Are companies taking the view that the internet and other forms of sales and marketing are intrinsically linked?
Phil Page, Managing Director, Compass Contract Hire: “We are certainly marketing electronically rather than sending out paper these days. But I think the danger of relying entirely on the internet is that you become reactive, rather than proactive. Something has been lost between the supplier and the customer in terms of communication. You can become more remote from each other, and that isn’t good for building and sustaining relationships.”
Felix Bolger, Managing Director, Homelodge Buildings: “I take a holistic approach; you can’t have one without the other – if I do a mailshot, it will give people a certain amount of information and is designed to prompt them to come to our website. But there’s got to be a strong brand identity across everything that we do.”
Richard Sawney, Finance Director, Micheldever Tyre Services: “It has become intrinsic – and it has to be. There are more and more avenues for expenditure though, so you have to decide whether to spread yourself thinly, or channel your approach. We’re still in Yellow Pages for example, and from tracking our customers, we know it’s still a good market for us.”
Rick Munro, Partner, Lamport Bassitt: “My view is that the internet is just one of many tools. Sales and marketing haven’t changed, but, in the modern era, the internet is a means of obtaining information fast, rather than doing tedious research. At the end of the day, if you’re looking for a company to do business with, the internet can only be a shop window. Initially, it’s all one way, until you start using the ‘contact us’ section – so that element needs to be promoted more. We want to get more information from the people visiting the site – names, emails and phone numbers, so that the internet becomes less of a shop window and more like meeting someone at a drinks party and exchanging cards. We’re also using it increasingly as a recruitment tool and will get the trainees to post a report in their own words about what a typical day here is like. We’ll get hundreds of applicants who will check out the website first.”
Louise Moir, Head of Marketing, Haskins Garden Centres: “Any marketing should translate easily to the website because all your marketing materials should be a reflection of the business. Now, whenever we are planning anything for a store, it will also have a home on the website. All our press releases for example, will be put straight onto the web too, and queries to staff in the store will be posted as FAQs on the web.”
Ross Breckenridge, Director, B&V Digital: “Internet presence has to be linked to all the other forms of sales and marketing. If you were to launch a new coach service for instance, then your website would have to be of the same standard as National Express - they set the height of the bar. A company would struggle to compete in that market with a website which doesn’t have an on-line timetable, booking facility and payment on line, with the customer printing off their own ticket. It’s an example of how the website has to be intrinsically linked to so many different many facets of the company. But it comes back to the purpose of the website, and I’m not sure companies have always thought this through. For example, if I go to a hire company’s website, I want to see prices and availability, and then have the option of making a booking, paying for it by card, and receiving confirmation of delivery. Instead, you’ll find a lot of sites will just have reams of product information.”
www.bvdigital.co.uk - internet marketing consultants specialising in web design and development, search engine marketing, email marketing, audio and video services, online PR, social media, viral marketing, digital marketing strategy; part of B&V Creative, a full-service marketing, design and public relations firm established twenty-seven years ago. firstname.lastname@example.org
www.compassleasing.co.uk - Vehicle funding specialists.
www.haskins.co.uk - family-owned garden centre business with four outlets.
www.homelodge.co.uk - modular timber buildings for domestic and commercial use.
www.lamportbassitt.co.uk - business and personal lawyers.
www.micheldever.co.uk - the country’s largest independent tyre wholesaler, distributor and retailer.
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Please do feel free to comment on any of the issues raised. The second part of this report will be published in the second quarter of 2010.
What are your biggest frustrations when you go onto a potential supplier’s website?
Phil Page, Managing Director, Compass Contract Hire: “I get very frustrated if a website is hard to navigate – and I find a lot of sites have either been designed by a younger generation or are designed to appeal to a younger generation. I also like being able to download a brochure from a company – and find it annoying if I can’t.”
Felix Bolger, Managing Director, Homelodge Buildings: “I hate it when it isn’t clear where to go on a site; for example, if I just want a table, but have to work out that I need to go to the dining room section. A site has to be easy to navigate. It’s also frustrating when something is listed but when you hit the button you see a notice on the screen that the page is no longer available.”
Richard Sawney, Finance Director, Micheldever Tyre Services: “I also don’t want to spend a long time on any site because we’re all in a hurry these days. I want to have clear, concise directions for how to get something, and I like the pages to be uncluttered.”
