The TAO of Website Optimization
That aside, it’s a valid question. SEO for a lot of organizations has failed to live up to the expectations set for it. It may have produced additional traffic to the website, but when a marketing manager (or a CEO) tells you that he or she is looking to drive traffic to the website, what they are really saying is “I am looking to drive opportunities.” No one wants traffic for traffic’s sake—with the possible exception of those who are measured on traffic metrics alone.
To make SEO pay off, you have to pay attention to TAO, or Target Audience Optimization, as well.
Taoism - philosophical system advocating a simple honest life and noninterference with the course of natural events
It seems that this should apply to our websites too. They should be as simple as possible to ensure that our visitors find exactly what they need as quickly and easily as possible. Of course, our information should be honest. And, the more we can work with the natural course of the way our customers buy, the more successful we are likely to be.
So how do you get to a TAO website? Here’s a few ideas to get you started:
Focus on the customer first. This may be the hardest for all of us since we are so close to what we do we think that it’s as important to the customer as it is for us. A good example of this is the awards that companies announce on their home page – some of them taking up a significant amount of real estate. I know you’re proud of the award you just won, and it should be important to the customer in their selection of a vendor, but between that and using precious website real estate for a valuable (to the customer) white paper that a customer I’d suggest the latter.
Focus on how your customers buy. Your industry may be different, but in the B2B technology industry where the sale can be long and complex, there’s a general flow that companies go through when making their purchasing decision.
Investigation/Compiling the long list – This is the first stage where the business may not even have a good handle on what their issues are, but they know they have a need to bring in an expert or a new solution of some sort. For high-technology marketing, this is your moment of truth – the one chance you have to pull them in and either engage or get them into your nurturing program before the write you off for good.
The main page should be geared toward a buyer in this stage of the sales cycle with loads free resources – white papers, on-demand webinars, podcasts etc. All of these should be readily visible and not buried behind your latest award announcement. The emphasis on this first level of resources is on the issues the customer faces and not necessarily on what your company does.
Evaluating Options – A decade ago, this is where the sales person came in, but with all of the information that is available to them on the web, buyers are starting the evaluation process without you. Since they aren’t inviting you in, give them a proxy by setting up an evaluation center.
This evaluation center would include more product specific resources that highlight your products in the best possible light – product reviews, commentary by analysts, product demos, product specific white papers etc. Given the sorry state of most product brochures these days, I’m inclined to say that you might as well skip those. However, we’ve trained our buyers to download these whether they look at them or not, so you might as well include that option. Just don’t confuse brochures with valuable content.
You don’t want this on the main page because the buyer who is visiting your website for the first time isn’t ready for it. It would be the electronic equivalent of leading with your product, which all of us who have been trained in some sort of solutions selling know is a “no-no.” If you make the “evaluation center” link a button which is ready visible your buyer at that stage of the sales cycle can easily access this level of information. And, no harm if your first time visitor decides to go there because they are self-selecting ro receive product info.
Sales Stage – In a high-tech complex sale there’s usually a break between the stage where they are evaluating options and the final stage where they are looking for the final affirmations they need before signing a contract. This break is where they bring in a sales person to put a face to the company they may do business with.
Clearly, your sales person needs to know their industry as well as how to help the prospect through their buying process. In addition, the more information you can give them about the prospect ahead of time, the more effective they can be. If you have tracked the downloads of your prospect, or maybe even the web pages visited, your sales person won’t be left to guess and spend too much time interrogating the company on the issues they face.
Final Evidence – After working with the sales person, the prospect typically reaches a final stage where they need assurance that they are making a good decision. These are the case studies, ROI tools, and other evidence that focus on how other customers like them have benefited. Once again, the focus is away from product and more on the existing customer’s story.
Once you’ve amassed a significant amount of compelling evidence., you may want to try putting a few case studies and quotes in the other areas of your web site, but placing the bulk of your final evidence in a secure area of your site. When you reach this stage of the process, you could give them their own log-in so they could go in and browse the evidence available as much as they want. This could raise the value of this information in eyes of your prospect. It could also save you from the annoying but common problem of prospects who call your customers in the early stage of the sales cycle.
Navigation. It goes without saying that navigation is important. Unfortunately, most of the B2 high tech websites don’t display much imagination. The biggest difference seems to be whether they put the menu down the left hand side or across the top.
Don’t copy your competitors. Most of them have no more insight into what works than you do. Be bold. Do something totally different and see how it works. But, remember, it’s not whether your colleagues in the company like it. It has to work for your prospects and customers.
Metrics. Do I know whether this would work for your organization? No, but that’s where metrics come in. Only the metrics, especially the conversion rates, are going to tell you whether the design you put together is working.
The point is that most of your current websites aren’t the lead generation machines they could be. They may be optimized for the search engines but they aren’t optimized for your target audience. I can’t tell you whether the approach I’ve suggested will work, but I can tell you that, for most of you, your current design isn’t working nearly as well as it should.