Comparing Apples, Oranges & Websites

I’ve recently completed a research piece on the websites of the top 100 small businesses to work for. The analysis was intended to compare the sites to see which appeared to be performing effectively, and which weren’t. The point of this post is to examine the commonalities, the points of interest and to highlight some of the areas could be changed to attract more visitors to their websites and increase their conversions. Despite the fact that the analysis looked at the sites of a specific group of companies, many of the issues are shared by the majority of organisations and hopefully this article should be helpful to anyone that has a company website that isn’t performing quite as well as it should be.

Comparing the websites of the companies in the “Top 100 small businesses to work for” is definitely not an exercise in comparing like with like. We are talking apples, oranges and bananas! Almost every company on the list does something different and it seems almost unfair to compare, for example, a marketing agency with an engineering specialist. However, I’m of the opinion that your company website should be having an impact on the bottom line, no matter what you do and every company should be striving for best practise.

B2B versus B2C

Perhaps unsurprisingly the companies that scored highest were B2C companies that transact their business online. The ones right at the bottom of the heap were mainly niche B2B companies whose websites are not aimed at driving a transaction. I would suggest that the more niche your product or service, the more important it is to have a website that demonstrates your expertise and clearly shows that you can help your customers solve their problems.

As with other groups of organisations we have looked at, the sites break down into four broad categories:

Why bother websites: Probably more of an impediment than an asset to the businesses concerned. Generally old sites in dire need of an update. Missing security certificates, no content, confusing messaging and not mobile optimised. If these sites were shop windows, no one would go into the shop! Thankfully only 7 sites in this category.

Look at me websites: Nicer looking, more modern and slicker but very inwardly focused and displaying little understanding of their customers and how they can help them. Content focused on the “latest news” with nothing that actually helps a visitor to understand how the company can help. Some evidence of marketing automation, or lead capture technologies but probably left over from a free trial rather than a well implemented solution.

A for Effort websites: Well thought out sites that were clearly built with the customer in mind. Helpful buyer focused content but hampered by weak conversion pathways “talk to sales”, “request a call” etc… The companies involved have clearly invested time and money but are neglecting a couple of key areas that would really make a difference.

Top of the class websites: The top performers have clearly spent the time, effort and money on transforming their websites (or got good external advice). Well used marketing automation, clear messaging and engaging conversion pathways were evident in all cases and it wouldn’t be a huge leap to postulate that these companies were getting a great return on the investment in their sites. There were only a handful of companies that fell into this category.

Based on the data and observations from myself and my team, here are my top recommendations for those that want to move to the top of the class:

Sort out your Home Page:

The majority of the sites would pass the 5 second rule — can a visitor work out what you do or how you can help within 5 seconds of hitting the website? That being said, some were genuinely confusing and I suspect this would be supported by higher than usual bounce rates when visitors didn’t find what they were looking for.

Website building 101 demands that you look at your site from the point of view of a prospective customer, with an understanding of how they would ask for help. Many of the sites we looked at suffered from generic messaging “we are focused on our customers” “we are a leading international business”.

Imagine stripping away the branding and logos and asking yourself if your site is genuinely helpful to a visitor.

Use sub-headers:

Use sub headers on your homepage. Describe (briefly) what you offer and how you can help, especially if you offer a range of solutions. Focus on the pain points, problems or challenges your visitors are experiencing and how you can help. Demonstrate that you can actually help them solve their problems and bear in mind they are really not that interested in you. You don’t have long to hook them in before they head back to Google and the next search result — make it count.

Add some calls-to-action:

The process of buying from you has lots of tiny steps rather than one big one. It’s really important that your website helps your customers to take some of these steps. Calls to action on your homepage help direct your visitors to another page that corresponds to where they are in their buying journey. Are they looking for answers? do they want to compare your solution? Do they want your pricing guide?

Every page on your site should be looking to convert your visitor into a lead (or quickly inform them that you are not the right fit for them) There should always be a clear next step or choice of next steps, reading an article, downloading a checklist, booking a meeting etc…

If they have read an interesting article that simply ends, what do they do next? If you don’t give them an option they will probably bounce off your site and be lost to you!

Consider Marketing Automation:

Only 12% of the companies we looked at were using a marketing automation platform, the majority opting for Hubspot. A further 12% opted for an IP capture tool for lead generation.

Of these here is my thoughts:

  • Those that had gated content were using forms that are too long and perhaps too invasive and I would guess that they don’t convert.
  • Using several platforms simultaneously can be a very bad idea (no matter what the sales guy who persuades you to run a side by side test says!)
  • Several of the sites running marketing automation had no conversion points, making me wonder why they had bought the platform in the first place.

