Delivering a brilliant B2B website user experience

A positive and consistent user experience can make or break your business online. Does your website keep customers coming back for more?

Delivering a brilliant and compelling user experience means combining creative and functional design with speed, usability, accessibility, content architecture and contingency design.

It is important to recognise that user experience is a key part of branding. This can be simple and effective signposting like that exemplified by the Dell UK site which gets visitors to the content they want quickly. This, in turn, increases conversion rates by generating trust and encourages both loyalty from existing users and new traffic from viral referrals.

Feel the need for speed

Design with speed in mind. Slow loading pages, graphics and rich media can have a hugely negative impact on your bounce rate as visitors refuse to wait for content to load. Employ a three-click journey rule to any page within your website. Factor in simple navigation, using accepted terms and structure to make it as easy as possible for people to find what they’re looking for.

Accessibility

Web accessibility is about reaching the broadest group of people irrespective of disabilities including sight, hearing and speech; physical, cognitive and some neurological disorders.

And as technology continues to innovate at a pace, websites and other web-based applications can draw on advances in areas such as screen readers, Braille displays, magnification and voice- recognition to facilitate access to digital content. Consider them if you are specifically targeting specific groups. International standards such as W3C help set benchmarks that good web designers should abide by.

Content architecture

On large websites it can be worthwhile considering how information is grouped and collated for customer benefit. Conducting exercises offline can help identify trends in browsing behaviour and provide a useful psychological insight into how different individuals search, collate and interact with content. This can play into how the site’s navigation is designed and displayed.

The website for Swedish construction and project management company Skanska, adopts a number of simple but effective navigation techniques that help to manage the presentation of content to site users. It uses top and bottom navigation effectively deployed, as well as ‘breadcrumbs’ throughout the home page. These are additional carefully selected navigation devices that help signpost effectively to interesting content deeper in the site – namely company information, press activity, publications and upcoming events. The site also makes use of a carousel to convey key messages.

Above ‘home’ page, below ‘about us’ page.

The reality in information architecture and navigation is that people will give up quickly if they can’t find what they want, so make sure you are using industry standard definitions and not your own unique vocabulary. Use colour and tabs to help people identify where they are (side navigation bars on inner pages work well for this) and keep the clickable drill down into deeper content to no more than three levels.

Contingency design

There will always be situations where a user makes a request that the system is unable to answer or performs an action that goes against how the system was designed to work.

Leaving form fields blank, requesting a page that doesn’t exist, making a spelling mistake when performing a search or trying to buy a product that is out of stock are all examples of how users could challenge a system.

By predicting these challenges and proposing solutions to either prevent or deal with the problem – by answering the ‘what if…?’ questions – it is possible to find solutions that add value to failure and maintain a positive user experience.

Creative use of the 404 error message that typically displays when a link is broken or a page is removed from a website is a great example of predicting potential short-comings but dealing with them in a way that doesn’t unduly affect the user experience.

What other ways can you deliver brilliant user experience on your website?

Get more on B2B websites, SEO, social media and more with my new ebook Brilliant B2B Digital Marketing.

Why email still matters in b2b marketing

My second post as b2b digital marketing expert commentator has gone live at SmartInsights.

 

Email may well be in terminal decline with the next generation of business professionals more likely to rely on SMS and social network messaging if recent research is to believed.

Yet, most B2B companies still use email-based newsletters as a primary way of attempting to communicate with and engaging customers and prospects.

Find out how you can still make email work for your business by clicking through.

SmartInsights is fast becoming a ‘go-to’ digital marketing resource for marketers and business owners at every level of digital confidence. 50,000 unique visitors hit the website every month, 10,000 are subscribed to the weekly email newsletter, 1,650 follow on Facebook, 1,200 are members of the Linkedin group and 2,400 follow via Twitter. Bookmark the site now sign up for the weekly email by clicking through here.

