I’ve recently had numerous discussions with marketers about the role of their company’s website in the marketing mix. Many marketers think that websites are all they need online, and that the future of advertising is in finding ways to get people to the site — usually with SEO or banner ads. In fact, these people are looking for ways to make it less expensive to update and manage their sites so they can free more money to attract viewers.
Our experience is that this view is sooooo 2008. That’s because unless you’re an online retailer, your website is viewed by consumers as a biased reference tool.
Home builders have on their websites an “about us” page, floorplans, area maps, virtual tours, and even customer testimonials — all valuable information for someone who is interested in the homes. But what about those who might be interested, but haven’t yet decided to visit your sales center? Your website will NOT convince them to come in any more than a brochure that includes the same information. And that’s because a builder’s website is seen simply as information.
Hospitals have the same problem. Their websites are mostly used by consumers to find a doctor, locate a facility, check hours, learn about services, etc. But the site doesn’t persuade anybody that you’re better or worth the viewers’ time. It simply informs.
While this type of reference information is important to have online, you should not think that it is a marketing tool any more than a corporate brochure is a marketing tool. It’s a reference tool.
So what’s the 2009 approach? We are reworking our sites to be the best reference tools possible, and then we drive traffic (and sales) to it via blogs, eblasts, Twitter feeds, etc. that act as sales tools.
We use blogs for builders to talk about customer satisfaction, construction techniques, design tips, technology updates and special offers on spec homes.
For hospitals, we use blogs to promote events in the area, classes, new physicians and their qualifications, job offerings, new technology, and even CON petitions and updates.
All of our blogs are trying to do the same thing — start a relationship with the viewer by getting them to sign up for our eblast updates.
While the blogs and eblasts can link to information within the main site, we often link them to other blogs that we manage for the client and to appointment schedulers or online class enrollment forms.
One advantage of blogs over main websites is that the constant flow of new information makes these blogs desirable to search engines. Combine this “freshness” with some techy tagging and bookmarketing, and you have a search engine’s dream site.
So as you think about your website in 2009, please don’t put too much pressure on it. Viewers know it’s biased (have you seen any website with testimonials that were bad?), but they also know that all they are looking for on it is basic information. For online sales power, try blogs and eblasts that link to microsites that can do more selling because they are not part of your main site.
Our results in 2008 have been spectacular for those clients who have allowed us to make these changes. In fact, we can easily compare the results we generated for these clients with those clients who have not allowed us to take this approach and all we can say is “trust us in 2009”.