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Strategy, tactics, ideas and tips from Creative Company.

B2B website: 5 steps to more engaging design

Boring. Plain. Uninviting. Jargon overload. Too often this is what we see when we visit a B2B website.

But this isn’t how your B2B (business to business) website has to be. This isn’t how your B2B website should be. For years, B2B organizations have used bland websites, typical branding, and expected marketing. We’re finally starting to see significant changes.

According to a study conducted by Google and Millward Brown Digital, almost 90% of B2B researchers use the internet to research a potential purchase. They conduct 12 searches on average before connecting on a specific brand’s website. Not surprising when you discover nearly half of B2B researchers are Millennials (ages 18-34). Senior level executives may still make the final decision, but more than 80% of non-C-suiters have a say in purchasing decisions. Those Millennials aren’t just looking for you on their desktops. More than 40% of researchers use a mobile device during the B2B purchase process!

If your website is not engaging or mobile-friendly, you’ll lose potential sales. People who don’t find what they need quickly (10 seconds or less) will jump to another link, another site, another company. When your website IS engaging, visitors will explore, read, download, click-through and eventually, connect.

Meet today’s B2B website standards

Whether the purpose of your website is to build brand awareness, establish credibility, or function as a sales funnel, you must meet today’s B2B website standards. What does that mean? Two words: engaging design.

What works is good, integrated design that fills a need—carefully thought out, well executed, and tested.
― Steve Krug, Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability

For many, the term website design triggers the idea of “a beautiful website.” As Steve Krug says, that’s not what good web design is truly about. It’s actually about how you guide visitors and potential customers through your website to find what they’re looking for. We’ve seen many beautiful websites that needed redesign… because they were beautiful but confusing, and not intuitive. Or a fantastic design, but the wrong context.

B2B websites: 5 steps to more engaging design

Meet B2B website standards of today with these 5 steps to more engaging design.

5 steps to a more engaging website design

So we’re in agreement, your B2B website needs more engaging design and you need a team of webpage designers.. Now what? It may surprise you but these 5 steps don’t have you “designing” at all. Even those of you who, like me, aren’t exactly artistic can get started on a design that draws your visitors in to your content!

Step 1: Get your audience personas on fleek

(Fleek … a Millennial term for flawlessly styled, on point … originally applied to perfect eyebrows)

As Krug stated, design is carefully thought out… that means your design is carefully thought out from your audiences’ point of view, by people who are professional designers.

Revisit how many different audiences you have and why they come to your website. With a B2B website, you probably have multiple audiences to consider: The CEO, the non-C suiter, maybe a few people in between, a purchasing manager and/or an end user. When each audience shows up, what are they looking for? What do you offer that makes you the best answer or choice?

Jot down what you know about who is a potentially great customer or referral source. Summarize what they’re looking for when they find you. Talk to your sales team, what are the most frequently asked questions? What are the results or outcomes your audiences want from what you provide?

Not sure how to tackle audience personas? We have a free worksheet for that!

GET MY AUDIENCE DEFINITION WORKSHEET

Step 2: Get clear about your positioning

If you think

Quality is not your wow. Everyone says they offer quality service/products.

Your “wow!” should be one of the first things visitors see, along with a clear statement about what you offer.

Before designing get clear about your positioning within your industry. What makes you different? Why do people choose you over your competitor? And how do you best express that? The words and images you choose can transform your website from bland to memorable.

If you think your “wow” is “quality service” … I say go back to the drawing board. Dig deeper. What is truly unique about your what you do or sell and how do you best express that from your audiences’ perspective? (What’s in it for me?)

Step 3: Organize information in a hierarchy

Many B2B businesses make the mistake of dumping lots of information on their website without any structure to guide the visitor through. We’ve all seen it. Lists of products and services. Technical jargon. Don’t be that website.

Gather all of the current content on your website (photos, diagrams, pdfs, copy, sales info, more) and the information you’d like to add. Now sort it into buckets or categories based on your audience personas or based on the common reasons they have for wanting what you offer. Then, find buckets of content within each bucket. Do this sorting process as many times as it takes to create easy-to-follow paths from your home page to specific details.

Try and put yourself in the shoes of your audience–talk to your sales people about the way a sales conversation usually evolves. How do people decide? What are the triggers to buy? What factors will pull them in further to the sales conversation? Use those ideas to frame up the hierarchy.

Remember, the goal of your home page is to draw visitors into the next pages, the ones that will deliver what they are looking for.

Step 4: Map out navigation and your home page

You’re finally ready for a basic layout of your website. No, as promised you still don’t need to be an artist. Your main navigation is going to be your top level (big) buckets of information. The lower level (smaller) information buckets will become gallery pages, content pages, or separate pieces of information on a single, long page.

Choose the page type based on how much information you have in each small bucket and how much emphasis you want to put on that information. And … get away from the old-style boxy, squared off websites to make full use of your images and text on a large monitor.

