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The internet isn’t what it once was. In the early 2000s, most websites were little more than static brand “billboards” on the “information superhighway.” And there was nothing wrong with that. That approach allowed companies to reach more people with basic information. But there was an appetite for more from customers, and some companies started to be more ambitious, reaping competitive benefits as a result.
As simple brand assets evolved into content publications, websites became more interactive and started delivering richer multimedia experiences. Blogs, flash apps, feedback pages, and downloadable assets became commonplace tactics – driving engagement and generating leads, but again innovators who continued pushing the envelope enjoyed outsized rewards.
Today, with 70% or more of a buyer’s journey taking place online, and digital channels coming to dominate the overall customer experience, well-done modern websites are customer journey accelerators and funnel-filling powerhouses. But even with all the potential of digital experiences, many companies still fail to get the most out of the web. You can attribute it to competing priorities, internal silos, lack of agreement on the site’s strategy and potential, or countless other reasons.
What we know: websites are the marketing tool best equipped to address changing customer needs immediately. They can also be a massive impediment if they’re outdated or out of step with your overall business strategy.
Getting C-suite and critical stakeholder buy-in regarding your strategy, management and execution can get every company goal — from marketing on down — on the same page. It’s the only way to drive the results companies need to win in today’s market. Here’s how to do it.
Make the case: Businesses that don’t innovate are left behind
What does outside-the-box thinking get you as far as your website’s marketing goes? Take data storage company Qumulo, for example. Its digital marketing team completely shifted the company’s web strategy to introduce continuous experimentation and iteration on digital campaigns. This approach generated more than 1400% growth of first-page keyword ranks, 300% growth in organic traffic, and 400% growth in form submissions.
This is just one example of what can happen when digital teams rally an organization to change their processes, potentially change their tech stack, and start treating the website as a digital product; a living, breathing thing that is constantly evolving. If you aren’t doing this, bet that one or more of your competitors are.
Businesses that drag their feet on digital transformation miss out. The last two years have forever changed the way we interact with the internet and how many customers rely on websites. For instance, during February 2020, online conversion rates increased almost 9%, reflecting a level of shopping urgency typically seen only on Cyber Monday. Industries like education, publishing, internet and software services, and consulting experienced traffic spikes near 20% compared to the previous three months.
But were all businesses prepared to meet that incredible opportunity? Sadly, no. Too many were frozen in time, relying on a static, outdated page to grab their share of those excess sales. That was the wrong bet.
This occurrence is all the more surprising given that opportunities for growth driven by digital transformation happen across every sector now, including healthcare, higher education, food delivery, and social advocacy. In fact, it’s not only businesses that lose when website innovation is ignored. Nonprofits and higher education institutions can miss out on growth opportunities without a modern approach to the web.
What are some new ways companies are responding to this recent surge? For starters, an increasing number of companies are investing in software-as-a-service (SaaS), and the industry expects to earn $94.9 billion by this year. Many organizations are also changing the way they think about the purpose of their website, or finally waking up to the reality that they need a portfolio strategy so that different parts of their business can take command of their own web-dependent goals.
Everyone’s goal is to transform their website (or sites!) into growth engines. Smart leaders are doing that by staying consumer-focused and data-driven: consistently focusing on analytics, gathering customer feedback, looking for customer pain points, and more. All of that loops back into the marketing approach, which dovetails with new engagement opportunities. It’s amazing what you can unlock when the web shifts from being a drag to a driver of innovation.
Rally around a digital marketing strategy that drives growth
A digital marketing strategy with a customer-focused website experience is chock-full of benefits. And modern web practices will get you there, with faster sprint and release cycles, increased marketing team autonomy, and confidence that nothing will break on deployment.
But it’s not always obvious how leaders can use their websites as marketing tools. Here are a few actions to take:
1. Bring CIOs and CMOs together.
It’s time for CIOs to kick the status quo. Specifically, they should see themselves not merely as technology leaders, but as business partners who can make unique and vital contributions to growth. They have the authority to drive new, more efficient outlooks on data management, operations, and reporting. All of that can help create a much more robust web presence.
At the same time, in 2022, CMOs are expected to spend 47% of their budgets to keep up with advances in digital technology. So, CIOs and CMOs can and should act in a close partnership, with the former’s team providing the latter’s department new marketing platforms, guardrails, and security to enable them to maximize their budget. This partnership is foundational to everything else.
2. Treat your website like a digital product.
For websites to address the entire customer journey, they have to deliver the appropriate content for each stage, with the right design, and of course, the right integrations with the rest of your marketing stack. That means you need control over all these things. Today, far too many marketers can’t publish in real-time, and have little to no ability to adjust the design, and are dependent on someone else’s backlog to make even minor functional changes.
Fix that by first getting alignment on clear “north star” metrics that connect to your growth strategy — usually something around engagement or conversion — and get authority over the customer experience and the technology behind it to move the needle on those numbers. This might involve some amount of overhaul, but don’t call it a “relaunch.” Getting live is the start of your journey.
Once you’re up and running, the real fun starts. Regularly updating your content, experimenting with new designs and flows, measuring your results, and coordinating with all the other activities along the customer journey, from ad campaigns to customer support. That’s what it means to treat your website like a digital product.
3. Don’t sleep on social media.
Your website redesign can go off easily — and it won’t matter if not enough people visit it. Using your website as a marketing tool needs to leverage the power of social networking more than any other form of advertising. It’s the way to draw in new potential customers.
Each person on Facebook can spread the word about your website to roughly 338 friends — the average amount a Facebook user has is connected with. That’s a bounty of potential new customers, so be sure to promote your business on these networks and do it frequently enough. A common pattern for doing this with content is called POSSE (Publish on Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere) which automates the process of pushing out content across multiple social channels. Likewise, paying careful attention to social sources in your web analytics setup will help you keep track of how your investments in improving your reach are paying off.
By aligning the focus of both IT and marketing within your organization, everyone emphasizes fresh and engaging content, and promoting robustly on social networks, you can successfully improve website engagement and use your website as a marketing tool. But get started now before your competitors beat you to it.
Josh Koenig is cofounder and Chief Strategy Officer at Pantheon
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