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5 ways to raise your profile on Twitter

If you’re serious about getting the most out of the micro-blogging platform Twitter – by building credibility, and in turn an audience, it might be time to review how you go about it.

1. Have a hook, a USP, a reason for people to want to be interested in what you have to say. Chances are you are not a celebrity so you’re going to need to focus. Spell it out in your profile biography as these keywords will draw people towards you.

2. Content and context are king. Engaging, interesting and relevant content is critical on Twitter, especially if it is for business use. A carefully crafted line of copy and a shortened link to interesting content provides a number of benefits. It positions your interests and links you to other people and companies interested in that content. It forms common ground and creates opportunities to connect with other users.

The most interesting Twitter accounts predominantly share lots of engaging information they have sourced from others, some of their own content and occasionally some personal information or insights.

3. Pay it forward. Associating yourself with better known sources of great content by retweeting it and including the original creator in your tweet is a very powerful way of building a profile. This works not only for tweets and content you like, but also tweets and content that you want to be associated with from a business perspective. In much the same way as blog, news and article response is a credible way of driving traffic to your own websites and blogs, so to is ingratiating yourself with industry thought leaders through Twitter.

4. Pay it back. By adding that all important @ link to the original creator, you are acknowledging them and validating that content by sharing it with all your connections. Always credit a content creator as they have often spent a significant amount of time on a blog, video, infographic, white paper, ebook or whatever it is you are sharing.

5. Use hashtags. Sounds simple but do all your tweets contain hashtags? I’m as guilty as most for not adopting these all the time, but by adding a relevant tag such as #b2b or #seo or #marketingblog, you are giving your content the best opportunity to develop virally. The conference sector has picked this up and run with it at large scale conferences and exhibitions and there are a number of unofficial tags that often spring up around major TV and news events so tweets can be grouped together.

When these tags hit a high degree of take up, they become a trending topic which means a given subject is one of the most talked about at a given time.

Adopting these five techniques should draw more interest in your Twitter activity.

And whilst on the subject, I recommend you migrate your account to a free service like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck, simply because they offer more functionality and flexibility. I personally prefer Hootsuite as you can quickly and easily schedule and distribute messages and updates across all the major social networking platforms from the one place (more to follow in a post later this week).

Image Corbis

Best b2b social media tools: Linkedin

Linkedin is the pre-eminent business networking platform. In a post in 2010, I outlined a ten step approach to setting up a profile, seeking out, connecting with and engaging other likeminded people. This, just as the Linkedin platform has been deliberately conceived, was aimed at the individual – and it remains one of my most read pieces.

But as a social media business tool (especially in the UK), Linkedin is often totally overlooked and viewed as an online CV.

So why use it?

Fortunately, there has been significant investment in functionality to afford some of the usability that users with accounts on other sites like Facebook now increasingly expect online.

This means that Linkedin does operate more like a network now. Users can search for people, connect with them, engage with them in groups, ask and answer their questions, target them with adverts and other content, and access their networks. And all this is basically free!

And with engagement increasingly being seen as the dominant social media currency, the enhanced group discussion functions really allow relationships to form in a safe environment.

Current thinking is to really hone your group activity down to 5 groups, to check in a few times a week, to interact in the most popular discussions and to ‘like’ and ‘share’ the comments of others as well as posted responses. From there, start to add comments to drive your profile and to really cement it, start creating discussions of your own, again around content relevant within the group.

Linkedin groups (and the status bar) both offer a great platform to place content and links. Linking to your Twitter account sends updates out, whilst blogs can be fed into a profile with the addition of a simple widget. Much of the traffic to my blog comes from threads I create in relevant Linkedin groups.

Company profile pages have recently been given a makeover to include more information about brands, products and services and not just a list of past and present employees for recruitment professionals to headhunt. This means there is now an opportunity to host a company page on Linkedin for the first time that carries sufficient information to optimize. Feeding website news, a blog or  Twitter feed through the page creates additional stickiness and engagement.

