Why is it that B2B websites are so terrible at engaging the people they're designed to serve?
The simple answer is because companies tend to design websites based on what they think is important, rather than what their prospects and customers value. This has been said again, and again...and again. In fact, one of my most highly read posts, even today, is B2B Websites Not Effective—a post I wrote June 5, 2006.
The other issue is that websites are political hot potatoes. For some reason, there seem to be a lot of territorial turf wars. Not sure why, when the goal is to engage prospects and customers to build new and ongoing relationships that result in your selling more stuff.
But, that's a conundrum for another post.
What I'd like to know is who wrote the rule that says all corporate websites must follow a standard navigation format?
You know what I mean. That siloed, uninteresting and uninformative menu that includes stuff like:
- Case Studies
- About Us
Does this navigation say "All About You" or "All About Us?"
Confronted by this navigation, visitors look at your homepage to try to find a clue about what to do next based on their purpose for the visit. [Read try to find something valuable to them.]
Unfortunately, the top half of most websites is now consumed by a big banner graphic or flash widget that immediately requires us to scroll down if whatever it features is not why we came.
Then, perhaps there are a span of boxes across the bottom that offer choices like:
- Latest News/Press - see more about why we're so terrific.
- Solution Focus - click to learn more about our product feeds and speeds.
- Customer story - gosh, I hope that's about a customer like me...oh, only the first paragraph. The rest of it talks about your products with a couple of obnoxiously Rah! Rah! testimonial quotes called out in the sidebars.
Or maybe you're featuring a new white paper with a snazzy cover on a topic I'm actually interested in learning more about.
Now we're getting somewhere. Oh...you want me to give you 20 fields of my personal information? Hmm. Let me go do a search and see if I can find out the same stuff somewhere else...
Hmm. The only other text on the page says, "We're the leading provider of..."
Oh, wait. There's a tiny link to your corporate blog up in the little navigation at the very top of the page. Maybe I can find something interesting there...click. Hmm. More stuff all about you. No wonder independent blogs are more highly thought of than corporate ones.
Doesn't this scenario make you wonder what you can do to improve user experience at your website? Your company's website may not be this bad, but I'm pretty sure that it can use some improvement to meet your prospects' ideas about value delivery. [Read immediate gratification for dropping by.]
Here are a couple of tips:
- Figure out the top 3 reasons people who need what you sell visit your website. If it's a complex sale, I can guarantee you that they're not looking for the "contact a sales rep" button on their first visit. Then make sure your homepage addresses those three things in a noticeable manner.
- Create navigation that actually makes sense to your website visitors based on the problems your offerings help them solve. [Even if you must keep the standard format, you need to figure out how to immediately engage your visitor traffic. Hyper links, call outs in your sidebars, something.]
- Eliminate dead ends. When your visitors have enough gumption to click on a link, make sure you deliver on the promise for that click and that you've got a pathway to pull them more deeply into the topic they've just told you they find valuable.
- Make engaging with you simple. Allow them to dole out their information a bit at a time in exchange for content they value. Choose when you do that carefully. For example, you might provide an excerpt or executive summary of a white paper to prove it's worth it for them to part with information. Be sure you're only asking for information you need right now based on our relationship.
For example, do you really need my street address when I download a white paper? Short forms will deliver a much higher opt-in rate. Just saying.
Addressing your website engagement is not about structural redesign so much as it's about the words used and the options provided. Nothing a little website content renovation can't fix, in most cases. It's all about perspective. Theirs—not yours.
I'll leave you with the same quote I used to end the 2006 post. For many b2b companies, this quote is—unfortunately—still true:
"Companies are still designing for themselves rather than for their customers. They place serious barriers in the way of prospects who use the Web to discover companies to put on their shortlists."