We just finished updating our website. It was a minor update not a major redesign. In this six month tune up, we tweaked messaging, optimized for SEO, took down stale pages, and added several new ones to better explain our services. We recommend our clients do these types of tune ups regularly as well. In many cases, we facilitate this work for them. When we do, and even when did our own website update, we have many discussions around website design. Should the site have more pages or fewer? Should it be an interactive experience for anyone who visits? How much menu navigation should there be versus on page navigation? While these may sound like difficult design decisions, we don't think they are. Not if you recognize that your website is really just a tool to help you achieve your marketing and sales goals. Your website should help people find you, explain how you can help them, and help turn those visitors into leads or even customers. In this article we'll look at 5 website design choices that help inbound marketing.
Tip 1: Design your website to attract visitors
You attract visitors to your website by making it easy to find through good SEO practices. This is a fundamental concept in digital marketing. That means you have to select the right keywords that describe what you do, and match what your buyer personas will search for in order to find your products and services. You have to use those keywords in your pages and content. For your website, make sure to use keywords correctly by putting them page headers, meta descriptions and URLs. Publish and promote content using those keywords so that you can to rank for them. For help on website optimization see this Simple Guide to SEO from Kissmetrics.
Tip 2: Make messaging clear
We sometimes call this the CEO or salesperson effect on website messaging. Lots of stakeholders want to embellish about the awesome products and services they offer. That's great. They should, when the time is right. Before you do that, you have to get someone interested enough to listen. In today's online landscape, with so much competing for our attention, your initial messaging needs to be clear, concise, and compelling. It has to draw visitors in and make them want to read more. You don't want a website that says, "We apply aquatic force, and chemical agents pressurized with carbon dioxide along with best practice tools and techniques to suppress high temperature post combusted materials." You want a website that says, "We put out fires, we're the fire department."
Being clear, concise, and compelling takes creativity and work. But you can do it. Here are some tips to help:
Try to keep initial messaging short. A few sentences or a short paragraph.
Once you've formulated your key messaging, hire a copy editor, or multiple copy editors, and ask them to make the messaging more clear, concise, and compelling. Compare the results.
Ask your customers. Find out how your customers describe your products and services. Those statements might be great on their own, or a great starting point.
Hold a focus group that includes your customers and people who match your buyer personas. See how they react to your messaging before you go live.
Make this messaging very easy to consume. Use a tool like the Hemingway app to make your writing more clear and bold.
Make sure titles and headers, the first text on the page, draws people in.
Don't tell people what you do, tell visitors how you can help them. For example, don't say, "We do inbound marketing." Do say, "We help you drive visitors to your website, capture contact information so they become leads, and convert them to customers."
Remember to come back to that focus group. This is really important. Sometimes brands hold focus groups, talk to clients, hire editors to re-craft the messaging, and then publish it. That can be a mistake. Messaging is subtle and nuanced. After you've made all of those adjustments, get another round of feedback from your prospects and clients to make sure your revised messaging still makes sense and resonates with them.
Tip 3: More pages provide more inbound opportunities
One common design debate is more pages versus fewer pages. Fewer pages are simpler to maintain. With fewer pages its easier to ensure that messaging is correct. Some argue that more pages gets in the way of contact. The argument goes something like this, "We want them to see what we're all about, and give us a call. More pages means we're getting in the way of them contacting us."
First, not true. When prospects want to contact you, they will. Second, more pages, give you many more opportunities to connect through inbound marketing methodologies. Remember, contacting you for service is a bottom of the funnel action. Something a client will do when they are nearly ready to buy. But what's going to get them ready to buy? The majority of your visitors will be top of the funnel visitors, checking out your brand, products, and services for the first time. You've got to educate them along their buyers journey to get them to the point where they want to make that call. In fact, most of the bottom of funnel interaction takes place through email, not through the website. The website is best for top of funnel interactions, facilitated by your website messaging and content, and middle of the funnel interactions, facilitated by content offers.
That's why have having more pages is so important. They let you maximize your inbound marketing potential. By having a page for each service, you can add content offers such as white papers, research data, checklists, and ebooks, relevant to pains addressed by specific services, right on the page with the service. If you're offering an ebook on why it's important to monitor social media, that offer is best placed on a page where you're describing the social media monitoring services you perform for clients. A visitor who chooses the offer, will fill out a form and provide you with their contact information. That moves the visitor down the funnel to become a lead, and allows sales staff to follow up in email and, hopefully, turn that lead into a customer.