Rick Munro, Partner, Lamport Bassitt: “Nobody wants to wait for more than a few seconds to access what they want, so it needs to load quickly. The number of clicks is important too. It still surprises me how many sites don’t guide you easily to where you need to go next. People just come off a site if they get frustrated. Our ‘bounce’ rate, the proportion of people leaving the website after seeing just one page is down to 23% now, which is good; if you have a bounce rate over 50% you have a problem.”
Louise Moir, Head of Marketing, Haskins Garden Centres: “I don’t like being bombarded with pointless emails from websites you’ve used – you end up just deleting them anyway. On our new website we do have a function for get people to sign up for our emails but we’re making sure we only send out relevant and informative material, and not too frequently. I hope their reaction is ‘oh, the Haskins emails usually say something useful’, and they’ll open them.”
Ross Breckenridge, Director, B&V Digital: “Not being able to click through quickly enough to what I want to find is the biggest frustration. It’s also important because it’s easier for search engines to index your pages if they’re within two clicks of the home page. Good navigation is key. The sites which have the best navigation are those which are built from a starting point of the company knowing exactly what they want to achieve from their website. I’d also make the point that there is something reassuring about a site which has the registered office listed. With that ‘bricks and mortar’ reference, the company comes across as more legitimate. If it’s not there, subconsciously I think we feel that something is missing.”
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Read part 5 of The Website Challenge
Are websites being designed in a manner that is peer group facing, rather than meeting the specific goals and requirements of a company and its customers?
Phil Page, Managing Director, Compass Contract Hire: “I didn’t study our competitors’ websites when it came to our redesign. But I know they tend to put absolutely everything on line, whereas I want customers to get in touch with us so we can better identify and meet their specific needs. We have started to put special offers on our site though. The design company we used showed us a whole host of sites that looked good, but on reflection that shouldn’t have been the starting point. Maybe I should have gone to them with more of a wish list, but really they needed to be asking the right questions too.”
Felix Bolger, Managing Director, Homelodge Buildings: “I’ve been talking to a variety of agencies about relaunching the website, and found there was a tendency for them to look at the competitors’ sites and to say we needed to be doing the same thing. I think agencies do tend to want to give you an ‘off the shelf’ solution. I wanted my website to be an easy read, and to have a magazine look; I didn’t want to end up with a jumbled mess of words just for the benefit of search engine optimisation. I’m much more interested in working with someone who is really interested in what we want to achieve.”
Richard Sawney, Finance Director, Micheldever Tyre Services: “We did look at what other companies were doing in order to benchmark ourselves, but it’s important that you have to look at your website from the customer’s perspective. We wanted to make sure that you didn’t have to make twenty clicks before the tyre hits the shopping basket. We’ve also linked up to the DVLA to help the process so people can simply add their registration number and be told what tyre they need.”
Rick Munro, Partner, Lamport Bassitt: “Our goals with the website were to have a gateway for the firm, a contact point, a directory. We wanted it to make it clear what our values and philosophies are, and what our client relationships are like – to us that was more important than simply listing the work we do, which is what many law firms do. You have to decide what’s right for your own business. I’ve noticed some firms using video clips of their key people, but the success of that depends on the delivery of the person doing it; if the prospective client doesn’t like the look of that one person, they could be put off using the firm.”
Louise Moir, Head of Marketing, Haskins Garden Centres: “You do have agencies saying ‘this is the new thing, look at what it can do’ rather than thinking about what the client needs. What is important is knowing what your customers want from the website, or they’ll get frustrated and go elsewhere. You’ve got to have good basics before you start looking at all the bells and whistles that are available. We won’t add gimmicks to our website just because everyone else is. You’ve got to focus on what adds value to your customer experience. You have to communicate that clearly to an agency though, or you can’t expect them to simply produce what you want. We do look at our competitors, but also at what other gardening information is out there online. We needed to look beyond other garden centres and to the RHS website for example. If the RHS or the BBC are already providing certain information and facilities, then should we be doing the same thing? Maybe we would look at what other companies are doing in terms of chat rooms and video, but in terms of time and budget, that’s not on the agenda at the moment.”
Ross Breckenridge, Director, B&V Digital: “What can easily happen is that your website might appear to have the right branding visually but it has a different ‘tone of voice’. The website is likely to be the prospective customer’s primary exposure to a company; first impressions count electronically as well, so the branding has to be spot on, not just in terms of imagery but in tone. Here’s a classic mistake. The company’s brand is about responsiveness yet the latest item in its website news section is six months old. It gives the impression that the company isn’t up to speed, and actually doesn’t seem too bothered.”
