David Crouch is the president of ten24, a firm that develops Web sites for B2B and non-profit organizations. Here he shares insights into trends, best practices, and common mistakes that B2B marketers make with site launches.
Q. How has B2B site development evolved over the past year or two?
A. We are seeing many more marketers using multiple analytics tools – including those from companies such as Hubspot, Demandware, and Google – on their sites. As a result, marketers have access to more and better data, but that can also cause issues. They struggle to manage all this data because they need to access it through multiple interfaces. And having the data (even lots of it) is only half the battle; interpreting and acting on it is still something clients struggle with on a day-to-day basis. Many marketers end up pulling the data into a spreadsheet to create a report format that makes sense to them.
Aggregating data from multiple solutions into one location, and then being able to manipulate the data from there, would go a long way to addressing this issue. Marketing automation solutions will likely start pulling this data into a single tool, but for now, most of those solutions are too expensive for smaller companies. To help our clients overcome these issues and access all information from one spot, we are investigating the development of a dashboard.
Q. What key issues do B2B companies often overlook when embarking on a Web site launch or redesign?
A. The biggest issues are that they underestimate the level of effort required and oversimplify the process. Almost without fail, companies are off by over 50% when they estimate the number of pages for their site. And marketers almost always miss the mark when estimating how much time is needed to create content. Many companies start off by relying on internal resources to generate the content. Unless the employee can dedicate significant time writing and editing copy over a period of weeks or months, he or she will fall behind quickly. Then the entire project gets drawn out. On top of that, companies often overlook the need for a writer who understands how to write SEO-friendly copy. You've pretty much wasted your time and money if you create your site content without considering SEO.
Q. Explain the value of a content management system (CMS).
A. The value of a CMS depends on the specific requirements of the client, but in most cases, CMS provides the following:
- Allows non-technical users to update site content such as pages, documents and images without knowing HTML.
- Enables consistent design across the site, controlled by style sheets, no matter how many new pages you add.
- Supports creation of SEO-friendly content and forms for lead capture
- Simplifies content publishing and approval process by enabling you to create a workflow
- Makes it possible to track history and revisions, and roll back to an earlier version of the site if necessary
- Streamlines the process of adding features such as RSS and blogs – for example by automatically generating RSS feeds when you add news or events – and presents content in structured format, such as in a calendar.
In a true content-managed site, all design elements and content live in the CMS database. The CMS creates site pages on the fly whenever someone clicks on a page link. Because all pages live in your CMS – and not as individual pages – you don't need to separately manage each page as an HMTL file. At its core, a CMS provides workflow and makes it much easier to make changes across a site.
Q. You hosted a Webinar, along with Andy Komack of Komarketing Associates, that highlighted features to look for in a CMS that helps maintain SEO best practices. Can you share a few tips?
A. As you're building a new site, look for a CMS that handles the following at a minimum:
- Automatically generates a sitemap and search-friendly URLs.
- Doesn't lock down essential page attributes, especially the title tag. For example, your page title might be "Management Team" but perhaps you want it to read: "Electrical Engineering Management Team." It's critical that you can customize these fields for SEO purposes.
- Automatically redirects site visitors to the right page. For example, whenever you change a URL or move a page to a different section of the site, you want the CMS to automatically create a 301 redirect from the old URL to the new URL.
Anyone can access the Webinar on demand for more tips.
Q. You recently developed a new site design for the Wellesley Hills Group. What best practices did you incorporate into the site?
A. We implemented site architecture and navigation best practices that we incorporate into every ten24 website. Some of these best practices include:
- The logo and brand appear in the top left corner of each page
- The main navigation bar is horizontal
- The utility navigation bar – with links to the newsletter, search, and contact – appears in the upper right corner of each page
- A secondary navigation bar is on the left-hand side of each inner page
We typically include a "breadcrumb trail" under or above the title of each secondary page so visitors understand where they are on the site. You can see an example of this on another client's site, where it says Home > What We Do > Merchant Services. This is built automatically by the CMS and also helps with SEO because it provides internal links.
Q. What suggestions would you share with B2B marketers who are considering a site design/development project?
A. Most B2B sites are content hubs and critical to lead-generation and nurturing. That means marketers need to approach the project with more than design in mind.
Before even considering design – or the technology to be used – marketers need to define requirements from marketing, sales, and support standpoints. The main goal is figuring out which technical platform will serve your needs today and a few years into the future, and this decision should be driven by business objectives. The look and feel of your site may change in the near future, but you don’t want to have to rebuild the entire site because the platform you chose won’t accommodate your needs.
Read more Savvy B2B posts from Stephanie.