In the not-long-ago history of B2B business development, the almighty facetime was king. Not facetime of the Apple iPhone variety — but that of the trade shows, sales calls and golf outings. Buyers relied on salespeople to deliver the information they needed, and a website wasn’t much more than a nice-to-have interactive brochure. Even as recently as five years ago, some of our clients used their websites merely to support sales and serve as an informational resource for prospects looking to finalize their decision-making.
But times have changed, and the importance of a B2B company’s website has grown exponentially. B2B buyers are now tech-savvy researchers. Millennials make up more than one-third of B2B buyers, and 62% of B2B buyers say a web search is one of the first resources they utilize to find solutions. Websites are no longer just “nice to have.” An Avianos report found that 88% of B2B buyers said they would turn to a competitor if their current supplier’s digital channel can’t meet their needs.
Now that the digital portion of the customer journey is taking up more time and prominence, it’s critically important to build a B2B website with best practices in mind. In this post, we’re going to focus on the best practices that a marketer — not a digital designer or developer — can control to help create a successful digital presence.
Get strategic in the beginning
At VantagePoint, our web development process begins with what we call the “discovery” phase. The first step is interviewing all the key stakeholders. Key stakeholders often include:
- The IT team
- Human resources personnel
- Marketing leaders
- Sales team members
- The leadership team
The goal of these interviews is to surface any technical requirements, content or functionality needs and creative preferences that may influence the planning of the website. For example, we’ll be asking questions like the following.
- Are there any systems the website needs to connect to, such as a CRM, marketing automation platform, job application software, password-protected file portal, etc.?
- What are the primary objectives of the website, such as educating prospects, lead generation, e-commerce, etc.? How will success be measured?
- Who are the target audiences for the website in order of priority, and what does each audience seek out of their experience?
- What content stays, what goes, and what’s missing?
- Creatively, what are your likes and dislikes?
The input is compiled into a summary document for review and approval among all stakeholders. If there are any conflicts over needs, goals or priorities, this review is the time to sort those out, not later in the process.
Once you know what your website needs to accomplish and what content needs to be served up, you can move to creating the “information architecture,” which will serve as the blueprint for your site.
This document or spreadsheet defines the site navigation, determining the relationship of each page to one another and outlining the content that should be included on each page. It’s helpful to start with SEO research to know how prospects are searching for B2B products and services like what your company offers to help guide the site structure and pages (more on this below).
Solidifying the information architecture before writing copy or starting design gives your development team a clear roadmap to the project at hand and is an important aspect to include in B2B website best practices.
While SEO is mentioned above, it’s important enough to include twice. Organic search is responsible for 53% of all site traffic on B2B websites, according to Brightedge. That means if you’re not showing up in search results, new potential customers aren’t finding you. SEO is vital for driving traffic to your site.
Conduct keyword research and learn what terms are driving traffic to your competitors. Once you’ve identified and prioritized the best terms that your business should be ranking for, apply them to your website’s content, navigation, URL structure, page title, meta tags, images and videos. You can also apply your findings to your blogs and thought leadership content.
Mobile-first and responsive web design is no longer a trend; it’s a user expectation. Research from Boston Consulting Group (BCG) shows 80% of B2B buyers using mobile at work, and more than 60% report that mobile played a significant role in a recent purchase.
Channel members and customers will try to access your website through their mobile device, and if they encounter a poor experience, they’ll move on to a competitor that can provide a better experience. According to the BCG, 88% of B2B buyers would turn to a competitor if their current supplier’s digital channel can’t keep up with their needs.
It’s also important to note that search engines like Google use the mobile version of a site’s content to index and rank pages before the desktop version. If your site isn’t optimized for mobile, you’ll have trouble showing up high in search results no matter how good your content is.
As you work with your designers and developers, make it clear that a responsive experience is the priority. Setting this expectation in the beginning will ensure the developer isn’t stuck figuring out makeshift solutions during development.
Be choosy about your CMS
Creating an experience that is optimized for your customers is dependent on your ability to actually make improvements.
Be sure you’re working with a content management system (CMS) that allows your team to make changes and react to the insights you’re gaining through your analytics and customer data. If you don’t have coding experience or a developer on staff, find a CMS that aligns with your team’s skill set and will allow them to make changes without coding know-how.
At VantagePoint, we often recommend WordPress, which owns 60.8% market share in the CMS market. For marketing teams, it’s easy to use, and for developers, its versatility makes it easy to leverage the plugin/developer community while also being able to customize as desired.
Include content your customers are looking for
Another part of B2B website best practices is to include content your customers are looking for. As you’re preparing content for the website, organize and write your content to support your customers’ research and focus on solving their problems first.
Here are some tips for content creation.
- Make the differences among your products — and why those differences matter — clear to visitors.
- Create thought leadership content. Almost 60% of business decision makers said thought leadership led to their awarding of business to an organization, according to a 2019 Edelman-LinkedIn study.
- Showcase case studies and testimonials to provide social proof, which is a huge motivator for all consumers, especially in the B2B world. According to Marketing Charts, case studies help convert and accelerate the most leads.
- Demonstrate your industry experience by including segment-specific pages, application examples or other content.
- Tell your brand story, especially if it can make B2B buyers relate to your brand’s values or purpose. Remember this marketing adage as taught by Simon Sinek: “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”
B2B sales cycles can be long and complex. Look for ways to capture contact information both for immediate sales opportunities and lead nurturing over time.
Options for list development include contact forms, chat bots, gated content downloads and webinar or demo registrations.
Simply capturing the leads isn’t the end goal — be sure to have a plan for how to respond to nurture these leads once you have them through marketing automation, lead assignment or other methods.
Utilize analytics tools
It’s impossible to improve your website without understanding how your audience is interacting with it. Tools like Google Analytics allow you to monitor how effectively your site is achieving its goals and even determine which channels are delivering the best return on investment. Without it, you’re working blind.
Institute a maintenance plan
Finally, remember that websites should be considered living, breathing parts of your marketing strategy. Have a plan in place to keep content updated and address issues or opportunities found in analytics. 77% of users who come to a 404 error page will leave the site forever, according to Atomseo. Regular maintenance is key to preserving the hard work (and money) you put into establishing your website and can make future refreshes much simpler.
At VantagePoint, we’re accustomed to dealing with the complexities of B2B websites. Although these B2B website best practices are a great start, if you’re working on a website project and would like some help — or just some friendly advice — get in touch.