My last column focused on content issues that frustrate readers and turn them away. Interestingly, one of the biggest show stoppers I reported has nothing to do with the content itself. And, while it may not be as much fun as talking about pretty pictures and epic content, or the latest whiz bang tech, ignoring this one thing can sink your content marketing program.
I am talking, of course, about your website.
Wait – but isn’t the content the star (or king, more accurately) in content marketing, you ask? And the social channels are the supporting actor/queen, right?
Fact is, the website is often the critical content marketing hub. If it is not designed to support your efforts, well, the whole thing can come off the rails.
Dangers in Web Paradise
Online content marketing differs from social media marketing by relying on websites and pages as homes for content.
The Content Marketing Institute explains: “The center of gravity for content marketing is a brand website — whether a branded URL like AmericanExpress.com or a microsite for a brand’s specific product, like Amex’s Open Forum. Social networks are vital to the success of content marketing efforts, but here, Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ are used primarily as a distributor of links back to the content on the brand’s website — not as containers of the content itself.”
The content is often part of an effort that’s designed to attract prospects, capture their info, and bring them into the sales process. The goal is to use the content to entice and engage customers and coax them back to home base (just like with inbound marketing).
So, while you do need to ensure that the content is effective and of the highest quality, your efforts are for naught if the website doesn’t deliver.
- BtoB vendor web sites are inadequate and hard to navigate
- Content that comes with too many requirements for downloading
- Providing mobile access to content is now critical
- BtoB buyers want depth of content, as well as accessibility
The problems can relate to general website design issues, and specific ones related to content access.
Top Web metrics guru and Occam’s Razor blogger Avinash Kaushik writes about the short shrift websites are often given these days:
“This is a new trend amongst companies. Swept up in the fervor of Google+, Facebook, YouTube and other social platforms, they are massively shifting their resources into their presence on these new platforms… that all this seems to come at the cost of investing resources on efforts related to the company’s website.”
The website may be the destination and home for the content; the first step on the buying journey; and/or, it may be the last place the customer goes before buying, or to otherwise indicate their interest. How do you ensure the trip goes smoothly, and does not get derailed along the way?
From Problems to Solutions
Ideally, you want to give people an easy way to discover and access the content, whether it is hosted on your home page, a landing page, or micro site. You also want to capture their information.
If your content happens to be a blog post; the access part is easy. What might not be so clear is how to use the posts and blog design to support the overall marketing effort. This Social Media Examiner article explains how to generate more leads with your blog, e.g. ways to use calls-to-action and landing pages in pursuit of this goal.
When the content is not featured front and center like on a blog, or requires one or more steps to find and download it, there can be a number of potential challenges .
While it might seem obvious to use a nice Web design and clear signposts for the content, and minimize access barriers, the sad fact is that it is much easier to get this wrong. True, landing pages tend to be simpler and deployed for the very purpose of registering users and providing content access. Yet effective landing page design is not trivial; it is an art as well as a science (I found these articles to be helpful; the first on Yahoo! Small Business Advisor: 15 Tips for Creating Blog Landing Pages that Convert, and the second, on Inbound Now: The Anatomy of a Perfect Call to Action & Why they are Critical for Site Conversions).
Understanding User Behavior
The pros work hard at optimizing sites, and rely on a range of tools to do this. However their efforts often fall short, as Avinash points out in the above-cited post:
“Every single one has an impressive array of tools… but overall their site stinks, their customer experience (end-to-end) is awful, and their digital strategy is… adding 1/10th the value it should. Why? Teams optimize for acquisition metrics, behavior, and outcome metrics.”
Due to siloed teams and incentive systems, however, these things are often looked at in isolation, instead of end-to-end, he reports.
How can one understand how users behave on sites, and where they get confused or jump ship?
Behavioral analytics (or in-page analytics, as some call it) can help out tremendously here. Short of actually looking over every user’s shoulder to see where they are running into problems, solutions offered by vendors like ClickTale (a client) give site designers a way to understand user behavior on a massive scale. In-page analytics software in combination with A/B testing solutions from companies like Optimizely are a powerful combination, when it comes to improving websites and pages.
What steps can one take to pinpoint issues and improve sites? I asked Dror Davidoff of ClickTale; he sent these tips:
- Observe and analyze the behavior of visitors so you can formulate hypotheses that will help you create your test experiments and compare results. In-page analytics features like heatmaps, forms analysis, session recordings and conversion funnels will show you where people click and hover the most, or abandon the page.
- After doing the analytics and formulating the hypotheses, test them on a small portion of your visitors using A/B testing tools you can test different designs of the same page. You can also run multivariate tests of the layout of your pages and observe how your focus visitors behave.
- After testing several pages or elements, observe the behavior of your visitors, analyze it and apply the most effective changes.
- Formulate more hypotheses, test again and make changes. This is an ever-ending, iterative process that will ensure your website’s design will always be successful.
I also asked Dror for some Web design tips, based on his experiences in helping companies understand user behavior and optimize websites. He sent these suggestions:
- For large content sites, an internal search is a must, to ease navigation and help visitors find what they want quickly.
- If obtaining information requires multiple clicks, your visitors will abandon the page quickly. Make the paths clear and easy to follow.
- When designing for optimum navigation, heed the ‘keep it simple’ adage.
- Minimalist design is not only ideal for desktop viewing but also for mobile devices, where pages should not be excessively crowded.
- There are several techniques for ensuring that less is more. Put the most important text and images on the main page (homepage, product page, services, etc.).
- Do not overcrowd the navigation bars; use arrows and other visual cues to help navigation
- Keep paragraphs short, with links to more information in other pages, to PDFs or to SlideShare files, for example.
- Do not use excessive options that confuse your visitors, and make sure that your calls-to-action are clear and straightforward.
- Break up blocks of text with images, buttons, links, different heading sizes and more. Do not however go overboard. Keep it clean!
There are many facets of Web design and content marketing processes and systems; it is hard to do these topics justice in one brief column. My goal was to highlight the importance of one of the cornerstones that people might otherwise under-invest in or take for granted.
The website is an important part of content marketing. Take the steps needed to ensure that it is linchpin, and not a barrier, for success.