How B2B Sites Can Overcome the Damage Caused by User Hostile Design
By Shari L.S. Worthington
B2B sales are often complex purchases that involve multiple decision makers and big-ticket items or large service contracts. As most business buyers today start their search for products and services online, you'd think B2B web sites would be in better shape than they are. But new web site usability research from Nielsen Norman Group found that B2B sites earned a mere 58% success rate (the percentage of time users accomplished their tasks on a site). This is pretty pitiful given how much money is at stake and how precious marketing and sales resources are.
After testing 179 B2B sites, the research found that B2B organizations tend to discount the importance of their web sites unless they actually complete the sale online. "In short, because B2B sites don't close sales online, they can turn away the vast majority of users and never know how many sales they've lost." Issues like usability, conversion rate, and support are given short shrift and poor performance becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Closing B2B sales, even gathering contact information on your web site, requires you to first establish some level of credibility. Instead, most sites are merely pitch sites; virtually all the content focuses on a vendor-centric description of the products or services. No tutorials, no white papers, no videos, no app notes, no comparison charts, no testimonials, etc. Sites like these will never provide a decent ROI.
That's usually not the end of it. We also frequently see such problems as confusing navigation, lack of content that supports the buying cycle, registration barriers put up in front of most of the content, and arbitrary segmentation of the content in a way that doesn't match how customers think of themselves.
To get you moving in the right direction, start with the Nielsen top 20 usability guidelines for B2B web sites.
- Establish a web site. It needs to be content-rich and updated regularly. If it's not, then it's not a real web site, it's a doormat.
- Make sure industry directory listings link to your web site. This can have a significant impact on the relevance of site traffic and can help your organic search rankings.
- Optimize your web site for the popular search engines. Organic listings account for 70% of all click activity. Pay per click is nice, but don't take natural search for granted.
- Google is the search engine of choice; get on the first page of results.
- Be wary of using dodgy search engine optimization strategies as they can hurt you and your customers.
- If your organization serves a regional market, include regional identifiers on the home page and in metatags to increase search engine traffic.
- Create a title and description tags that are concise and meaningful.
- Search engine optimization takes time. Add pay per click advertising to the mix to get to the top page more quickly.
- Include explicit industry terminology in the text of your pay per click ads to improve the quality of your clicks.
- Balance visual design with simple interaction design. Don't force a Flash-based home page down everyone's throat. Not everyone can display Flash and not everyone has the patience for it to load.
- Clearly communicate what your company does on the home page and why visitors should care.
- Keep taglines brief, simple, and to the point. Vague or jargonistic taglines only confuse people.
- Present the breadth of merchandise on the home page to give visitors a true impression of what the site offers.
- Use pictures and graphics to tell a more complete story than just text.
- Use keywords that differentiate your site from others.
- Show your range of offerings by indicating the scale of usage. Use relevant segmentation that the customer can identify with. Small, medium, large corporations is too vague.
- Don't force prospects into arbitrary segmentation categories. Make sure the categories are relevant outside of our own marketing plans.
- Clearly define/label market segmentation categories.
- Focus your message on where the prospect's head is at within the buying cycle, not on the product.
- Offer full solutions, not just individual products and services. Bundles and turnkey systems are useful.
Find out more about how to create a high impact, lead generation web site.