, create a matrix. One side should lay out different audience segments like company size, industry, buyer role within the organization, etc. , Buyer personas may come in handy for this.
What Is Your Prospect Thinking?
The other side of the matrix should outline likely steps in your prospects’ buying process. To establish these it can be helpful to ask questions like,
How well does your prospect know you?
How well does she understand the problem she’s facing?
Issue where I’ll other Solutions that might be a good fit?
Is she evaluating your competitors along with you?
And in each space on the matrix, you’ll adapt a relatively small handful of content ideas to meet the needs of who your prospect is and what he or she knows. That tells you what information he or she will find most valuable right now.
This is really just a variation on the work you most likely already do to tailor content to various audience segments. Now you’re simply getting more granular, tailoring content to the needs of one particular audience segment over time.
One size does not fit all, and if you’re thoughtful in your approach, you’ll succeed in convincing each prospect that you’re speaking specifically to his or her needs. And that’s exactly what content marketing is meant to do.
Prospective clients occasionally ask us, in very blunt language, whether digital marketing really works. In particular, they want to know whether content marketing works. Often, they have first-hand experience to the contrary and are doubtful of our recommendations.
It can be hard to find a diplomatic way to say, “Well, it may just be that you’re doing it wrong.”
That’s not to say that digital marketing and content marketing are always the answer. Or that they always work. We’ve certainly had our own digital marketing failures. And we ourselves occasionally include direct mail in our own marketing. I can’t think of a project we’ve won that didn’t include an actual person-to-person conversation.
But even more uncommon today is for a purchasing decision to be made completely independently of any online activity. Buyers arm themselves with information before they ever consider inviting a salesperson into their process. Finding that information online is easier than any other way.
And it’s not just about the product or service you’re selling. Prospects want to know the critical details, of course. Is it a good fit for my needs? Has it worked for others in my situation?
Prospects also want a picture of who you are and what it’s like to work with you. They want evidence of the expertise you claim and a sense that you are smart enough to ask the questions that will produce the perfect result for them.
So digital marketing can work. You just have to be doing it right.
Commit to Your Digital Marketing
No marketing effort is going to succeed if you aren’t committed to it. That’s no more and no less true for digital marketing than for traditional. marketing. In either case, commitment means creating a comprehensive plan for what you’ll produce, where you’ll publish it, and how you’ll promote it.
It means creating that plan, sticking to it, and reviewing your progress against the goals you’ve set. Anything short of that is inviting failure if only because you haven’t even defined what success looks like.
Systematize Your Digital Marketing
We all have the best of plans. And then we have days where expedience wins out over the promises we’ve made to ourselves and our team. That long-form article becomes a little shorter. A daily social media schedule becomes three times a week – just for this week …
It’s easier to prevent the urgent from upending the important by creating a system that carves out time for the research, writing, and review that have to be part of any marketing plan.
Schedule time to create a week’s worth of social media posts at a single sitting. You can always pre-empt one if something particularly timely comes up later.
Use tools that allow you to schedule publishing in advance.
Reduce the amount of time and effort that implementation requires and you can devote more time to the truly hard work of creating the content that connects with your audience.
Support Your Digital Marketing
Measure it or it doesn’t matter. It’s not just about doing the work and improving the results over time, though that’s certainly critical. It’s about being able to defend your work and demonstrate how you’re improving results, or at least not just throwing darts blindly at the wall, hoping there’s a target you might hit.
And don’t forget that it’s business results you need to be improving. Adding new subscribers, followers, likes, and downloads is important. But it’s only your digital marketing’s impact on your organization’s bottom line that matters.
There’s no shortage of big-picture questions we can ask ourselves as digital marketers when it comes to conversion optimization on our websites. There are also a more-than-fair number of details to be addressed. How to best build the forms on your website is one of them. Here are some ideas.
The goal of your form is two-fold:
Make it as easy as possible for website visitors to fill out your form and get the information you’ve so lovingly crafted for their edification.
Gather information you need about them to help your marketing efforts
Finding the Goldilocks sweet spot – not too much, not too little – is critical.
As much as you’d like to think your content is the most important thing in your prospects’ world, it’s not. Which means they may be consuming it in what used to be down time – while commuting, waiting for a meeting to start, or when they should be watching their kid’s soccer game. (We’ll hope it’s not the last one.)
So the mobile experience will matter. Stick to a single column to make it easy for mobile users to easily navigate the form. (There’s an argument for this being a best practice on the desktop, as well. Keep the eye movement and scrolling going in one direction – down the screen.)
Audience Preference Matters More
But please don’t take my word for it. Check your site analytics to confirm mobile usage. If it’s low, you can devote your energies elsewhere. (Though you should probably wonder whether your mobile usage numbers are depressed by a poor mobile experience …)
Ask for What You Need
You’ll see all sorts of advice suggesting that asking for anything other than an email address is a terrible idea. That’s not necessarily wrong, but it requires context. For a visitor who’s never been to your site before and about whom you know nothing, asking only for an email address is your best bet.
