Why read this? : We look at the role of your website in your digital marketing plan. Learn how it helps you hit key objectives like reach, engagement and sales. We also look at what systems, skills and resources you need to run it. Read this for ideas on how to get the most out of your website.
Brand websites first started appearing in the 1990s. In the fast-paced world of digital marketing, they makes them “almost” sound old-fashioned.
But that doesn’t mean they’re no longer important. A great website is still the heart of a good digital marketing plan.
Websites come in many forms. From simple content based WordPress blogs to advanced brand and e-Commerce experience platforms loaded up with lot of martech bells and whistles.
(see our website planning guide for more on the different options).
There’s 3 big decisions to make when you build a website. You decide what it needs to say (content). What it looks and feels like (design). And what it needs to do for the customer (functionality).
The website in your digital marketing plan
But of course your website doesn’t stand alone. It connects to the rest of your digital marketing. To your digital media and search, for example. To your e-Commerce activities, and in fact, all the different parts of your customer experience.
These multiple uses make it like the Swiss Army Knife of digital marketing. You use it in all parts of your digital marketing plan.
The website in the digital marketing business model
Our digital business model guide outlines the 7 activities which the term “digital” covers.
First, there’s reach, engage and sell. These cover interactions between you and the customer online.
Then, there’s technology, analytics and resources. These are what you need to make digital happen in your business.
And finally, there’s transformation. The change management program 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.
Your website plays a role in each of these digital marketing activities. It helps connect them together. It’s your online brand home. A hub where customers interact with your brand.
Reach deals with getting your message in front of customers online. You create brand awareness and interest by reaching customers with your online communications.
Your digital media adverts and and social media campaigns should all link to your website. It’s the call to action 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 you (as a customer) click a link, your main thought is what the link will do for you. Find out more, make a booking, buy now or whatever. Customers don’t care much about where they do these things, only that they see 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. It should relate to their needs.
Digital marketers often talk about engagement in the broad sense, but it also has a more specific meaning you need to consider.
It’s a specific measure of customer interaction. As far as websites in digital marketing go, this measure is usually the time spent on site and / or the number of interactions with the site.
You can analyse those engagement measures and see how they correlate to sales. There’s never a perfect fit. But most sites we’ve worked on, we’ve been able to show a strong correlation between engagement and online sales.
It makes sense, right? The more engaging your website, the bigger the appeal for the customer.
Not all brand websites can handle online selling. But there’s plenty of benefits if you can set it up.
It gives you much stronger connection to customers. They’re no longer anonymous visitors but customers who willingly trust you with their credit card and contact details.
There’s also clear commercial benefits. You own the whole e-Commerce profit and loss. That means you decide the selling price, and all the charges and fees. If you want to try price discounting, you control that.
And finally, you’ve got total control over the whole customer experience. That means you can go faster and try more things out. Faster innovation for example. 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, for example. You get direct customer feedback by analysing the response to changes. If something doesn’t work, drop it and move on to something else. (see our e-Commerce learnings article for more on this approach).
The systems and data to do this testing and analysis are part of your marketing technology plan. In fact, your website is also a piece of marketing technology.
What appears on the screen is at its most basic level driven by lines of HTML code stored on a server. Internet browsers convert them into something more appealing and user-friendly.
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 that help improve how it works for customers.
That could be simple like making it easy to contact customer service. Or it could be more complex like a subscription model where customers can manage their own orders. (For more on complex technology, see our article on martech challenges).
But your website also connects to other technology outside your business too. That makes it even more complex. Your website and social media platforms usually link together, for example. Customers find you on social media, but they only really learn about you when they visit your website.
The website technology needs to connect everything together, so the customer gets a consistent digital marketing experience.
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 also need a process to analyse the data, and make decisions. If some content works better than others, how do you make it more prominent for example? How do you spot when something isn’t working, so you can dump it quickly?
You need this analysis process to improve website performance in your digital marketing activation.
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 that 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 needs to handle the site maintenance. It needs regular testing. Software updates. Fixing bugs and glitches. You need to refresh content to keep your SEO ranking position. All these things 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 it’s only an estimated one.
Lastly in the digital business model comes transformation. A great concept in theory, but a challenging one in practice.
Digital transformation is the name given to the changes businesses have had to make to adapt to how customers use new technology.
It’s a term loved by business consultants, but few others. It should be part of any business’s change management plan to adapt themselves to meet customer needs.
Customers expect businesses to fit into this new world where technology makes everything easy for them.
Customers expect you to have a website. They expect that website to do things for them. To inform them about your products. To give access to your services. They expect a seamless online interaction with you.
That’s 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 control 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 now think about it from the customer point of view. You need 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. When you build your customer experience segment profile for example, research what your customers do online.
Use these insights to shape what your website says, looks like and what it 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 needs to 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).
Anything which makes the visit easier makes the customer happier. Happier customers mean more sales.
Put the customer in control of their visit
When a customer visits your website, they want to feel like they’re in control.
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 or in-store sales promotions.
Customers expect to be able to click on your website and for that to 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.
What about your origin story for example? 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 showcases your brand
It could even be as simple as your website making your brand easily available, so the customer doesn’t even need 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 posts news announcements, and make it easy for journalists to contact them via their website.
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 somewhere 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 resource – money, time and people.