If you're in the professional services industry, you already know that the competition today is fierce. What many executives don't know, however, is just how critical a B2B website is in helping professional services firms stand out from the rest of the pack.
So, how important is it? The Hinge Research Institute has found that 80% of professional services buyers check out a firm's website to evaluate them as a potential provider.
How Buyers Check Out Potential Professional Services Providers
This makes your website the most common source of information for buyers considering your services - far exceeding traditional references. Notably, other sources like online search and social media may ultimately lead buyers to your website as well.
But a firm's website isn't just important because of the information it provides. It also establishes credibility, and this dimension is more essential than many organizations realize. Our recent study on effective referral marketing found that a poor website was among the top reasons buyers rule out providers that have been referred to them - in fact, low-quality websites were cited as a disqualifier by about 30% of buyers. Why is that? Because individuals have grown so accustomed to highly sophisticated and engaging consumer websites that they expect the same of business websites.
The continued growth in digital consumption has propelled B2B websites to be more important than ever. But how do you create a successful site that builds credibility, informs your audience, and drives your overall online presence forward?
Let's examine seven best practices that will help you do just that.
1) Showcase educational content.
When prospects visit your site, they are typically looking for information related to their problems and for evidence of your expertise has addressed those types of problems. By creating valuable educational content, you can address both information and past performance in one fell swoop.
Keep all of your content in an organized "library" or "resources" section that is accessible right from your homepage. This should be a top-level subpage, placed prominently in your site navigation. On the library page itself, users should be able to organize your content by topic or format type.
You should never include promotional materials like sales sheets, sales presentations, brochures, or company news in this section. Instead, this is a hub for genuinely educational resources: how-to guides, whitepapers, research studies, and webinars. Make sure your content is professionally produced and demonstrates your firm's areas of relevant expertise clearly. The writing and design should build your credibility, not undermine it.
If you're going to commit to content, you must truly commit, as well - never let your library page stagnate. Update your library consistently with new content to demonstrate an ongoing dedication to education and industry engagement.
2) Highlight premium content to generate leads.
An educational ebook is a more in-depth, "premium" form of content than a blog post. While a blog post should be freely accessible to anyone in order to draw visitors, you may ask for useful information such as a visitor's email address before allowing them to download premium content.
This strategy is called "gating" content. Gated content requires a form submission of some sort. If you ask for too many personal details, visitors will be discouraged, but they are usually willing to exchange their names and email addresses for valuable content - and these are some of the most useful pieces of information you can collect. With this data in hand, you can continue to nurture and draw in target audiences via content that aligns to the various stages of engagement. Relying on content that converts is a powerful and fundamental lead generation strategy.
How will visitors find your gated content in the first place? Include attractive and relevant offers for premium content such as ebooks in your freely accessible content (i.e.blog posts) at the middle or the end, where it is noticeable without being intrusive.
3) Make your site mobile-friendly.
More and more people are accessing B2B websites through mobile. These screens are smaller, and site designs that are beautiful and functional on a laptop or desktop display may be jumbled and unintuitive on a mobile device.
To give visitors the best possible experience, it's important to prioritize mobile-friendliness in your design. After all, users who have a bad experience accessing your site a mobile device will leave quickly and most likely not come back. In fact, through it's most recent algorithm update "Mobilegeddon" Google is now adjusting rankings based on mobile-friendliness and displaying search results with "mobile-friendly" tags. With this update, it's clear that a site's ease of use for mobile users makes a significant impact on a site's overall visibility.
How can you ensure that your site is mobile-friendly? The answer lies in responsive design. This technique uses CSS to create sites that will adapt fluidly, elegantly, and functionally to the dimensions of a user's device, creating a great experience for all of your visitors.
4) Optimize your site for search engine indexing.
Above, I mentioned that mobile-friendliness can impact your site's ranking in search engine results. There are many other "ranking signals" as well, and using them deliberately is crucial for building visibility online and for maximizing your search engine indexing.
While effective search engine optimization (or SEO) is a massive topic, some of the most essential SEO best practices include:
- Be sure that your pages have unique titles and "meta" descriptions, so Google (and searchers) can tell exactly what each page is about.
- Use the "image alt" HTML tag to give context to images on your site. This will both improve accessibility for users and help Google understand the content of your images.
- Include relevant keyword phrases. Which phrases do folks search for when they're looking for expertise like yours? Include these phrases in both your site copy and metadata. Don't go overboard trying to cram in keyword phrases, though - instead, use only the most natural and relevant ones.
- Use Google Webmaster Tools to monitor your site's performance, leveraging the data to increase traffic and produce more relevant content. If visitors are flocking to blogs on a particular topic, this may be a good area for you to focus on.
Even more than other aspects of online marketing, SEO best practices are quickly and constantly evolving. Make sure your team is prepared to keep up with the latest SEO techniques and guide your strategy accordingly.
5) Create clear calls-to-action.
All too often, visitors who want to learn more or explore services on a B2B website are left without a clear idea of what they should do to proceed. If they can't tell how to contact you (or whatever else they seek to do) easily, they will simply move on.
This is why it's essential to include clear, attractive calls-to-action that usher visitors forward to a particular task, explaining what to do next. These typically take the form of bright, descriptive buttons. As you plan your website (or website upgrade), you should create an offer strategy that highlights which calls-to-action will be placed on a given page, and why. Think of this as setting forth a roadmap for the target personas your website seeks to connect with.
Wherever they reside, calls-to-action should stand our from the rest of the page and should be easy to understand. Their text should be descriptive, specific, and active - "Get my free evaluation" rather than "Submit."
At their most effective, calls-to-action are part of a detailed science. Use A/B testing to compare visitors' responses to variations on your calls-to-action experimenting with different text, colors, etc. to increase click and conversion rates.
6) Demonstrate your firm's expertise.
Your specialized expertise is ultimately what sets you apart in the marketplace. Without it, no amount of marketing-savvy will help you succeed. With this in mind, your expertise should also lie at the heart of everything you do online.
Use imagery and language that will resonate with your target audience. Your design and copy should reinforce your credibility, illustrating your firm's knowledge and service offerings, and clarifying your expertise so visitors understand exactly what you know and how you can help them.
Help visitors get to know you by providing detailed bios of the people in your firm, including their pictures, background, experience, recent projects, professional associations, and any other relevant information. Video features and firm overviews are another way to engaging, "face-to-face" introduction to your organization, its people, and its culture. Depending on your firm's culture and comfort level with social media, including links to social connections is useful and helps staff seem more approachable.
7) Make your site easy to navigate.
As we've discussed above, your site should provide a great deal of detailed information - but it must be clearly organized and easy to navigate. Otherwise, visitors might become overwhelmed, or may not find the right information in the first place. Unlike entertainment websites where visitors might be more willing to search for 'hidden' information, the website navigation architecture (information architecture) in a B2B website is not the place to get clever as it will only frustrate visitors - wasting their time and prompting them to bail out!
Be sure to keep your navigation menus simple and uncluttered, with no more than six top-level categories. You can guide users to more specific subsets of pages through dropdown menus - just make certain these menus are easy to find and use font that is large and legible. As a rule, you should avoid small text links throughout your site, and remember that user interface is very important for EEO considerations.
At the end of the day, your website's structure and design are the means through which you accomplish the website's ultimate goal - getting the right information to the right people, and eventually converting those visitors into buyers. As you consider a new site or site renovation, make sure the goals and the best practices outlined above are at the top of your list. If you follow these guidelines, you will be well-situated to stand out from the rest of the marketplace.
For more website best practices, download our Lead Generating Website Guide.