Websites that convert potential customers into actual customers are essential in today’s marketplace – if yours doesn’t, your rivals’ might.
Your website is usually a potential customer’s first point of contact with your business. It’s a place for them to start their order, or somewhere to get information for potential purchase – which is why it’s so important to get it right. A website is also a delicate ecosystem, with many different elements – layout, content, even the architecture behind the site – all of which can determine whether it’s will be a sales machine or something which will send potential prospects elsewhere.
Looking the part is a good place to start. “Print is a design-led industry – if you don’t put the effort in on your own site what are you going to do for your customers?” says Craig Sennett, director of Ipswich-based web design company PC Futures, which has designed sites for printers.
One printer which has recently overhauled its website is London-based Rapidity. It’s a visually striking website, with ‘landing pages’ for each of the company’s key areas of business. “We recently refurbished our Sidcup site – it’s clean and sleek and we wanted our website to reflect that. It’s very brand-heavy and consistent with our other marketing collateral. It’s visual and vibrant and includes a gallery of our work. It’s our shop window,” says marketing manager Hayley Stuart.
This approach to having separate landing pages for each product is best practice in 2019, says Marc Woodhead, chief executive of Hastings-based software firm Holograph. “A homepage needs to exist but the best principle at the moment is a landing page for key areas – that’s got great SEO value, and it shows that the service a priority for your business,” he says.
It’s not a practice all printers are wise to. “What I see a lot with business-to-business websites is that companies will have a page listing their services and a contact form – but you might find that each service warrants its own page – leaflet printing, or business card printing for instance,” says search engine optimisation (SEO) expert Stacey McNaught, director of Oldham-based agency McNaught Digital. It’s important to leave the jargon out too.
“I find with a lot of B2B companies they can get caught up in their own terminology, and don’t realise what the user is looking for,” adds McNaught. Keeping industry lingo out of the equation was a core part of Rapidity’s recent redesign too. “We wrote new copy – we didn’t want to be too text heavy. It’s a jargon-free friendly tone,” says Stuart.
What’s also a must is designing your website with mobile in mind. “With mobile sites, you don’t give as much info; you have less room to catch people’s attention. Your catchpoint should have a short heading, a subheading and an eye-catching picture, or these days, a video,” says Woodhead.
Many printers serve a B2B audience, where most orders are placed via desktop so it might seem counter-intuitive to design a website with a mobile-first approach. However, as McNaught explains, having a mobile-optimised site will help with your Google positioning. “Google has been clear about having mobile priority,” she says. The US tech firm has provided companies the tools to see where they stand – its PageSpeed Insights tool will help you gauge how mobile-friendly you are. “It’s a bit frustrating for B2B websites but you have to tick every box. Don’t obsess about getting a 100% rating, but benchmark against your nearest competitors,” advises Naughton.
A mobile-first approach will also mean that your site is fast by design – particularly if you build with users still struggling with old 3G connections in mind. Site speed is of the upmost importance to Quinns The Printers. “Speed is key for a website like ours which has a high volume of traffic daily. Nobody wants to spend minutes let alone more than five seconds waiting on another page to load. Ensuring that a fast loading time, is key to keeping customers attention and interest in our site,” says Richard McCarthy, marketing manager at Quinns.
Speed and site visibility can also be affected by the platform, your content management system (CMS), and even where the site is hosted. “How the site is constructed plays a big part in Google visibility,” says Woodhead. There are plenty of free and off-the-shelf CMS possibilities, but be wary of what you choose.
“If you go open-source it opens up a lot of options with things like Wordpress. It can be good up to a point, but you have to customise it so much it can get very complicated. It also doesn’t rank well because it’s been used for a lot of shit! They can also look quite samey,” says Woodhead.
US business Squarespace has helped to revolutionise the way small businesses build and host their websites and it’s also introduced handy e-commerce tools. It’s easy to see the appeal, and it was the platform that Rapidity used to build its new site. “It’s a lot easier than Wordpress and not as clunky,” says Stuart.
“If you’ve got access to a designer, good content and photography Squarespace can work,” says Woodhead.
“But if you’re on a bulk hosting platform like Squarespace, that doesn’t give you good bandwidth priority, it can damage you as Google looks at your website’s performance,” he adds.
As well as your design, words can help your potential customers convert – and help your Google rankings too. Bicester-based print management business Webmart has an extensive selection of meaty content – from customer guides to white papers. While it does have its SEO benefits, chief executive Simon Biltcliffe reckons it’s best to take an altruistic approach. “Yes, it has helped search performance, but it’s useful and if you give things out without anything back the law of human reciprocity kicks in and people refer you on, and refer you in – it’s just a nice thing to do really,” he says.
Google is getting more and more sophisticated with how it displays search results – and it’s often the job of SEO and content managers in a business to stay on top – and even in some case second-guess – the tech giant. “There are often hundreds of updates over the course of a year. But then Google will release a big ‘broad core’ algorithm update – and they’ll confirm it afterwards,” says McNaught. One such happened in August last year, and it’s had a big impact on search professionals. “We’ve seen a real move towards Google’s emphasis on expertise, authority and trust and also on ‘search intent’,” she continues. “But everybody has different opinions on what ‘expertise, authority and trust’ look like.”
A good place to start with your content planning is to find out what your customers are looking for – and luckily there are plenty of tools to help you to that. “With B2B, people often make an initial contact with a site. and then go an do more research,” says McNaught. She recommends AnswerThePublic as a useful free tool. “It scrapes questions people put into Google, so you can make content to answer them,” she advises.
Google’s increasing sophistication means it’s getting more adept at weeding out poor, spammy content written specifically for SEO – so cramming ‘cheap business cards’ ad nauseum is no longer the guaranteed banker it once was. “Avoid keyword stuffing,” says McNaught. “As a rule, read it out loud. If you feel like an idiot, you’ve probably repeated the keyword too many times. It’s probably better to use related keywords to make it sound more natural. Simply write as if you’re not writing for SEO – if it’s right it’ll fit in.”
Producing content is only half the battle though, getting other sites to link to it is key to getting it to rank. “Links are really, really critical. Your chances without links are pretty slim. Create whitepapers and reports to link to – these are great for journalists,” says McNaught.
Blogs can be another effective way of increasing your content output – but they’re not to be undertaken lightly, as Quinns’ McCarthy explains. “We produce ours in-house. It enabled our website to become more ‘personable’ so to speak. But to be honest we really need to add more information to it more regularly to make the best use of it.”
Social media channels are a good way to get your content out there, but making your social presence highly visible on your website isn’t always a wise idea. “If you don’t do much social and link to a Facebook page which hasn’t been updated for years people might question if you’re still in business,” says Sennett.
So where are websites going in the future? For Biltcliffe, the answer is simple. “If it isn’t mobile it’s dead,” he says. “The age of buyers is coming down to people in their mid-20s to mid-30s – and they’re avid users of mobile internet. So there’s change in the way things are bought and how you position them. Websites, yes, they’ll always be there. We’re always going to use it as a way of people getting information but it’s the people that make the difference. Where you need creativity, where you need strategic insight – no computer will ever take away that.”