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Web Marketing

My web marketing tantrum. By Genevieve, aged 2

My two-year-old is screaming and crying and refusing to get back in the car – and it’s all because of poor web marketing!

It’s usually me that gets frustrated when I see companies failing to get their web marketing strategy right – but today my daughter was the one venting her anger.

We’d just been to see a new day nursery. Like most potential new nursery clients, I’d checked them out on the web before going.

They have a great website – tons of useful information, informative pictures, links to a glowing Ofsted report, social media engagement and testimonials from happy mums and dads.

So I emailed them via their enquiry form, which asked me what I needed. The auto-responder pinged back with a message saying someone would get back to me within 24 hours – great! But 24 hours, plus several days, I still hadn’t heard back, so I rang.

“Oh, you’re the one who emailed,” they said (in a way that made me think I was literally “the one” person who had ever emailed them). They apologised for not getting back to me, explaining they didn’t check their e-mail very often and suggested I come in and take a look around with my daughter.

Now, had they read the email they would have seen I wanted to come because I need a place right now for my daughter.

When I arrived, it looked fantastic – Gen loved it too. But when I asked when Gen could start, I was told there were no places available until September.

The Web Marketing ABC

Cue tantrum. Not from me, though I felt like it, but from Gen who was not happy that we were leaving such a nice place as soon as we’d arrived. I wasn’t too happy I’d taken a morning out for no reason.

The thing is, if they’d read my email I could saved a journey – and a tantrum – and they might have got a client in September if I could find an interim solution. Instead, they had one unhappy mum and one very grumpy toddler.

This scenario is all too familiar – businesses making an investment in the web, then undoing all their good work by falling at the last hurdle.

Your website works on three levels – we’ve talked about it before – firstly you need to get the core functionality and usability of the site right, making sure it is fit for purpose. The next level is ensuring the site supports and promotes your key marketing messages.

The third level – and the one where most businesses who fail to make the most of the web fall down – is using your website as a marketing tool.

Like this nursery, you can have the best design in the world, a compelling marketing message and a carefully planned out strategy – but if you don’t check emails you will lose business.

Your website is a tool, it’s there to be used – by you, not just by clients. You need to understand what tasks the site is meant to be supporting, but you have to do some of those tasks yourself.

If the site is meant to bring in enquiries, make sure you answer those enquiries promptly. If it’s meant to raise your profile online, make sure you are active on the site and in the wider web community – it is you who will make the links and create the community of users, not the site on its own.

Tantrum over – think I’ll have a lie-down and a glass of warm milk.

Conversion, Conversion, Conversion – the 3 rules of SEO

How do you measure the success of your Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) campaign?

It’s a question we’re often asked, and one which our clients often have their own answer for. For some, all they want to know is where they appear in Google. For others, its how much their traffic increases.

For us, there is a clear answer – the three most important indicators of SEO success are:

1: Conversion
2: Conversion
3: Conversion

SEO should never live in isolation from your overall marketing aims. When we start working with an SEO client, the very first thing we do with them is to establish what their web marketing goals are and what actions they want their clients to perform on the site to support those goals.

Only then can we begin the process of finding keywords, optimising the site, link-building etc.

By understanding what clients need to be doing on the site to reach those goals, we can set in place ways of measuring conversion – essentially finding out just how many users actually did the things on the site that the client wanted them to.

That could be buying particular items, joining mailing lists, making telephone contact, or more esoteric actions such as increasing brand awareness or better understanding the proposition of the company.

Position *heart* Conversion

Getting a high position for your carefully selected keywords/phrases is a very important part of SEO – but it is really just one step along the line to your ultimate goal, and not the ultimate goal in itself.

Similarly the number of visitors to your site is a stepping stone, not the finish line. In some cases, you could actually see visitor numbers fall as a result of successful SEO.

That might seem illogical, but we recently had a client who wanted to know if there was a simple figure he could give his board to show the success of an SEO campaign. He felt that visitor numbers was the key.

We’d just advised him to change the page title and description that appeared in Google when his site showed up for an important keyphrase. The description was slightly misleading – and while his company offered a very particular service related to the keyphrase, the title and page description made it appear his company’s site was more of an overall information portal for the subject covered by his service.

We explained that by changing the title and description he would almost certainly see the number of people clicking through to the site fall. The important factor was not visitor numbers – but getting the right visitors.

While thousands of searchers were clicking through to that page each month, the bounce rate was horrendous. The reason? The page was optimised to appear for that search term by focussing on the term rather than the offering. The vast majority of people clicking through were either expecting something else, or not seeing what was really on offer.

As we expected, when we optimised the page for conversion, the level of traffic fell. So – very slightly – did the Google placement.

But, the number of people actually going on to engage the service – to perform the action we planned at the beginning of the campaign – rose by more than 100%.

Balancing act

So an SEO campaign that saw visitor numbers and Google placement fall? Measured by conventional SEO wisdom that would be a failure. Measured by conversion, a resounding success.

SEO needs to balance conversion and position. Neither factor should eclipse the other – having a great conversion rate for a tiny amount of traffic is no better than having a tiny conversion rate for lots of traffic. But if you are to weigh the two against each other – conversion should always be the first priority.

SEO is not about appearing as high as possible in Google for a focussed search term – it’s about appearing as high as possible for a focussed search term that leads to direct conversions.

Conversion needs to be seen as part of an SEO, not a separate discipline – optimising for conversion and optimising for position work best when they work together.

There’s actually an even easier way to measure the success of our campaign with that client. Just look in the company accounts.

The client is making more money from promoting that service online now than they were before we made our changes. For conversion, read return on investment.

