Business owners may be forgiven for questioning whether websites are on a path towards obsolescence as users increasingly move to mobile devices for accessing content. When this trend to mobile is combined with the ever-increasing popularity of cloud-based apps designed to improve the efficiency of day-to-day activities, the website question has earned some legitimacy and is worthy of an explanation as to why this is unlikely to be the case.
For owners that may be questioning the future value of a website, what they may be missing is the importance of its role as the foundation for their online presence and its position as the primary platform for presenting their value proposition. Besides the written content, it must also be the hub for links to social media and other sources of "social-proof", as well as for providing access points to value-added features designed to improve the experience of their customers and prospects. All this, while also ensuring the user experience is unaffected whether they access from a desktop, tablet, or mobile device.
Think about the typical behavior of a typical buyer - whether it be a corporate buyer or an individual consumer. Usually, the first step for research is to perform one of the 3.5 billion daily online searches taking place by users seeking information. Think of the internet as a vast library of content that's basically free for anyone to access, with ever-evolving search algorithms that simultaneously advance in ways that are designed to improve the researcher's experience. Twenty years ago, it may have been that a researcher in Seattle got the same search results from the same search term as a researcher in Boston. Today, that is much less likely to be the case. Factors such as location, type of device (mobile or desktop), search history, etc., all now come in to play in order to provide a more accurate set of search results tailored for the individual researcher.
Now think of your own personal online search behavior. When researching, you probably use Google and you probably type in the briefest of search terms to try and find information on the subject you are interested in. Usually, you are pretty satisfied with the search results and, if not, can easily fine-tune based on the initial results and related topics presented on the search results page. Typically, you will scan the page, ignoring the paid ads at the top or bottom, and focus on the organic search results. Occasionally, you will click through to page two or three if you don't see what you're looking for on the first page.
We are all familiar with the format of the search results but let's look a little closer and let's relate the search to our industry.
Let's imagine that my office administrator comes to me and says we need a new copier machine because, for the third time this month, we've had to call in the service tech to come and fix it. I say, really, why do we even need a copier at all?
Remember, at this point I'm not looking to buy a new machine. In fact, I'm not looking to buy anything. I'm simply looking to educate myself on whether or not I even need to replace the machine that keeps breaking down and (even though I may not even be aware of a need at this stage) what alternatives may be suitable for my requirements. Basically, I'm looking for "educational" content not "selling" content. What I'm certainly not contemplating (although I may have done so 10 years ago) is to pick up the phone and call the local copier salesman to help educate me.
Chances are, there's going to be some pretty good content related to this topic and chances also are that it will have been covered in a blogging (educational) format. Therefore, let's focus on the blog content and ask ourselves, who would be motivated to write about copier machines and whether or not they are still a necessary piece of business equipment?
Well, if you're a copier dealer or you're a printer dealer you may be highly motivated to write about this topic. A copier dealer may write extensively about the relevance of a digital copier machine in today's business environment, while a printer dealer may write extensively about the irrelevance of a copier machine, and all the reasons why a much less expensive printer can meet the requirements of a business consumer who has historically used a high-end copier machine.
What must be remembered here is that the content focus isn't about trying to sell a copier machine or a multi-function printing device, it's about educating the researcher on the merits of the different pieces of equipment. However, in order for a researcher to engage with educational content it must be relevant, high-quality, thoughtful, and balanced, to the extent the reader has confidence it can be trusted.
Think about this in the context of:
- A copier dealer - concerned about market trends and declining print output and how the threat of these circumstances impact the longer-term viability of his business.
- A printer dealer - knowledgeable about market trends and senses that there may be an opportunity to convert legacy copier customers to become his printer and multi-function device customers.
The copier dealer decides to start investing in the preparation of high-quality content intended to present a balanced view on the merits and demerits of a copier machine, while the printer dealer decides the content path is not for him and, instead, decides to invest his resources on paid ads to try and get visitors to click through to his site and buy a printer or MFP.
The printer dealer has, in all likelihood, made a strategic error. In electing to focus on the sale of a printing device, he has restricted himself to the searches made by users who are ready to buy and, in so doing, excluded himself from the far larger volume of searches taking place by users gathering more information prior to their arrival at a buying decision. Furthermore, the majority of the "ready to buy" category of searches are rapidly migrating to the Amazon marketplace where price comparison shopping, rather than loyalty to a brand, are prevalent. In other words, even in the remote possibility of a sale, the chances of it being a profitable one and of winning a loyal customer are almost non-existent.
The copier dealer has decided upon a strategy to educate researchers about the value and role of a copier machine in a business environment in order to help the user to better understand when it makes sense to consider buying one and when it does not. He understands the chances of getting a sale directly from the educational content are remote, but he also recognizes that getting a researcher to his website makes it possible to generate click-through's to related content. Furthermore, as the researcher clicks through that content and learns more and more about what may suit his needs, the copier dealer will also, simultaneously, be learning more and more about what the researcher is interested in.
In all likelihood, the copier dealer has more to offer within its value proposition than selling a standalone copier machine. However, the average researcher is unlikely to have much knowledge about how a copier may relate to workflows, digitization, eliminating paper, improving efficiency, etc., and, because he's not likely to relate these more complex matters to whether or not he needs a copier machine, he simply won't be searching for information about them. Instead, this additional educational role must be performed within the dealer's website by making related content available that is carefully designed to link each of the elements of the value proposition, while also relating them to each of the three stages of the buyer's journey - awareness, consideration, and decision.
What we've explained:
- Researchers search independently for answers - they no longer call the salesman
- The company website is the platform for placing content designed to educate researchers about their needs
- The content is strategically created to educate potential buyers according to where they are in their own buying "journey"
Having explained these points it should be clear that the dealer's content must be positioned to try and appear on the first page of search results. Whether the search originates from a desktop or (increasingly) mobile device is immaterial, the goal is the same, to appear prominently in the search result.
What must also be clear is that:
- If the content is poor quality, it won't be trusted, and researchers will not engage
- If it doesn't display responsively on different screen sizes it will be ignored
- If it appears far down in the search results, there will be many less click through's
- If technology is not deployed that is capable of tracking user behavior, pages visited, etc. then little will be learned about the interests of the users that could otherwise be used to help develop a future sales opportunity
A website rich in relevant, high quality content that's designed to educate users in a balanced and thoughtful way, without attempting to intrusively sell the dealer's value proposition before the buyer is ready to contemplate a purchase, is vitally important.
Incorporating technology to understand the user's behavior and interests when they visit the website is also vitally important.
Providing access points to additional technology designed to improve the user experience and enhance the overall value proposition has become an essential requirement. User's will no longer tolerate time-consuming analog work practices.
Businesses that fail to invest in a website with relevant educational content and a carefully devised strategy designed to have that content appear prominently in search results, will eventually disappear from view. 70%+ of potential buyers independently perform their research online and now avoid the legacy practice of calling a salesman for more information. This change in behavior means a conforming website has become a prerequisite for business survival.
Remember, there are 3.5 billion searches every single day and the search volume continues to grow by more than 10% every year. If you don't have content that's responsive to queries taking place about your business segment, then it is impossible for you to become the destination point for any of these searches. Instead, your competitor who may have already recognized this need, will start to make inroads into your customer and prospect base and inevitably accelerate your decline.
We understand you may be curious about what it takes to position yourself on the first page of search results so, to address this, we'll be publishing a follow on article that deals with this topic.
Please enter your email address below to sign up for our blog and be sure not to miss this important upcoming post.