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After having spent seven years in the web industry, it never ceases to amaze me that many of todays corporate decision makers are still failing to grasp and/or maximize the power of their corporate website.

There are enough studies out there today to tell us that the majority of research preceding purchase decisions, both for the B2B and B2C channels, is done online. In some cases, the only piece of the process executed offline is the actual sale or engagement itself. From small business engagements (plumbers, florists, etc.) to enterprise level purchases (vehicles, technology, etc.) the first and most critical stage of the process happens right here onlinethe initial research.

Research Stage:
This research stage will support a buyer or corporate decision maker in determining what solutions exist to address their need/problem and then what providers they can go to for this product/service. In our world we describe these two phases as:
1. The Information Search " solutions/options
2. Evaluation of Alternatives " suppliers/vendors

When I am in meetings where people challenge this point, I often ask them to evaluate their own approach to purchase decision making. Without fail, many at the table will admit that they start online for almost everythingeven going as far as searching for local services such as plumbers and florists on their cell phones or Blackberrys using a mobile browser.

Lets face it " the world of information seeking is shifting to online. Catalogues, dusty manuals, etc. are being used less. Today, researching information is more often than not, performed online.

Knowing that, why are C-level decision makers not applying the same efforts to their online strategies as they are offline? My experience tells me there is a knowledge gap that exists out there. A lot of marketers are still falling back on their strengths by executing campaigns that rely on traditional mediums (offline PR, traditional print and display ads, direct mail, etc.) as opposed to seeking to understand the mechanics behind successful web platforms.

C-Level Decision Makers

Not only for the sake of businesses, but also for the sake of buyers/consumers " the accessibility of product and service information needs to improve. I always tell my clients that in a case where I am not finding them in my online information search, I am finding their competitor and they are losing a sale/contract. It doesnt mean that the alternative option was better " it simply means it was more accessible and easier to find.

Top 5 Questions to Ask Yourself:

1. SEARCH ENGINE RANKING:
Search Engine Ranking

Can I easily find you online using search terms related to your business or industry?

  • Over 40% of searchers judge a companys credibility solely on whether they appear in the first page of search results. Findability = credibility.

2. WEBSITE DESIGN:

Does the look and feel of your website reflect the professionalism and personality of your business?

  • Several notable North American universities have released studies indicating that you have less than five seconds to make your first impression online before a user will either engage with your site (execute an action) or leave it (bounce). You would not believe the number of businesses that strongly dislike their own websites yet refuse to make the necessary improvements because they question the ROI or investment of time to make it best of breed.

3. WEBSITE STRATEGY:

Do you direct me to the appropriate department/information channel online the same way you would offline?

  • If a customer phones into your companys main number with a sales/new business inquiry, a receptionist or automated system will direct them accordingly their online options should offer the same clarity/directives. The K-I-S-S theory applies online as much as it does offline. For example, iIf youre not going through your company news and announcements with me every time I call in, why are you taking me through them every time I reach your homepage?

4. LANDING PAGE DESIGN/CALLS TO ACTION DEVELOPMENT:

Have you determined what action you want your web visitors to take off of every major landing page on
your site?

  • All key pages on your website should be built using the for dummies model. If a visitor lands on a product/service landing page that doesnt seek to turn them into a lead/customer, you deserve to lose them. It is up to you to tell them what to do. Some options could include: call us today, order online, and request more information – these are otherwise known as Calls to Action (CTAs) or Callouts. We have seen clients add a simple CTA (request a quote) and see as much as a 200% change in conversion rates overnight!

5. DATA MINING:
Data Mining and Usability Improvements

Do you use website analytics?

  • The online space offers the most incredible and extensive ROI tracking of all marketing mediums. Not only can you determine how many leads/sales youre achieving online " you can also see where those acquisitions are coming from (referral, direct, search engines) what keywords are driving them, etc. The data mining opportunities are literally unbelievable. You can dig down to levels where you are evaluating which pages are causing the majority of exits off your site and then test alternative page layouts / copy / images to determine what the best formula is to plug that loss. By addressing website weaknesses identified by your analytics, your visitor engagement time and conversion rates can literally experience a 180 degree change.

In my opinion, as someone involved in business strategy, sales or marketing, you should have answered yes to every question above. If you werent able to do so, I urge you to read the upcoming posts in this series. My future posts will seek to elaborate on each of the topics above in much greater detail. I will offer actionable steps that you can take to make necessary improvements as well as reference resources that you can leverage for additional reading/research.

The bottom line is this, I have seen clients improve sales by 400% within a fiscal quarter by improving their search engine ranking; I have seen conversion rates double within the first week of implementing a better web design; I have seen sales double/triple by applying a strategy to the online platform.
At the end of the day in the corporate world it all boils down to dollars and cents. If your website isnt an integral part of the sales funnel channeling the dollars and cents to your bottom-line revenue, you are missing the boat. In doing so, you are leaving the online space wide open for your competitors to step up and beat you to the punch.

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