Why read this? : We explore the business benefits that drive your website in digital marketing. Learn its role in hitting key objectives like reach, engagement and sales. We also review the systems, skills and resources you need to run it. Read this to learn how to maximise what your website does for your business.
Brand websites first appeared in the 1990s. In the fast-paced digital marketing world, this makes them sound almost old-fashioned.
And yet, they’re still very important. A great website is vital to your digital marketing plan.
Whatever the content, design and functionality choices you make as you build your website, it also has to connect to the rest of your digital marketing. To your digital media and search, for example. And in fact to all your customer experience and e-Commerce activities.
These multiple uses make it like the Swiss Army Knife of digital marketing. Your website plays a key role in all parts of the digital marketing business model.
The website in the digital marketing business model
Our digital business model guide outlines the 7 activities which “digital” covers.
First, there’s reach, engage and sell. These cover interactions between you and the customer online.
Then, there’s technology, analysis and resources. These are what you need to make digital happen in your business.
And finally, there’s transformation. The change management which turns you into a more digitally capable business.
We call it the RESTART model. Reach, Engage, Sell, Technology, Analysis, Resources and Transformation. Activities which help you restart your business in a digital world. Let’s now look at the role your website plays in each of these digital marketing activities.
Reach is about getting your message in front of customers. You reach them with your online communications to create awareness and interest.
Your digital adverts and social campaigns should all link to your website. It’s the call to action destination for your online communications. It’s where customers come to “visit” you at “your place” online.
These links can be overt e.g. visit our shop at three-brains.com, but often the context makes it clear anyway. The call to action should make it obvious the customer will go to your site if they click.
When customers click a link, they’re mostly interested in what it’ll do for them. Find out more, make a booking, buy now or whatever. They don’t care much about where they do this, only that they get the benefit – informative content, a booking, a purchase and so on.
Your reach plan helps you create the right link. While that could be to another site such as selling with Print on Demand, or through Amazon, ideally, you want customer interactions to happen on your website.
This gives you control over the customer experience. What they see, and what the interaction does.
Engagement happens when you create relevant content and experiences for customers on your site. It’s a measure of their interaction with your content and should relate to something they need.
Digital marketers often talk about engagement broadly, but it also has a more specific meaning.
On websites, that’s usually the time spent on site and/or the number of interactions with the site. A specific measure that shows the customer engaged with the site.
You can analyse those engagement measures to see how they correlate to sales. There’s never a perfect fit. However, well-built sites usually show a strong correlation between engagement and online sales.
It makes sense, right? The more engaging your website, the more likely customers will buy from it.
Not all brand websites can handle online selling. But there are plenty of benefits if you can set it up.
It gives you a stronger connection with customers. They’re no longer anonymous visitors, but customers who trust you enough to share their personal details.
And finally, you’ve got total control over the whole customer experience. So, you can go faster and try more things out. For example, faster innovation. Faster product page updates. No more fumbling your way through third-party product information management systems.
It’s your site. It’s up to you how fast you go, and what you prioritise.
You can test your e-Commerce website with different copy, designs and navigation. Get direct customer feedback by analysing how they respond to changes. And if something doesn’t work, you drop it and move on to the next test. (See our e-Commerce learnings article for more on this approach).
The systems and data for this testing and analysis are part of your marketing technology plan. In fact, your website is also a piece of marketing technology.
Your Content Management System (CMS), for example, defines how you publish, organise and store all your content (text, images, video etc.). Behind it sit databases, plug-ins and other pieces of software which make it work better for customers.
That could be simple like making it easy to contact customer service.
But your website also connects to technology outside your business. That makes it even more complex. For example, your website and social media platforms usually link together. Customers find you on social media, but they only really learn about you when they visit your website.
The website technology connects everything, so there’s a consistent experience for the customer.
Technology also helps you collect data from those customers and what they do on your website.
Analytics tells you how many people visit, which pages they visit, and what they do on each page.
You can also use tagging to create different website experiences for new versus returning customers.
You have to analyse the data and make decisions. For example, if some content works particularly well, how do you make it more prominent? And if something isn’t working, how do you quickly get rid of it? This type of analysis and decision-making helps improve your website’s impact.
Of course, all this activity to create, manage and run your website has a cost. You need resources – money, time and people – to make it all happen.
For example, it costs money to buy the URL and pay the hosting fees. You need to pay for the digital media which drives visits.