Website Hierarchy of Needs

At the initial web requirements stage of any development, we often find it helpful to slice a website into three different layers in order for the client to understand what they need to be thinking about when planning their website. We need to understand what the core functionality will be, what marketing messages the site needs to reflect and how the website will work as a marketing tool for the client (i.e. how does it fit with their overall marketing strategy). We call this a website hierarchy of needs.

hierarchy_of_needs

Core functionality and usability

As part of a thorough requirements analysis, we will begin to plot out what the site areas, or sections are. The core functionality (or functional requirements) inform the web design company what user processes the site needs to support from within each section.

Usability and proven web conventions play their part at this stage, because core functionality must always be user-focussed, ie do users need this functionality in order to fulfil their objectives on your site?

Marketing Messages

Your website communicates marketing messages to a targeted audience. What are your key marketing messages, how are you differentiating yourself from your competition for instance? The design, content and information architecture of the site need to support and reinforce your marketing communications.

How you will use your site

The final layer is thinking about how your site will work as a marketing tool for your business. Your site will only work as part of your overall marketing strategy, it is a tool and any tool will only work well if it is used well. So how does your website support your marketing and work as part of your overall marketing strategy?

Does your website support the sales conversation by acting as a referral via search?. Do you point people to your site to reinforce your proposal? Does it reflect your creditability and market position?

Think how you will actually be using your site, how it can function as a tool for your organisation and what you need it be doing to work at its best for you.

The “3 Ps” (Purpose of your website, Profile of your target audience and the Processes your website needs to support) work on every layer and need to be your starting point for any web strategy.

How to recruit and train your website

When we begin the web planning process with our clients, we tell them to think of their website as an employee.

Just as you wouldn’t take on a new member of staff without having a defined role for them, so the website needs to have a “job description” from day one. Unless you define what you want from your website, it’s almost impossible to see if it is doing its job properly.

Just like an employee, your site also needs:

To have a line manager
Someone needs to be responsible for the performance of the site, to support it and ensure it is working as well as it can. Managing the site needs to be a defined role, rather than something given to your marketing or IT support team to do in their spare time. The manager needs to understand exactly what the site needs to be doing and be pro-active in helping it do that.

To be a team player
The site needs to work with people across the whole of your business. Although you will have an individual or team directly responsible for the site, it needs to support and be supported by a whole range of people, whether that is the sales team, personnel, management or the shop floor.

To have a training programme
The site needs to grow into its role and with the business. Ensure that as the needs of the business change, the website grows to meet these needs. This means keeping content up to date, but also reviewing functionality as the online world and/or your business changes – for instance supporting Social Media, or mobile web, adding e-commerce etc.

Targets
What do you want the site to do? Set sales targets, or targets for efficiency savings. Perhaps you want it to answer a certain number of questions per month, or generate a certain number of telephone enquiries. Measure and review these targets regularly and if they are not being met, find out why and maybe review the training programme.

A proper recruitment process
Commissioning a website is a major investment for any company – and one that should be treated in the same way, and with the same attention to detail, as taking on a senior member of staff. You need a proper interview process to select the right candidate – establish what the site has to do and ensure that it will be able to do it. What your site needs to be doing – its job description – should be the bedrock on which it is built. Design should always support functionality, never the other way round. Get the interview process wrong, or fail to ask the right questions, and you could have a very expensive time replacing the website you have taken on.

Career development
The most important thing to remember when commissioning a website is that its job only really begins when it is built. You wouldn’t recruit someone and then simply leave them to get on with their job without accountability. Similarly, you need to use analytics, user feedback, targets etc to monitor the work your site is doing. When it meets targets, set it new ones. When it proves it is paying for itself, invest more in it.

A salary
You should set a budget for ongoing support, hosting and maintenance of the site. Be realistic in what you expect to pay. Just as you can get free hosting, you can also recruit a head of department on minimum wage. But in both cases, you’d probably get what you paid for.

Regular appraisals
As well as reviewing stats and targets, get feedback from the website’s “co-workers” – the people in your business who deal with the site directly or indirectly (and that should mean all of them). How easy do they find the site to work with? How is the site helping them? What could it do better? And remember, just like an employee, not everyone will always like or get on with your website – so get a balanced picture before deciding to make any changes.

In summary
Ensuring a website performs at its best needs ongoing investment in terms of time and money, just as employing a member of staff does. When you get it right both pay for themselves many times over. When you get it wrong, it can be a very costly mistake.

By thinking about your website as an employee, you can help ensure that more often than not you get it right.

Why results-driven matters

At Tickbox we define ourselves by the results we deliver for clients. A great example of what we mean by “results-driven” can be seen in our work to create a business-focussed web marketing project for a local authority in the South West.

The local authority in question has just had its Organisation Inspection report for 2009 – the Government’s performance audit for local authorities.

Facing challenging times, the council’s report was heavily critical of performance for the year, giving the lowest possible ratings in almost all areas – Managing Finances, Managing Resources and Governing the Business.

The one area where it received praise was for Managing Performance – and the web marketing project we helped create for them was singled out as an important reason for this.

The report stated: “supporting people and businesses through the recession is one of the Council’s goals and it does well at this. Its new website contains useful local information, promotes business events and shows commercial properties which are available to rent.”

It is gratifying to see our work with the council in helping them support business has been recognised – and the council’s willingness to engage in business support through the web, backed by a coherent strategy, is delivering benefits not just for the council but most importantly for the businesses it supports.

Results-driven means that when we work with a client we establish measurable goals and then drive their web strategy to meet those goals. In this case, we’re delighted to see those results measured, and approved, by rigorous third-party inspection.