Summary

In summary, I love Linkedin and the reach it offers. I believe any business professional should take the time to set up their profile and promote their (and their company’s) expertise through the sites’ many features.

Most people with one hundred connections can quickly access several thousand and then several million with a couple of clicks. Yet most don’t because it is seen as aggressive. Done right, Linkedin embodies the concept of six degrees of separation and may even help make your uncomfortable cold calls a thing of the past.

Best b2b social media tools: video

Video hosting online has been greatly simplified thanks to sites like YouTube and Vimeo. Companies and brands can now be brought to life with engaging moving content in a way not even possible five years ago.

And with emerging digital tools including email, Twitter, Linkedin and blogs, finding an audience that will view, like and in turn share your content is easier as well.

Hence the explosion in online video. It is estimated that 24 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every second of the day and that billions of videos are watched every day.

Why use it for b2b?

YouTube is now a search engine in its own right. Video search is accounting for more and more of online search, with some commentators putting the figure as high as 50%. This makes profiles on sites like YouTube and Vimeo an essential part of your digital strategy. Call it social media optimization – where you use social media and file sharing sites to post content and boost your search engine optimization.

Consider using video if you have a compelling story to tell and the written word just doesn’t cut it. Or, if you need to deliver key messages in a more informative, engaging format. Or, if you actively want content to go viral.

The added attraction of online hosted video is that if it hits any of these buttons, the available options to browsers are huge – from embedding it another web page to tweeting, emailing and posting links all over the Internet.

But, don’t look to video if it is a one-off project, if you don’t like being in front of the camera, or if you don’t want to risk the video’s popularity running away with itself.

How to get started?

This isn’t a post about the mechanics of creating a video. For that, I recommend you visit the excellent Social Media Examiner site and this video blogging post in particular. That will set you off down the path with the right equipment, shooting and editing, together with some guidance and further reading on uploading and sharing elements.

Instead, this post concentrates on the why, how to get started and the sorts of content that you might consider as a b2b marketer.

As a starting point, register accounts with both YouTube and Vimeo. Aim to reserve the same profile names as other online and social media platforms as this makes it much easier to integrate and for people to remember you. Once this is done, you will own those profile names.

The challenge is then to either repackage and reformat what you have, or create new content. On the repackaging side, consider existing video material, animations and presentations that are already available within your business. Could these be edited, captioned and set to music or a commentary and uploaded as new content? Are there opportunites to refocus existing blog articles, press articles, conference presentations into bite-size ‘how to’ videos?

Some ways you could effectively use video to build interest in what you do include

–       Hosting conference presentations

–       Trade show highlights (whether it involves you, customers or the media)

–       Providing customer testimonials

–       Delivering relevant industry and expert interviews

–       Introducing key staff with video profiles

–       Video blogging

–       Video ‘how to’ guides

–       Product demonstrations

–       Corporate video

I’ve deliberately relegated ‘the usual stuff’ to the bottom of the list, which isn’t exclusive. Above all, have some fun. If your video is contrived, it will look contrived.

An example

It’s consumer but kitchen blenders are perhaps one of the dullest appliances in the home. But, not if it’s a Blendtec. Sales have increased 500% as a result of their innovative ‘will it blend’ site and promotional videos which have seen anything from phones to ipods and golf balls to shovels tested in their blenders.

Blendtec’s YouTube account hosts 103 short videos, has 344,000 followers  and has been viewed over 6 million time on YouTube – with many millions more on aggregation!

Summary

Like all other content, approach video from the perspective that it will endure, it could go viral and it will represent your business in an exciting way.

Stylistically, try to avoid talking heads by mixing establishing shots with head shots and audio. Think about the two minute videos on the regional TV news. If there is lots of content, split it across several uploads.

And remember, you’re not making a Hollywood blockbuster. The best viral video is rough around the edges.

What examples of great video content have you created or found online?

Top image www.viralblog.com

Best b2b social media tools: webinars

The age of the webinar – a seminar on the web for the uninitiated– is upon us and if you are selling expertise, you should be considering them. Easy to set up, all you need is a slide presentation, a headset with mic, somewhere to host it and an audience.

