With the rise of social media, user-generated content, and widgets, there are more factors than ever to consider when designing a company Web site. Throw in SEO and choosing the proper design/layout for your Web site, and it all gets very confusing, very quickly.

Which means that Web site optimization experts such as Karen Breen Vogel are in very high demand. Vogel understands how to lead organic traffic to Web sites—but, perhaps more importantly, she understands how to give those users the content they are looking for when they arrive.

Here, in a conversation that previews the session she'll be leading next month at the MarketingProfs "Driving Sales" conference, Vogel cuts through the clutter and gives invaluable advice on how to build disciplined Web site optimization programs that build on strengths and business objectives.

Q: What are some of the ways that companies can change the design of its Web site in order to make it more effective?

A: A Web site is effective if it contributes to business results based on the specific goals of the business. In order to be effective it needs to attract the right users or traffic, [those] whose actions will correlate to the specific business goals. Which means, in the case of new-customer revenue goals, the design needs to support connecting to your target market segments on the search engines, since they are the primary source of traffic on the web.

This is done through a set of techniques and guidelines referred to as SEO or search engine optimization. They range from making sure the search engines can crawl and index your site pages to structuring copy, tags, and links optimally so that the search engine also determines your site pages are focused on particular themes and can provide a searcher a good place to land, resulting in a higher ranking in the natural results page, which then results in more qualified traffic to your site.

Q: So much of SEO seems to center on increasing Web site traffic. Is that enough?

A: A Web site cannot be effective...if it does not engage this qualified traffic in the actions that correlate to business outcomes. Engagement increases when a site is designed for the visitor's needs—not as a product sales pitch.

A site should behave like a great consultative sales call, providing self-segmentation options for the user on the homepage (analogous to asking what the visitor is most focused on) by place in the buying cycle, role in the decision process, pain point, or issue the visitor is trying to resolve, etc.

This allows the visitor to quickly get to the most relevant content and feel as if they have found a place to get their mission accomplished.

The site also needs to provide multiple places for interaction rather than just a "contact us." In general, the navigation bars and calls to action should be consistently located on each page so that the user can find things easily.

Site Search is also a great addition to many sites for those who do have many products, solutions and offerings that can be organized around parametric data and where a search is more productive than a navigation design.

Q: When a company examines its visitor and traffic statistics, what should it be looking for to indicate that visitors are finding value from the content on its Web site? How can a company tell whether its Web site is meeting visitors' expectations?

A: One KPI (key performance indicator) that is good for this is returning visitors/new visitors, which is a clear sign that visitors have found a reason to return.

Another way a company can tell if a Web site is meeting expectations is to just ask them. There are several intercept survey solutions available in the market that are great, and it is amazing how few companies deploy such a straightforward mechanism to ask visitors how their visit went.

Typically there are also key information-exchange offers built into the site, where the visitor is asked for a small (note I said small) amount of information in return for a value such as a whitepaper, tips sheet, case study, How-To directions—or to opt in for a valuable email offering. As conversion rates on these activities rise, this signals the site is accomplishing the goal of getting to the next phase of the relationship—the visitors are engaged enough to provide information.

Through most Web analytics tools, you can also set up content groups to watch how visitors spend their time by content group, which assists in understanding which content is most popular, etc. Using pageviews/visit stats can also be a decent metric, although sometimes when this is high or rising it is a sign the site is not easy to use and visitors are trying too many things to get where they want.

It does typically signal a site where visitors are staying longer, which most often is a good thing, unless there is a navigation problem.

Q: It seems like widgets are exploding in popularity. In terms of a B2B Web site, what are widgets, and how companies can make proper use of them?

A: Widgets are interfaces to web services or tool that can be distributed to locations on the web where users and target prospects congregate (i.e., not at your site) to engage them where they are. They also usually are added to a desktop as a consistent interface point to the service.

Every business has a possible tool or set of information and a configuration of that data that should be valuable to its customers and prospects—putting it into this format (multiple dev formats available at Yahoo and Google [Google calls them Gadgets]) and then making it widely available is a way to leverage a network of desktop users on the internet.

Could be a Q and A, could be some type of calculator or register, a product finder, a modeling tool, etc. They are things users value and ritualize their use, and that will either eventually bring them to your site to get more value or allow you to convert them where they are.

Q: Can you give examples of when adding user-generated content to a company's Web site makes sense?

A: Product reviews by customers are great if the site has a focus on distributing products or providing product comparisons.

User-generated content can also be good in highly technical situations or where the user population can provide significant value around application of products or services more effectively to each other than the manufacturer or provider can, given their lack of real-life application experience.

Q: If you could give companies one piece of advice on how to convert Web site visitors into leads, what would it be?

A: Embrace the entire buying cycle—conversions can happen at each point. Be more relevant up front in the design, whether it be a site or a landing page—make it more about them (more customer-centric vs. product-centric) and then let real data be the guide (both behavioral (Web analytics) and attitudinal (surveys, usability, testing) on what offers and content convert more effectively. Gut feel is a bad approach and not necessary, given the data available based on online interactions.

Note: Hear Karen Breen Vogel live at the MarketingProfs B2B Forum, "Driving Sales: What Works, What's New, What Sticks," where she'll moderate a panel discussion on how companies can assess whether their Web site is working as hard as it might. Sign up here.

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image of Mack Collier

Mack Collier is a social-media strategist based in Alabama. He helps companies build programs and initiatives that let them better connect with their customers and advocates. His podcast, The Fan-Damn-Tastic Marketing Show, discusses ways that brands can turn customers into fans. His first book, Think Like a Rock Star: How to Create Social Media and Marketing Strategies That Turn Customers Into Fans, was published in April 2013 by McGraw-Hill.

Twitter: @MackCollier

LinkedIn: Mack Collier