You need to create content to go on the site. Blog articles, photography, and video, for example. You do this yourself (which costs you time). Or you get someone to do it for you (so you pay agency fees).
Someone has to handle the site maintenance. It needs regular testing. Software updates. Fixing bugs and glitches. You have to refresh content to keep your SEO ranking. All these have a cost.
You need a digital marketing business plan to work out these costs and how much sales you need your website to create. (e.g. by attracting new customers, or persuading existing customers to buy more).
This isn’t easy to work out, especially if your website doesn’t sell directly. But you need this “money in” assumption to work out how much to spend on your website (in money, time and people). Your website should have a positive ROI, even if only an estimated one.
Customers expect businesses to fit into this new world where technology makes things easier.
They expect your website will do things for them. Inform them about your products. Give access to your services. They expect a seamless online interaction with you.
This is why websites are a more critical part of your digital marketing than say your social media. It’s where you have the most opportunity to shape the customer interaction.
Think of your website as your online brand ‘home’. It’s where you open up the doors to your brand online and say to customers, “Welcome. Come in and enjoy”.
Your website and customer experience
Now the role of the website in your digital marketing plan is clear, let’s think about it from the customer’s point of view. You have to understand why they visit your site, and what they want to do when they’re there.
It helps to know what they already do online. For example, when you build your customer experience segment profile, you research what your customers do online.
Use these insights to shape what your website says, looks like and does. That could be a simple site with only one job – to explain your brand. Or it could be a complex site with multiple jobs. Visiting customers might have different needs, so your website should be flexible enough to meet all those needs.
Use a customer journey map
Use a customer journey map to identify all the jobs your website has to do.
It helps you identify specific customer needs at each stage of the journey.
Create the content, design and functionality to meet those needs. It’s that simple.
Organise the site with navigation and hierarchy to make it easy for customers to find what they need. (Using techniques like progressive disclosure as per our article on design psychology).
Your site needs clear category headers and links, for example. Add a search function. Make sure articles are tagged with keywords to make them easier to find. Make it easy to contact customer service.
Anything which makes the visit easier makes the customer happier. Happier customers mean more sales.
Put the customer in control of their visit
Customers want to feel like they’re in control when they visit your website.
They can go where they want, follow relevant links and interact with the site in a way which helps them meet their needs.
This interaction is important. It’s what sets websites apart from traditional marketing channels like TV advertising and in-store sales promotions.
Customers expect to be able to click on your website and make things happen.
It should feel like a 2-way experience. Active interaction rather than the passive acceptance of traditional marketing. They press buttons or input data. Things happen which meet their needs. Content to read. Videos or photos to look at. Resources to download. And of course, products or services to buy.
Your website and brand identity
Your website is how customers experience your brand online. It’s a key part of your brand identity.
You should think of your website as a place to bring your brand assets – tangible and intangible – to life.
For example, what about your origin story? Most websites have an About Us section which introduces who they are, and how they came to be.
What about educational or entertaining content which meets the customer’s needs? How-to guides and interactive content which showcase your brand
It could even be as simple as your website making your brand easily available, so the customer doesn’t even have to speak to you. They can do it all online.
Baking this identity into your website and in your digital marketing helps customers understand who you are, and what you can do for them.
Your website and brand activation
Despite what many digital evangelists tell you, not everything happens online. Most businesses still have a mix of online and offline activities. If your marketing does things in the “real” world, think about how your website supports those.
For example, share your TV and print advertising on your website. Not many people search on adverts. But when they do, you want them to find the adverts on your website.
Your website can act as a hub for your public relations activities. Many businesses post news announcements and make it easy for journalists to contact them via their websites.
If you run sales promotions and price discounts highlight these on your website. In fact, if you need to include legal notices, such as when you run a competition, customers expect to find those on your website.
Conclusion - The benefits of your website in digital marketing
With the amount of noise that social media generates, websites can sometimes be the forgotten child of your digital marketing plan.
But because you control the whole experience, you can flex the content, design and functionality to best meet customer needs.
It’s your online home where you have the closest interactions with your customers. Your website helps you reach them by customers as it’s where your digital media points to.
Use it to engage customers by creating entertaining, educational and interactive experiences. And if you have your own online store, use it to sell to customers.
To do these things you need systems, skills and resources. (See more on this in our e-Commerce capabilities article). This includes setting up marketing technology; data and analytics and investing the right level of resources – money, time and people.