Why?

Webinars have exploded into use in b2b marketing because business is international, technology is now available to support online information exchange and there is a thirst amongst business professionals for information to assist them in doing their job more efficiently and effectively.

Attending a webinar does not involve any travel time or in most cases, any cost. As most businesses and homeworkers have broadband internet access, the ability to access and follow a livestream of information is available to all.

Webinars are best used in support of other activity and act as a call to action to website and blog visits, material downloads and enquiries. Why? Because a group of people have identified themselves as being interested in what you have to say.

And you benefit twice, because webinars are often recorded and hosted on demand for people to view after the event. So, even if the number of people that attend ‘live’ can be significantly down on the registration number, the likelihood is most (around 80%) will view the webinar within a few months.

How to get started?

The format of a webinar is fairly uniform. The presenter controls a screen and the material and has access to instant messaging in order to respond to messages and questions. A typical duration is thirty minutes presentation plus time for questions.

Specialist sites such as Bright Talk have channels dedicated to all sorts of business and educational sectors, whilst major sector specific media owners offer webinar services to clients.

Remember to give yourself time to promote the webinar. Add sign-up details and URLs to your email footer, website, blog, social media profiles, tweet regularly, your Linkedin status and groups and any other customer/prospect facing material.

Webinars are taking off in a wide variety of sectors including food (NutraIngredients above), packaging, professional services and chemicals to name just a few. Check out websites of leading publications in your sector and industry portals; there will be opportunities.

Summary

Webinars are a great way of reusing existing content to great effect, to build a thought leadership position and to draw customers and prospects towards you in an engaging way.

Best b2b social media tools: Slideshare

Slideshare is one of my top b2b social media tools because it has a vast 25 million strong community which views and shares 75 million presentations, PDFs and other documents every month. Slideshare as a social media tool is significant because the content is easily shared to a multitude of platforms with simple embedding code and is relatively quick and easy to use.

Slideshare provides an outlet for material that is probably sat gathering dust somewhere in your organization. Perhaps most importantly, Slideshare was added to Linkedin profiles early in 2010 meaning all your contacts can now view your material together with anything you recommend. This opens up your content to a potential audience of millions. Which means a business profile on Slideshare can also have a dramatic effect on search engine optimisation.

Why?

It really is more a case of why not when it comes to Slideshare. Think about all the material that exists within your business in Word, PDF or PowerPoint format that could be made to work harder for you online? Can hosting information about your company online aid prospect self-selection and provide warm leads?

The only challenge with Slideshare has traditionally been the need for material to be able to work on its own, without human presentation. But the recent launch of the SlideCasting function – where pre-recorded audio can be quickly added to slides – has removed this concern. Click  on the image to see it in action.


Remember the numbers: 25 million users and rising. 75 million views a month. It is now a free addition to Linkedin profiles – potentially accessing another 65 million people. Slideshare is a very high traffic, active site.

How to get started?

Simply create an account and upload a PowerPoint. A short one about your business, what you do, your key people and what drives them, your values, the three problems you solve – whatever it is, keep it simple. Remember it has to work on its own. It has to be short and snappy. Keep the copy to a minimum and use some high impact titles and images. Use keywords and quotes to deliver your messages.

Once it is uploaded, promote the fact it is available through other social media tools like Linkedin status updates and groups, Twitter, Facebook, email your customer base, add the Slideshare button to your email footer and the URL to your business cards. Direct your prospects to these presentations rather than sending them documents by email, or worse by post. It shows that you are forward thinking and embracing new technology.

Examples

Here is Espresso’s thought provoking agency credentials presentation.


Here is Velocity’s B2B Content Marketing Workbook presentation.


Summary

Everyone writes presentations and every company has a ‘standard’ credentials presentation. Put it online with Slideshare, promote it, and see where it takes you.

What do you think?