A large proportion of the calls to action we did find were along the lines of “Talk to Sales’, being realistic, I don’t think anyone ever really wants to talk to sales!

In conversation with some of the companies we learned that several of the marketing automation and lead capture trackers we found were left over from free trials that didn’t work. This illustrates a trend towards trying out multiple tools (often simultaneously) without getting the help or advice that would allow you to get the best from the tool you are trying.

Gated Content:

It’s difficult to convert traffic and nurture your leads if you don’t know who is visiting your website? There are free tools like Leadin that you can use to try gating some of your content.

However — take care with this approach and make sure you understand your audience and how highly they might value a particular piece of content. No one wants to fill in a form in exchange for a badly written, generic piece of clickbait. Try gating after the fact: once they have read a valuable piece of content, try asking them to sign up to your next webinar or mailing list. This way you have clearly demonstrated your understanding and expertise before asking them to reciprocate.

Be careful with your forms:

Very few people will want to give up their inside leg measurement, phone number and home address in exchange for a whitepaper, whereas someone that wants a free trial is probably happy to talk to your team about the trial.

Make sure the information you collect from someone is commensurate with what they are getting from you. Realistically, you can find most of the data out anyway and if all you are going to do is nurture the lead, why ask for anything other than an email address? If you are really canny, you can use a smart form that asks for a different piece of information each time a prospect interacts with you.

Technical aspects:

As well as looking at the marketing aspects of the websites, we measured all 100 sites using website grader — a free online tool that grades sites against key metrics, including performance, mobile readiness, SEO and security — we saw some interesting trends:

The vast majority (71%) of the sites performed well from a technical standpoint with the top 5 scoring more than 95/100. 10% were just about OK and the remaining sites were very poor with no security certificate and lots of basic seo errors. Most of the sites that scored poorly were not mobile optimised!

It’s clear from our research that the majority of the companies involved had put some work into raising the technical standard of their sites. I suspect that the bottom 10% don’t really care and are unlikely to ever

Blogs and newsfeeds:

No matter what sector you operate in please date your blog posts. It’s frustrating to read a blog post purporting to be the latest thinking about XYZ only to find out later that it was written 3 years ago. The chances are that the information is out of date and irrelevant to the reader.

The world moves very fast and prospective customers want to know that they are reading something that is relevant and useful to them. Whether you are writing an article sharing insight on the challenges your customers face, helping them to explore solutions and what their options are or an announcement about an acquisition and its impact on your industry it will quickly become out of date.

Whilst a company newsfeed is nice to have and some customers may read it, the majority couldn’t give a hoot about your latest sponsored bike ride or company day out. If you are going to take the time to produce content, why waste an hour writing about something that doesn’t interest or help your visitors. Concentrate instead on answering common questions or sharing useful knowledge. Be mindful of the way people search too, well written blogs and content that answers questions is much more likely to attract visitors than an interview with your newest consultant!

Industry Jargon & meaningless acronyms:

The reason most customers will contact you is because they have a problem to solve that they think you can help with. You are experts in what you do but it’s likely that they are not! Riddling your site with industry jargon, acronyms and insider terms can be a dangerous game unless you know your customers use the same language.

If your customer can’t understand your offering in a way that they understand, they will go elsewhere, which is why it’s important to….

Talk to your customers:

One of the key factors that set the top sites we looked at apart from the chasing pack, was a clear demonstration that the companies concerned understood their customers and how they help them. Content, structure and calls to action all demonstrated a willingness to be helpful and provide relevant advice.

If you are trying to improve your website (and all other communication with customers and prospects), and for me that means make it work harder as a business asset. The starting point is developing an understanding of your customers and what they are looking for as well as understanding what makes you different. I think everything should stem from this. Just because a company you admire has live chat, it doesn’t mean that you need it — ask your customers.

…. and finally

In summary, your website is an important business asset, it’s marketing, pre-sales and sales all rolled into one. In the same way that you are constantly looking to train, empower and up-skill your staff, you should constantly be looking at ways to increase the performance of your website. That’s not to say you need to blow your marketing budget on a new site. Small iterative changes can be very effective — changing the title of a blog that gets no traffic, updating a piece of content that worked well or adding a new lead flow.

If you would like a quick check to see what is right and what is wrong with your website here is a great tool that will give you insight into the areas you can improve:

Alternatively, if you are one of the companies on the list, we have the data from our research — and can provide you with a more detailed insight into your own website and how you compare with the rest of the companies on the list. If you are not on the list but have made it all the way through, drop me a line and I’ll be happy to give you some useful feedback, or compare your site with your biggest competitors….

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