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In a Web 2.0 world, marketing teams have taken a more active role in managing Web content, while websites have become richer and more interactive, attracting more user responses, higher engagement, and increased interactivity.

Well-run marketing campaigns must be supported by well-run websites to deliver rapid return on investment. Often, a carefully planned marketing plan will succeed, resulting in a large number of responses, only to be followed by a bevy of errors or a website crash, squelching the campaign itself and potentially causing additional brand damage.

By posing these five simple questions to IT staff, marketers can take on a more active role in ensuring a positive Web experience for visitors—delivering campaign results and, ultimately, corporate success.

1. How is our website set up? How does that affect customer experience?

No matter how small or large your organization, your greatest responsibility is to ensure a positive experience for your potential customers when they receive your campaign and visit your website.

To that end, knowing how customers are viewing materials and what you can do to make that experience as positive as possible depends on what type of setup your website uses.

Ask what your hardware and software platforms are. Your content management system is particularly important. Different technologies have distinct benefits and drawbacks in terms of ease of use and performance. The better you understand those, the more effective you can be in deciding which type of content to deliver and how you want to publish it.

2. How does the campaign look to the rest of the world?

In the vast majority of situations, especially if you're using a CMS, assessing how your campaign looks will be easy, and this step is likely already part of your work-flow process. For the remaining tiny minority of situations, it's well worth the effort of setting up this procedure.

Run through your campaign exactly as the recipient would (reading the email, links to conversion pages, form submission, content download, etc.). Then do it all in different email clients and Web browsers.

Your desktop IT support can help ensure you have different email clients and Web browsers available to use. Something can look fine in Firefox but awful in Internet Explorer. Or it could look beautiful on the Web but terrible on a mobile device, where people are increasingly receiving and reading information.

Once your campaign looks great and is set up to your satisfaction, time to kick it off and out the door, right? Not so fast.

3. Is our website ready for the timing of the campaign and the traffic that goes along with it?

As marketers, we know that the "best time," in general, to launch a campaign is Tuesday through Thursday, between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. local time. However, and I can't stress this enough: Before launching any online campaign, always, always check with your IT department to verify if it's a good time for your website to be hit with a spike in traffic.

Ask whether there are any known maintenance issues or planned outages during that time. Is there anything going on that would prevent your targets from receiving or viewing the content you've so carefully crafted?

In addition to planning when to send out the campaign, knowing how much traffic you expect it to generate can give you a huge advantage when setting expectations with your IT team. Before you send out your campaign, it's imperative to let IT know how much traffic you're expecting. (You're using activity analytics to track this, right? If not, it's time to start!)

4. Has IT done any performance-testing or load-testing on our site to ensure the site doesn't crash?

You've sent out the campaign, it's a phenomenal success, and visitors are coming to your website in droves. Not only that, they're forwarding the message to their friends, colleagues, and acquaintances who are also visiting your site. Your campaign has been Digged, Slashdotted, and StumbledUpon. The response is bigger than you ever anticipated. Congratulations!

However, most websites that normally aren't under a heavy traffic load aren't equipped to handle sudden bursts: Your site response times are going through the roof; your customers can't access the content you've worked so hard to create; and not only has your campaign imploded upon itself, but your brand has taken a serious blow.

One needs only to look in IT publications such as Network World to see the tales of outages and site failures that were rampant over the 2008 holiday sales:

"Victoria's Secret shoppers trying to place items in a shopping cart received a site unavailable page and were unable to proceed during the morning of Dec. 1, Gomez [a respected IT measurement firm] reports. Meanwhile, at Williams-Sonoma's shopping cart/view payment pages, a typical transaction slowed from 26 seconds at 6 a.m. to almost 50 seconds between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. At Dell's site, returning shoppers were briefly (between 9:40 a.m. and 10:15 a.m.) unable to retrieve pre-populated account information, meaning they had to start-over filling out forms when checking out."

Considering that a delay of only one additional second on a website can cause a customer to abandon the site entirely (according to Aberdeen Research), a crash could be disastrous.

Technologies are available to ensure websites keep performing under heavy loads. Remember question No. 1—knowing about the technology you're using It comes in handy here.

If you've got a third-party company hosting or managing your site, it's worth finding out what it's doing to ensure that your site remains running if you get a sudden heavy spike in traffic.

Though it's probably outside your job scope, as a marketer, to be sourcing and recommending IT technology, having regular discussions about performance and availability with your IT staff will help both groups succeed.

5. How did we do from the user's point of view?

Once the campaign is over, you'll want to look into your reporting features to see how it went and evaluate how you can do even better next time.

You probably have activity metrics already set up through programs such as Google Analytics or similar tools. But did you know there are several tools on the IT side that can help give you a picture of what your campaign respondents really saw?

Your IT staff likely has access to network statistics from a monitoring package or data from network devices that show performance and uptime. That information will give you a picture of how long your customers may have been waiting for pages to load or how long transactions were taking before, during, and after the campaign, and in high-traffic periods.

Stepping further into the realm of technology is a big leap for marketers, but as more campaign activity moves onto the Web, it becomes part of our job to ensure a positive experience throughout our prospects' encounters with our Web properties.

Stay in touch with your technology staff and providers. (Heck, use this article as a conversation starter). Having quick chats regularly can ensure your campaign succeeds through all points of contact, and your brand and company remain as strong online as it is offline.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ryan Stocker is VP of product management at Marqui (www.marqui.com), a provider of Web marketing technologies, including content management, SEO, site search, CRM, and analytics solutions. Prior to joining Marqui, Ryan was lead program manager for Microsoft Office SharePoint Server.