Best b2b social media tools: white papers

White papers aren’t just for politicians and scientists looking to publish policies or complex findings from clinical studies. They are a great tool for helping businesses position as expert in a specific field of influence.

White papers are becoming ever more commonplace, being used as a way of trading some information for free in return for permission to make contact with the recipient. They are increasing used as a data collation tool, placed and promoted through carefully selected industry websites and portals. Adopting the free or ‘freemium’ model – where some content is offered for free, but more is available behind a paywall, subscription or data collection device – is a powerful way of engaging people with what you have to say, but also what you have to offer too.

Why?

White papers are great for b2b brands because they provide information and we know that most business professionals use the Internet as a way to improve their awareness, knowledge and understanding in respect to suppliers, products and services they are interested in procuring.

White papers work best when they are used to discuss the latest trends in a sector, offer solutions to a common problem or position a new idea or way of working.

What?

The best white papers act as a summary of information on a given topic. Think about any service you offer and rather than trying to sell it, think of a problem or myth related to it that might be in your customer’s mind. Maybe there is a barrier to engagement? How can your knowledge of what you do best be presented in a problem solving way?

If you are struggling for inspiration, check out the news, information and community portals in your sector. What are the big issues? What are the headaches? What are the things that keep getting talked about? What legislative challenges exist? If that doesn’t help, hit the blogs and the corporate sites of your competitors. What are they talking about? What opportunities exist to impact the industry discussion?

How to get started?

Designed specifically to inform and educate, white papers are usually 8-12 pages long, and are laid out in an easy-to-read format. This means succinctly presenting the objectives of the white paper and clearly navigating the reader through the content.

Thinking about the issue or problem you want to tackle often results in a white paper that is based around Best Practice, a ‘How-To’ guide, Top Five Best ways to achieve something or the Five Things to Avoid Most about something.

Style them so they look professional. This is important as the first download may go viral through an organization, with your material potentially seen by very senior management in target organisations. They are called white papers for a reason. Use page headers, titles and footers and break up the body copy on each page with high impact sub titles. In addition, they should not be overly promotional, but it is permissible to brand them and offer further contact details on the cover or at the end.

White papers are often provided in Adobe PDF (Portable Document Format) as this is a free to use format freely available to all computer platforms and Internet browsers. Documents set up in most word processing and design packages can be easily converted into PDF format. Using the PDF format also ensures that the document is compressed down to as small a size as possible to facilitate speedy download and sharing by email.

Examples

White papers (and webinars, which will be discussed in an upcoming post), are used to good effect by b2b companies in a range of sectors.

In the food trade for example, companies like Danisco, Brentag and Palsgaard host white papers on key food ingredient websites and within e-newsletters like Food Navigator to ensure targeted delivery and a high take up.

Brands like Mettler and Toledo are releasing white papers through sites like Packaging News to drive interest from packaging professionals.

Similarly, in the information technology sector, companies like SAP, Oracle, HP and Genesys use sites like ComputerWorld to build engagement with their brand by positioning their expertise.

And, Slipstream and Eloqua, demand generation specialists use the B2B Marketing Magazine website to promote their knowledge based services.

Summary

If you want to generate quality leads, position yourself as expert and distribute some free material by adding white papers to your marketing arsenal now.

Best b2b social media tools: Blogs

Why blog?

With over 130m blogs in existence and rising, blogging is the cornerstone of any self respecting content marketing strategy – providing an interactive platform where ideas and opinions can be expressed, shared, countered and, above all, engaged with.

Blogging regularly on specific topics increases your search engine visibility, as you routinely include certain critical keywords in your content. This in turn builds your reputation on these topics and the blog will build an audience. If that doesn’t inspire, how about the fact that it is the easiest to self publishing and other than the time involved, it is free most of the time.

What to blog about?