For visitors who have already consumed some of your content, you might consider progressive profiling – repopulating the form with their email address and then asking for one additional piece of information. Done well, you can build nice profiles of prospects as they qualify themselves.
Done poorly, and you’ll have the “creep factor” to contend with – “I don’t like that you already know my email address” – so you may want to consider your audience. They may or may not be comfortable realizing that you’re tracking and recording their activity on your site.
Thinking more broadly, this is another of our Goldilocks moments. We need to balance the desire to get as many people from filling out the form as possible (by limiting the number of fields) with our marketing needs. If just an email address doesn’t help your marketing for whatever reason, ask for more.
Don’t Make ‘Em Think
Make everything about your form as obvious as possible, especially if it is a form with multiple fields.
Mark optional fields as such
Include prompting text (“please provide your work email” in the email field, for example.)
Be thoughtful in your use of dropdowns.
On that last point, dropdown should make filling in the form easier and help keep the information you get clean and consistent. So while it might help consistency to include a dropdown for “state” in an postal address, finding your state can often be harder than just typing in the two-letter postal abbreviation.
Similarly, be sure that your feedback for users is clear. You’re likely to include some validation coding to ensure that a form has been filled out properly. (Testing for @ in email addresses, testing against the list of postal abbreviations, etc.) If there’s an error that prevents the form from being submitted, make that feedback as clear and specific as possible and highlight the form field(s) where the error was found.
And encourage your coders to cut your visitors a little slack – that postal abbreviation field might not work if you live overseas, for example. So consider making the validation a little looser.
Most importantly, make it clear what your visitor is getting and what they’re giving. Nobody likes surprises and the wrong kind of surprises can put you on the wrong side of privacy regulations.
It’s worth remembering that even though our websites and devices are mediating these touch points, our interactions with prospects are always human. They’re about you and your team connecting with your prospects and their teams.
As you let your fingers do the walking around the world wide web, you’re likely to notice many similarities across B2B marketing websites. Some accomplish their goals better than others, and some are simply dreadful, but many share the same attributes and pages.
As you consider these sites – and your own – the question you should be asking is, “Are these the right pages and are they well executed?”
To help us answer that question, let’s look at the kinds of pages your website needs:
Positioning pages are critical in that they lay out who you are, what you do, who you help, and most critically, what makes you different. The pages that do this will include your home page, your services pages (or product pages), and your capabilities page.
In most cases these pages will be quite general. That’s because we don’t always know everything we’d like to know about the people who are visiting our website. We most likely will build landing pages geared toward specific audience segments, but we still need general pages that paint a broader picture.
It’s worth noting that these landing pages are typically variations on one or more of the above pages. They outline who you are, what you do, and how you help that particular audience segment.
That gives us a nice segue into the next type of pages we’ll want to have on our website. Proof pages must support the claims we make on our positioning pages. You can make any claim you want, but if you can’t back it up your audience is likely to ignore it as marketing fluff.
These proof pages will include content like case studies, testimonials, and articles that demonstrate the value of your solutions to your prospects. You’re not selling on these pages; you’re supporting the reasons a prospect might buy.
As with positioning pages, there is a second kind of proof page. Since most of us in B2B marketing have sales cycles that go beyond a single website visit, we need a way to engage prospects as they make their way through their own buying process.
Call to action are critical part of website marketing because, as we discussed above, a prospect decision-making is going to require more than a single visit to your site. You must engage them during their first visit in a way that provides you the opportunity to encourage them to return. This is typically done via email, though social media can work, as well.
In addition to email newsletter sign-up forms and gated content as means of engagement, you should also consider interactive content. Calculators, simulations, and other tools that let prospects explore how is your solution might impact their situation are in excellent way to encourage engagement and repeat visits.
Finally, we have support pages. These are pages that, well, aren’t important until they are. Or, as I’ve heard it said, “They don’t care about you until they do.”
Once they view you as the source of a possible solution, they want to know if they will feel comfortable with your approach and with working with you. This is where the about page, team bios, and content about your mission, vision, and values come into play.
These secondary sales factors won’t close the deal for you, but they’ll help move a prospect into a position where they will make their final considerations.
Of course, you need to give your prospects a way to connect with you. You could argue that the contact page is unnecessary – you should be able to connect from any page on the site. While that’s true – your primary means of contact should be available on every page – convention has a Contact link at the far right side of the main menu on just about every site you’ll ever visit. Why mess with convention?
If your site lays these types of pages out in compelling fashion for each audience segment you are targeting, you should maximize your website conversions. And no matter the importance we may place on strong branding and snappily written article titles, the bottom line is, Does my website convert visitors to clients?