Now that you have your navigation set, figure out how your home page will reflect that navigation. Put your “wow!” factor at the top. Use pictures that tell a story instead of just showing off your products or plant. Whether you choose to do a slider of images, a single main image, or a banner make sure the image and the text work together to present your wow at a glance.

Don’t forget your mobile viewers! Put contact information at the top to make it easy to reach you. The structure of the rest of your home page is completely dependent on what you offer and the navigation you’ve chosen.

This B2B website design is well thought out from the audience's point of view.

Layered navigation keeps the focus on the four main categories. It provides quick access to an information-rich B2B website.

Need an example? Check out the McMinnville Economic Development Partnership (MEDP) website. The home page slider starts with the wow: Exceptional performance. Enviable lifestyle. The navigation is based on their four different audiences.

When you click through the four, audience-focused tiles on the home page, you get to a category page which links to the next set of information specific to that category. Clicking on a blue tile gets you to a content page. Sidebar navigation makes other parts of the category easily accessible without deterring visitors from their current path. Layered navigation also keeps the focus on the four main categories. It provides quick access to an information-rich site.

Step 5: Design the layout for each page type

With your navigation and home page in place, you will know how many different kinds of pages you need. Do you need a category page? A content page? A team page? A photo gallery? Each page type needs a layout template. Each layout will be designed using the same process you followed for the home page.

Decide what needs to be at the top and work your way down. This is where some design knowledge is useful. It helps to know what should be a button, a colorful badge, or text with links. Don’t “dead-end” visitors on a page. Ensure there is a next step or call to action on each page.

As you work through your pages, keep basic website design standards in mind, such as easy-to-read font size, mobile-friendly, clear calls to action… You can make it easy on yourself and download our website essentials checklist:

GET MY 6 WEBSITE ESSENTIALS CHECKLIST

Bonus step: Choose photos that are meaningful to your audiences

B2B website imagesAlthough the tendency on many B2B websites is to show pictures of the products, in many cases these photos are meaningless to the visitor. Manufacturing heaters? Showing a big blue box doesn’t solve the visitor’s problem or help them understand which model to buy. Proud of your facility? An aerial photo of a giant roof and parking lot doesn’t inspire response from your visitors.

Choose your images carefully. Our brains process pictures 60,000 times faster than words. Your pictures should communicate user-focused information or results customers want from your products or services. Save the product shots for the specifications pages.

Time for the extinction of lame B2B websites

This is a call for the end of the expected, boring, impossible to navigate, information overloaded B2B website. Today your website–whether you’re marketing to consumers or to other businesses–is the center of your marketing. It can build your brand reputation. It can deliver warm leads to your sales team (see our posts on inbound marketing). Stop losing out on business opportunities with a website that doesn’t engage your potential customers. Stop damaging your credibility. With a lot of thought and a hint of creativity, you can be the one fulfilling your audiences’ expectations… and closing more business.

Know a B2B company that’s just crushing it with their website? Share in the comments!

About the author

Alexandra Riecke-Gonzales

As a millennial who has also worked in social media marketing and management for the last 2 years, Alex really has the best of both worlds: As a millennial she knows what they want and how they communicate and as a social media marketer she is able to take that knowledge and put it to use for businesses. Of course, finishing up a Master's Degree in Communication doesn't hurt either, helping her understand the significance of context, channel, and messaging. She writes to encourage conversations that help others develop actionable branding strategies but more importantly, encourage conversations about the social media landscape today and how to best navigate it.

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2 Comments

  1. I think a lot of companies go overboard with positioning. People are looking for products and services relevant to them and their verticals, along with social proof they’re not risking their budget on an unknown quantity. Keep the marketing and mission stuff short and let people get on with their research.

    Reply
    • Thanks for the comment Paul! I think what you’re pointing to is not necessarily going overboard with positioning, but poor organization of messaging and a website. What I think you’re identifying is when you visit a website and the entire home page is “our mission,” “our philosophy …” In other words, they skipped step one – identifying audiences – and chose to message themselves as “we” “we” “we” … Which I agree with you, is a complete turn off. Right up front I want answers to MY questions. But I do think there is a place for explanation of mission, philosophy, who the company is. And I think there are certain people who will get to a point in their research where they want to know that stuff about you. So it has a place … But it may not be the best thing to lead with.

      I should also note that when we talk about positioning, we’re not talking about mission, values, etc. We’re talking about why customers choose you. So to us, positioning is finding the wow. Is it customer service? Is it expediency? Is it all inclusive service and products? Is it ease of use? If I’m visiting your website, I already know what you sell … I’m visiting your website to find out why I’m buying it from YOU. That’s where we see positioning making a big difference and that’s why we say don’t just list your products and services. Your positioning tells me, the customer, right away the reason I choose you over all of my other options.

      Thanks again for the comment! Great discussion to have.

      Reply

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