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Read part 4 of The Website Challenge
Are the characteristics and status of companies always compatible with their internet presence?
Phil Page, Managing Director, Compass Contract Hire: “In our industry there are no barriers to entry on the internet. So we’ve now got the bedroom-based brokers who can have a well designed website and can steal the market in the credit crunch. We’ve invested in buying our own premises and in staff who can deliver the service our customers expect, but someone can work from home and if they’ve got £10,000 to spend they can have a website that looks the part, or even better than ours; their website is probably their biggest overhead.”
Felix Bolger, Managing Director, Homelodge Buildings: “My perception of a company I come across for the first time on the internet is certainly affected by their website presence; and I’ve even found website designers with terrible websites! You just click away from them. The web has lowered the barrier to entry. It took us ten years to get a foothold with local councils who can use our buildings as schools, for example. Now they might see a competitor who hasn’t got our experience but has a good web presence. But actually, we have a history; we can validate our position and have a gallery of photos to show that. Clients want to see what you’ve already done. We’re very careful about what we put on the website in term of plans, designs and prices – especially for the commercial market – as I’m wary of giving competitors too much information.”
Richard Sawney, Finance Director, Micheldever Tyre Services: “It’s interesting isn’t it – you want to be reassured that the people you are dealing with will actually deliver, and I always get a sense of satisfaction from seeing Amazon’s massive warehouses on the A1! But on the internet, people don’t even have to have their own stock. There will be companies out there with websites selling tyres, which are then ordering their stock from us! I always want to be at the front, not following the crowd, so we want a website that reflects that. I think we do need to look at the site again though and make sure that it projects our size and our success as a company. There needs to be a corporate page that will allow us to shout about the fact that we’re a Sunday Times Fast Track Growth company and that we’ve gone from a turnover of £70million to £290million.”
Rick Munro, Partner, Lamport Bassitt: “Some firms will invest disproportionately in their websites because it’s a way of being able to compete on a higher level. It’s probably easier to do that when you’re in the business of selling widgets though. I’ve fallen victim to that myself already. I bought something from an impressive looking website but it turned out to be faulty. When I tried to return it, it became clear this was an outfit run by a man and his dog.”
Louise Moir, Head of Marketing, Haskins Garden Centres: “A website needs to express the personality of your company, not the designer’s. You can easily find some very long-established companies who aren’t focusing on their website presence. That can sometimes be a strategic decision, but often it’s because a company has a different agency designing their website to the one designing their other marketing materials and it ends up with strengths in one area more than another. It’s ironic because websites should help to widen people’s perception of what the company does.”
Ross Breckenridge, Director, B&V Digital: “The internet means you can define your true size and strength, to make sure that a competitor’s emperor’s clothes are seen for what they are. You can set out your USPs, show your premises and facilities, have separate buttons for specific disciplines with the CVs of the people responsible for them; you can set out their individual experience and track-record. Just because the entry level is the same for any company with a website, it doesn’t mean the content has to be. What it means though is that you’ve got to think through what sets you apart from the competition.”
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Read part 3 of The Website Challenge
You can download the full white paper here: The Website Challenge
Alternatively, you can read the full text of the report over the next 5 OwlBlog posts & join in the discussion in the comments section below.
For sure, the internet immediately gives a company a window on the world - an instant potential audience across the globe.
But then there’s the extraordinary amount of time it takes to manage, up-date, and develop that digital presence; integrating it with sales and other functions.
Just how many hours are there in a day? But actually, they aren’t the only challenges......
What are the biggest issues in getting the most out of your on-line presence?
Phil Page, Managing Director, Compass Contract Hire: “The website needs to be our silent salesman, so I want to get a lot more traffic to our site, but I’m just too busy to give it the time it needs. I find the whole thing rather challenging. We’ve had a re-design of our website, which enables us to change the content on it ourselves now but it’s still not as sophisticated as maybe I’d like. But then I’m not sure that I want it to be too sophisticated. I don’t want people to be able to get all the information they want just from the website because I want them to contact us directly instead. We dealt with a website company for a while, but I wanted to get ongoing advice and recommendations from them, and it just didn’t happen. They were too ‘teccie’ as a company and didn’t communicate very well with us. After three years, it turned out we didn’t have any meta tags, and when I challenged them about it, they said I’d never asked for them! You need to have a website company that really talks to you about your needs.”
