Let's find out what the experts think...
Last year here at Cicada, we worked with a number of new clients who had nice-looking websites produced by designers they know and trust. As we worked with these customers on the 'discovery process' at the start of the projects, the same issue arose time and time again... While our clients thought their websites looked good, they couldn’t understand why they just weren’t doing well enough at getting visitors and converting them into leads.
We had a good idea why this was, but to bring more oomph to our argument, we spoke to four experts in effective site design to find out their views on the differences between a brochure website that looks great, into one that delivers enquiries for your business. Our four interviewees are from different professional backgrounds within the digital industry, and we were intrigued to find out what they thought.
We spoke to:
- Jayne Reddyhoff, Founder and Director of the Wallingford-based Ecommerce Adviser, providing business-focused online marketing services and consultancy to ambitious Ecommerce businesses
- Simon Lassam, Managing Director at Ridgeway, a web design and digital marketing agency based in Witney.
- Shelley Hoppe, CEO at Southerly, content strategists and writers based in London.
- Peter Meinertzhagen, Digital Marketing Manager at Journl, creators of the personal organiser app.
Although our respondents are from a variety of industries, some common themes arose: attitude, strategy, user experience and design.
When you’re running any website, it seems obvious to say it should be clear about its purpose. Most websites should be putting the customer at the centre of all its activity. But this is often not the case and can require a shift in a client’s whole marketing perspective.
'I think the main difference between a brochure and a lead generation website', says Jayne Reddyhoff, Director of The Ecommerce Adviser, 'is that a brochure website is about us, the company¸ and a lead generation site is about you, the customer'.
Look at Hubspot, the experts in lead generation, and one of their main landing pages. 'GROW YOUR BUSINESS' they say. Big and bold, they are clearly there for YOU. They give you clear directions to get on with it: 'Start a Free Trial' or 'Learn More...'
Understanding the attitude of internet users is also important.
Shelley Hoppe, CEO at Southerly, a London-based creative content agency, points out: 'People these days expect something different from a website. Like many people, I use the internet a lot, from grocery shopping to buying new shoes, but if I go to a website that looks static then it puts me off.
'If your website looks dead then people might assume that it is', she continues, 'That attitude isn’t unusual among people who live their lives on the internet'.
In short, the difference between a lead generation website and a brochure website is a matter of attitude. It is the difference between putting your customers at the centre of your business or yourselves.
But it is also a case of how your customers perceive you: Are you alive or dead?!
2. User Experience
Once you’ve determined whether or not you have a customer-focused attitude, it’s now time to reflect this through your website.
Starting to make your website relevant to your customer means developing a customer persona: a fictional but well developed account of someone in your target audience.
At Southerly, with any given client, they develop multi-dimensional characters in a persona workshop. A persona will be given a name, age, and profession. They’ll paint a picture of their personal lives such as what car they drive, where they go on holiday and the names of their kids or cats.
They’ll then go onto describe their world at work, including the problems they face and a catalyst that may cause them to seek help. It’s describing this catalyst that then makes it easier for you the marketer to come up with content ideas to assist the persona with their need.
This allows them to really embody their customer and understand what makes them tick in the online world: what are their pain points, and how can the website respond?
Ever since Southerly began writing blog articles directly speaking to their personas, they noticed a marked improvement in traffic and conversions.
'It took a while to build up a critical mass of content, and really find our audience, but it was worth the effort and the wait', explains Shelley.
'Last year we noticed people subscribing to the blog, then downloading resources. Then it grew and now the people coming to Southerly are real leads with proper budgets in place'.
Now it’s time to explore your customer journey. This is a careful balance between design and usability, as we’ll discuss later.
Essentially though, you are seeing your website through the eyes of a real person – the persona you’ve just created - and taking the journey from landing on your website to achieving an objective. This could be making a purchase, signing up to a newsletter, registering for an event, applying for a job or contacting you directly.
Why don’t you try it now on your website? As you do this, take note of the obstacles between you and making a quick and easy decision to get what you want from the website. You can then address these issues later.
Jayne Reddyhoff uses an example of one of their clients, a leading B2B software company, to demonstrate the value of a customer journey. 'One of the things they wanted to do is have a website that allows their potential customers to find the information they need, whatever their perspective'.
A brochure site, Jayne argues, 'would only allow people who already know the product to find it, rather than someone who’s looking for a solution to their specific problem'.
Some people don’t always know exactly what they’re looking for. 'Many people in different industries don’t realise that a service or product designed for industry X can also work in industry Y and won’t necessarily believe that their supplier can solve their problem'.
Other functions that allow for a problem free journey might be:
- Design that is appealing and intuitive
- Clear Calls to Action that lead to where they say they do
- Sign-ups forms that are helpful to the user and allow you to keep in touch
- White space between content for easy reading
- Clear concise content that is useful, shareable and memorable
Don’t forget: track these ‘touch points’ where ever you can in Google Analytics so that you can really understand how users are interacting with your site.
Find out more about Customer Journey in the Smart Insights' Customer Journey Report (2014)
Pretty vs functional
The design of your website is a key aspect of its usability. But be careful: a pretty website doesn’t necessarily mean a usable website.
'A car will only function if it’s designed by a team with specialisms relating to its different parts' says Simon Lassam, MD of Ridgeway.
'Engine, wheels, steering wheel, dashboard etc are all specialist components. If you give the design to the guy who knows what makes a nice-looking car, it doesn’t mean the car will perform well.
'It’s the same with websites. If you hire the guy who can make it look nice, he doesn’t necessarily know how to make it perform. This is true of so many small business websites'.
The process of optimising your website for lead-generation starts before you even begin building it. 'Really the first question from any designer should be ‘who is your target audience', says Simon.
'What does success look like’ and ‘how much time do you have to manage and contribute to the website’. If the business doesn’t know the answers to those questions, there’s some research to do before anyone starts thinking about what the site should look like'.
Underpinning your website’s design and user experience is a focus on strategy, argues Simon Lassam, 'This is why Ridgeway is organised in the way it is, and it’s why you need a mix of skills to make a website that will deliver.
'In 20 years of working in the industry, I’ve not met one person who has it all: UX knowledge, design, technical, marketing, SEO and strategy'.
A website that is strategy-driven should have clear goals for winning and retaining customers.
Southerly has worked hard at this. 'An interactive website can provide a good way of looking after your needs', says Shelley. 'It’s an opportunity to be friends with, and gain confidence from your customers.
'As a customer, you may not quite be ready to make a phone call, but you may want to keep in touch loosely, and be reminded of them via social media, a newsletter or a blog feed'.
Southerly has discovered the value of monitoring their leads through analysing what they download from their site:
'Particularly with B2B companies, the downloadable guide, white paper or free template is a good sales tool. It allows potential leads to understand you better so they can make an informed enquiry.
'It can also give you an in-depth understanding of your prospects'.
Hubspot have a useful matrix to help you visualise how you can optimise your website to lead your customers from 'strangers' through to 'promoters'. They use the 'attract-convert-close-delight' funnel below:
Can you have BOTH?
So, is this all to say that a lead generation website is definitively better than a brochure website? Peter Meinertzhagen, Digital Marketing Manager at Journl, suggests 'most websites should have a mix of the two'.
'Pure lead generation requires a different kind of design than that of a brochure website,' he says. 'Both need considering and they need to work together'.
Simon Lassam expands on this: 'some clients do just want a website presence, and that’s fine as long as they’re not expecting the website to deliver any new customers directly.
'But if there’s a need for it to convert leads of any nature into customers of any nature, then the level of thought that goes into the website needs to be above and beyond ‘look and feel’'.