Have you ever visited a B2B website and come away unsure of what the company actually does? If so, you are in good company. Many B2B websites are verbose, yet vague and confusing.
In many B2B organizations, websites are given low priority, especially in light of long, complex close-cycles that hinge on offline business relationships. When it takes months to go from initial client contact to signed agreement, it can be difficult to justify B2B website optimization.
By comparison, many e-commerce companies often have laser-thin profit margins that leave little room for error in website content strategy. Changes to these websites often have immediately measurable impact on conversions, which helps justify investment in website testing and optimization.
It may be necessary at your company to advocate for B2B website optimization as an important part of the sales process. A B2B website can introduce a brand to potential customers through search engines and other channels, capture qualified leads and upsell existing customers. A website that does not clearly communicate a company’s relevance can detract busy visitors who do not have the time or patience to decipher it.
Your Value Proposition
Your value proposition should clearly describe your brand’s offerings and relevance to other organizations. Many companies make the mistake of using their boilerplate copy for this purpose on the website. However, a boilerplate is not designed to stand alone and often requires edits. In some cases, it is easier to just start from scratch than to start from the boilerplate.
The following sample copy from an actual B2B brand’s home page succinctly tells visitors what the company does and how it is relevant to other organizations. This copy effectively puts “consulting” in context; without this, it can come across as jargon. The name of the brand in this example has been changed to Acme:
“Acme is a global management consulting firm. We are the trusted adviser to the world’s leading businesses, governments, and institutions.”
If you are unsure if your website clearly explains your brand, you can start with a simple test: ask someone who is unfamiliar with your company to visit your website and then describe to you in their own words what your company does. You might want to try the test with two people: one who more closely fits your target audience and another person who is not considered a target.
If either person cannot at least describe your company’s general purpose after visiting your website, it may be time to revisit the content strategy. There are several ways to determine what visitors are actually reading on your website, from conducting heat maps to researching common usability patterns. Competitive research also can provide valuable information.
Language: Keep it Simple
Sometimes the source of users’ confusion is the copy itself. Industry jargon and buzzwords mean little to most readers, but can creep into your copy in an effort to appease internal shareholders or sound grandiose. Additionally, if copy does not mean much to a human, it probably does not mean much to a search engine, either. Strive instead to use clear, simple and specific language.
The following sample copy from an actual B2B company’s home page illustrates the use of buzzwords to say. . .well, not much. The name of the company in this example has been changed to Acme:
“Acme develops and deploys innovative technology solutions with its talent pool that remains current and innovative to address the growing need of the enterprises that allow for timely and accurate data-based decisions and forecasts. Essentially an intelligent enterprise that remains ahead of competition and agile to adjust to varied market conditions, Acme is committed to providing you with a customized solution and implementation that is cost-effective, timely, scalable, maintainable and state-of-the-art.”
When writing for your website, start with how you might describe your company’s products and services in a conversation. Then polish that copy, using specialized industry terms sparingly. As a rule of thumb, the U.S. government recommends writing for people at an eighth-grade reading level. Running your text past a teenager can be another useful (and entertaining) method of testing your copy’s simplicity.
The majority of users will scan your site rather than reading it word-for-word, seeing 20% to 28% of the overall word count and spending no more than 25 seconds on any given page according to the Nielsen Norman Group. It is therefore critical that you make those seconds count by making your purpose immediate and obvious. On a heavy page, try eliminating extraneous introductory text so that your users can get straight to the point without having to “dig” through the page. Include details lower on a page for those who are interested, but lead with the punch line: inverted-pyramid style.
Information Architecture: The Backbone of Your Site
Another culprit of visitor confusion may be the site’s information architecture (IA). An IA that seems intuitive to people within your company may be less apparent to potential customers. A simple card sort, in which participants are given a list of pages on your site and asked to categorize them, can help you determine the IA that makes the most sense.
For example, do visitors expect your information to be categorized by product, service or audience? If, after a card sort activity, you are still unsure of the primary organization of your content, adding a secondary taxonomy can help. However, do not rely on secondary or tertiary taxonomies in lieu of a strong primary IA.
When visitors come to your site from a search engine results page (SERP), internal pages often serve as the point of entry to the site. Can a visitor easily find information on what your company does if they enter through an internal page? For example, if most visitors are accustomed to finding this information on the “About Us” page, do not refer to the page as “Info Center” in a navigation menu.
Mental models define how users expect your site to act and significantly impact usability. When your site’s behavior matches the user’s mental model, the interaction goes smoothly. When your site breaks expectations, the user may become frustrated and bounce, costing you potential business. This concept can often be counterintuitive to executives or entrepreneurs who are used to succeeding by going boldly against the grain. When it comes to Web usability, it is more important to convey your message than it is to stand out from the crowd.
Many visitors to your brand’s B2B website want to simply learn what your company offers and how it is relevant. Clearly state your value proposition in an expected location on the site, using simple language to describe your brand’s products and services, and using strong primary IA. Never underestimate the role of your B2B website in the sales process and advocate accordingly.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.