Felix Bolger, Managing Director, Homelodge Buildings: “Most of our enquiries are driven though the website now, but it can get horrendously out of date so quickly. Our company’s growth has been massive over recent years and the website has been a monkey on my back – we must have a better way of being more visible on-line! We were at the top of the search list, and then we weren’t anymore. I’ve spent a fortune on Google advertising but I think a better website could achieve as much, if not more. The rate of change is challenging. It concerns me that I might spend a lot of money on a site, only to find that the goal posts have moved again, and that I’ve disappeared off the search list again.”
Richard Sawney, Finance Director Micheldever Tyre Services: “Our business is split into two sections, the wholesale and the retail. From the retail perspective I’m not completely convinced that spending a fortune on an internet site for selling tyres is going to make a real difference to sales. We live off price and availability and have to be very, very competitive, so we don’t like to put the prices on the main Micheldever website anymore – the competition just price check us. The biggest challenge is making sure that you’re not on the tenth page of Google, but I quite enjoy keeping up with all the technological changes. The excitement is huge. For instance, while at the moment I’m not sure how relevant Twitter would be to us, I keep up with it all.”
Rick Munro, Partner, Lamport Bassitt: “I think the challenge is turning your website from what’s essentially only an on-line brochure into something more useful. We spent a lot of time thinking about it and speaking to marketing professionals and have worked on giving visitors to the website useful information. There’s a newsfeed on our site now and, as we’ve become more aware of its potential, the strike rate has been going up exponentially. The other challenge is having the time and money to work on the site, which has to be done because the internet is live.”
Louise Moir, Head of Marketing, Haskins Garden Centres: “We re-launched our website because the previous one didn’t get over the ethos of the company. I’m sure when it was produced it had the ‘wow’ factor, but that’s the challenge with websites; they have to keep developing and growing. Every website has to have a function, and in our case it has to support the stores and drive sales. Producing a website isn’t cheap, so it’s got to result in increased customer sales in the centres. The other challenge is search optimisation. There’s no point having a fantastic website if no-one knows about it. We’re lucky in terms of URL, but we don’t take it for granted. We’ll be looking at how our new site does over the next six months and tweaks will be made if necessary. It’s not like a brochure where the content is fixed once it goes to the printers.”
Ross Breckenridge, Director, B&V Digital: “Companies need to understand the role of their website, to have a strategy that sets out what they want to achieve from it. Using a website can now be much more of an interactive experience. Some will provide visitors with the option of ‘chatting’ to an adviser in real time. A simple email sign up for information updates or a newsletter means you can capture data from people looking at your website and begin a relationship with a potential customer. Websites might have started life as a marketing tool but now they’re intrinsically a business tool. Establishing your business on line should be a liberating experience, but most companies tend to react to what others are doing rather than being proactive and setting their own agenda.”
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Check out part 2 of The Website Challenge
Making sure you are aiming for and measuring the right goals is vitally important. If your SEO goals aren’t focussed on the right metrics your effort could be going to waste and the return on investment into SEO will suffer.
So, what goals do people set and what problems do these throw up?
A focus on increasing traffic is a key goal for many companies and rightly so. However, using traffic numbers as the bottom line for measuring your campaigns is flawed. The relevance and quality of that traffic needs to be taken into account. It is quite easy to put time, effort and money into increasing traffic but the amount of return on that investment rests just as much on the quality of traffic that is attracted.
Using search engine rankings is another very popular metric and most companies use them as a target one way or another. Rank higher, obtain more visitors, sales figures go up – at least that is the train of thought….
To rank top of Google for a specific search term is what most companies work towards, but this should not be done at the expensive of all other possibilities. Also, for new businesses this measurement clearly represents a problem because it is highly unlikely that they will obtain a top ranking in the short-term.
Successfully gaining a top placed ranking for a specific search term is a great achievement and could result in a good increase in sales. It will also help brand visibility. However, there is the possibility that overlooking a wider range of search terms and longer search terms (that make up over half of all searches) means restricting any potential increase in sales. Something to think about...
Setting a target to obtain a certain number of links a month is a metric many people use and it really is a flawed one. It leads to seeking out a cost per link acquired and if that is the measurement to test results it is easy to contract out link building to India with great results. However, it is the quality of links that count and not the quantity. One good relevant link from an authoritative site could be worth thousands of other links that may have been gained on your behalf.
So, when reviewing your SEO approach and goals it is important to make sure that they fit in with your wider business goals. If you don’t tie your goals down tightly so that you can measure your success and see the best return on investment possible, then you could be wasting time and effort. As it is a new year, it is worth seeing if you could be working smarter!
Blog ArchiveJuly 2009