The challenge to the b2b marketer is to develop a blog that offers relevant and insightful comment rather than corporate news and views. That’s what the web news stream is for. Instead, use your blog to create a personality for your business. Offer an opinion on the industry news of the day. Comment on business news at large. Survey your customers, assess trends, run polls and competitions and publish all the findings on your blog.

Blog posts which gain notable traction often discuss issues and problems, offer how to guides and approaches to issue resolution. Provide links to other articles, blogs and contents you’ve seen, liked and rated, positioning yourself as a true content provider.

How to get started?

Create a free blog at www.wordpress.com. Over time, this can be ported to the self-hosted www.wordpress.org, but it serves the needs of most bloggers as it has a number of bespoke design themes, requires no programming expertise, offers a range of interactive options and analytics, and allows you to start writing straight away.

Before you write anything, create a calendar. This will focus the mind. Think about a number of blog posts and start drafting them. But don’t publish anything. The idea is to create a pool of articles so you have content in reserve. Schedule a blog post fortnightly and post it at the same time of day so people over time become used to seeing it / receiving it. As your confidence grows, and resource allows, move to weekly, then perhaps twice weekly. Writing every day is incredibly demanding and should be avoided in the early months.

Writing and posting a blog article takes a little longer than you might think. The content itself might be straight forward but you need to consider the title, tags and a relevant image. I’d recommend keeping posts to 200 words. It’s a good approach to try to include some keywords that are used by your target readers in the title and copy.

If you need some direction, check out content and titles on high traffic blogs like Mashable and SocialMediaExaminer, who offer useful insights into the sorts of titles that encourage people to read.

Blogging demands integrated use of social media tools to drive traffic and provides a great objective to using a wider portfolio of tools. As posts go live, email the link to your database, your colleagues, post it to Twitter, relevant industry Linkedin groups and any other social and business networks you use. WordPress.com analytics can provide extraordinary data on where traffic comes from so this can be refined over time.

Check out my other posts on blogging…

Blogging in hindsight – lessons learnt from my own experience

Marketing Metrics 7: News and blogs – using news and blog functions to generate and distribute content

Stepping into the blog spotlight – read last, its about ramping up your exposure

Image credit Why?,

Selecting the best b2b marketing social media tools

Let’s think for a minute. Before introducing social media tools to your b2b marketing arsenal, think about your customers, who they are, what they look like, and where they congregate.

Doubtless, your target customers probably have a Facebook profile, but do they want their social downtime interrupted by your ‘targeted’ messages? Would you?

They might be using Twitter. Professional services and big finance will certainly have profiles, but most industrial manufacturing and engineering businesses haven’t bought into it yet.

Are the customers you want to reach active and easy to find on Linkedin? They may have a profile but the degree to which they engage and be visible through Groups, Answers etc is probably difficult to quantify.

Tapping into the need for information

So it would appear they need a little more teasing out. What we do know is that business professionals use the Internet increasingly as a source of information. Search is dominated by requests for information about products, services, suppliers, distributors and recruitment. Much of this still channels browsers to corporate sites rather than faddy social media sites despite search engine optimisation via social media growing as a credible online strategy.

Targeting customers using social media tools is further hampered by the fact that for all the search that goes on, most browsers stick to a routine, clearly defined, and limited set of websites for their information. Why? Perhaps, because there simply isn’t the time to take in the scope and scale of information that the Internet can now provide – and because personal security online makes browsers nervous of trying new sites.

Content marketing

So, for social media in b2b marketing, I believe we’re talking about providing information. Useful, timely, relevant and engaging information. It isn’t social media in the way the term is flagrantly used. To me, we differentiate and focus on smart, content marketing.

That means making best use of blogs, white papers, presentations for Slideshare and webinars, video and Linkedin. All generated from material should already exist within your business. It goes without saying that there is an archive of press relations material to delve into – giving you something to specifically ‘refine, refocus and repackage’.

Posts will follow on why I think these are the best social media tools for b2b marketing. Bookmark the social media thread to stay up to date.

Image credit: http://realtimetoolbox.com/marketing-tools.html