You have a lot of flexibility in how you group pages for products and services. You can use summary pages that describe how the services solve problems, and include buttons or URLs that link to pages with more detailed information. Or you can simply offer each service on its own page. However you do it, we recommend that if it has a price, give it it's own page. If you put a number of products or services together as packages, make pages packages too. Those pages should always have a value proposition stating the benefit to the customer, a description, a call to action, and a contact form. This provides opportunities for anyone who opens these pages to engage, no matter where they are in the funnel.
Tip 4: Focus navigation to help people discover what you do
We just told you to add more pages so that you have the opportunity to have more custom offers and calls to action. That doesn't mean each of those pages should be linked off of your menu. Consider your blog. Would you link each post in your blog off your main website navigation? No, you link your blog, and then tell people how awesome it is. The same goes for many of these content pages on your website. Link to them from other pages where appropriate as with a services summary page that links to more detail for individual services.
So what pages should be included in your primary navigation? We prefer to ask that question a different way, "What should your primary navigation do." The answer is, it should help people learn how you can help them. This is similar to SEO. You have to think about your buyer personas, and how they might search for your products and services to find your website. Just take that a step further. Once prospects have found your site, what questions will they ask? We try to focus menu navigation on answering three fundamental questions visitors have:
What do you do? This might be your home page or a services page.
How much does it cost? This might be a pricing page.
Why should I use you? Elements of this might be on a home or services, page, but the full detail can be on a separate page.
What should be on these pages? Text, images, and videos that explain clearly how your services help people. These should be short, sweet, and compelling. You want visitors to desire to get to know you better. You're not on a date yet, you're just asking for the phone number.
These pages won't have a lot of detail about what's included in services. They won't explain processes or methodologies. For a product related site, these pages won't get into the weeds about how a product works, or specific product features. Those can be addressed through on-page URLs and buttons that lead to pages with that detail. The text and images on your menu linked pages should compel visitors to click those links and buttons.
Some people protest and say, "We have a lot of awesome information on those detail pages. That's our value add. I want people to find that." That may be true, but you need a lead in of some sort. Something that makes visitors want to know that detail. This is where the content marketing component of inbound marketing shines. Write a blog post, or a series of blog posts, that explains why that service or product offers great value to your clients. You can link directly to that page from your posts, driving visitors to that awesome information once you've piqued their interest.
5. Organize Your Website Into Topic Clusters Around Pillar Pages
SEO is changing and, earlier this year, Hubspot released guidance on how to organize website content into topic clusters around pillar pages. They explained the reason behind this shift,
"Nowadays, most are comfortable posing complex questions to a search engine, and they expect an accurate and timely result. Searchers who want a specific answer also use many different phrases in their queries. And now search engines are smart enough to recognize the connections across queries. Algorithms have evolved to the point where they can understand the topical context behind the search intent, tie it back to similar searches they have encountered in the past, and deliver web pages that best answer the query."
The results of this shift and the adaptation by search engine algorithms was also summarized,
"SEO is now shifting to a topic cluster model, where a single “pillar” page acts as the main hub of content for a overarching topic and multiple content pages that are related to that same topic link back to the pillar page and to each other. This linking action signals to search engines that the pillar page is an authority on the topic, and over time, the page may rank higher and higher for the topic it covers."
Hubspot released their content strategy tool earlier this year which is great for planning topic clusters around pillar pages. We're going to publish our our topic cluster and pillar page kit to help people restructure their website content as well. Stay tuned for that.
Ready, Set, Go
Your website has a job to do. It should be designed to perform that job the best it can. It should be optimized for keywords and SEO, and messaging should be clear. You should have pages for each product, service, or group of products and services that you sell. Those pages should offer engagement opportunities such as content offers, and contact forms. Your website navigation should be simple enough to funnel visitors into the pages for your products and services. Follow these best practices as part of your social media marketing efforts, and you will see results.
Over to you
What modifications have you made to your website to increase engagement opportunities or assist inbound marketing? Let me know in the comments.