Elements of Modern Professional Services Marketing 7: The High Performance Website
By Aaron Taylor
The professional services website can be a miserable, misunderstood thing. All too often, it's a forsaken place populated with aging bios, stale case studies and service descriptions long past their prime. The worst offenders are an archaeologist's delight — long-ago moments frozen in time. From the Latest News to a site's sweet Flash intro, not a word or picture has changed in seven years.
Even many newer sites suffer from tired, old thinking. These sites are created with one thing in mind: to support traditional marketing tactics such as referrals and in-person networking. The scenario goes like this: an interested party visits a website to check up on a firm's credentials. Are the principals experienced? Has the firm got relevant experience? What's their client list look like? The answers are all there. The prospect can then move on to the next step in the qualification process.
While there's nothing inherently wrong with this sort of site, it doesn't necessarily address the way modern buyers of professional services work. Increasingly, buyers are finding services firms online. Savvy firms recognize this change in buyer behavior and are actively building their online reputations. They use a potent combination of content marketing and search engine optimization (SEO) to capture prospective clients early in the buying process. They offer free, valuable content to educate interested individuals, establish a trusting relationship and build loyalty — before these individuals ever become customers.
At the same time, these firms cultivate a portfolio of very specific, high-ranking, highly relevant search terms. Today, companies looking to solve specific problems often turn to Google first. Firms that rank well for terms related to their services have an advantage. And firms that can support all those Google clicks with relevant, educational content have a formula for success.
The high performance website is the hub where all of this good stuff happens. It's more than a credibility builder (though it is that, too). It's also a dependable marketing engine that turns visitors into leads and leads into motivated, qualified leads. Eventually, a certain percentage of those qualified leads will become customers. Although it takes a great deal of work to create this machine and keep it oiled, it works tirelessly for you every day and night. And its reach is far greater than referrals or networking could ever achieve.
Let's take a look under the hood of the machine. What makes it hum? As it turns out, there are a few vital elements that give it so much horsepower.
The CMS – Keeping Things Easy
At the heart of a high performance site is a capable content management system (CMS). This is a behind-the-scenes software platform that makes it a snap to update and maintain a website's content. The days of the static HTML site are pretty much over, and most firms — even those with brochure-ware sites — have made the move. Without a decent CMS, you are dead in the water. A CMS is required to implement a vibrant content marketing strategy.
What's on Offer?
Every high performance website features marketing mechanisms called “offers” — often a whole host of them. But what's an offer, exactly? It's anything that entices visitors to take an action that either turns them into a lead (by filling in a form or making a phone call) or keeps them engaged in your firm (by downloading a freely available piece of content or watching a webinar recording, for instance). An offer always includes a call to action, which is a button or link that tells you what to do next (Buy Now, Watch the Video, Learn More). Believe it or not, people are much more likely to take an action online if you just give them explicit instructions.
The most basic offer is perhaps the most obvious: Request a Proposal. You may say it a different way, but no matter how you word it, this is the offer that people who are seriously interested in your services are itching to click. This offer should appear throughout your site. It wouldn't hurt if it appeared on every page. It's your hardest offer, the one that leads most directly to a sale, so make it prominent.
There are, of course, many other kinds of offers. These frequently appear in the right sidebar of a site, though they can show up in other locations, too, including the main content area of the homepage. In a high performance website, many offers promote educational content, such as white papers, guides, articles, research reports, video, demos or e-books. Another type of offer gives visitors an opportunity to sign up for something, such as an e-newsletter or a webinar.
Offers are basic but powerful lead-generation tools. But they become supercharged when they are connected to a customer relationship management (CRM) system. When an offer includes a registration form, a CRM can automate the lead generation process. The name and contact information is fed directly into your prospect database. The CRM system can then track who has downloaded which pieces of content. It's also a snap to run reports on new leads, as well as prospects further down the pipeline. Most good CRMs can be configured to manage your email campaigns and landing pages, so that all of your content marketing activities are handled and tracked in one central place. As you generate more volume on your website, a CRM becomes essential.
We usually advise clients who want to begin content marketing to start with a blog. They can ease into the routine slowly and work their way toward the ideal range of 2-5 posts per week. Using free tools they can research competitive keywords, which they can then incorporate into their posts. Writing keyword-rich blog posts is a great way to attract search engine traffic and begin ranking in Google for valuable phrases.
The other wonderful thing about blogging is that it can save you a great deal of time later on. With a little planning, you develop a series of blog posts that can then be repurposed (perhaps with some editing) into a longer-format piece of content, such as a guide or a white paper. In-depth, practical educational pieces make terrific offers. People who are interested in the topic will gladly trade their name and email address for them. (You can also promote these pieces directly by email — but that's another story for another time.)
Free vs. Paid vs. Registration
When should an offer be free? When do you place it behind a registration form? And why give it away at all when you can sell your intellectual content? These aren't easy questions to answer, and there are no hard-and-fast rules. That said, here are few guidelines, anyway:
1. Give away enough content to get people hooked (it's not just for crack dealers anymore). Think articles, webinar recordings, and podcasts. At Hinge, we actually give away — with no registration required — some of our most time-intensive and hard-won content: our research studies. We do this because we know it's a lot easier to generate buzz and press if the information is free and easy to obtain. That builds our reputation and more quickly spreads awareness of our brand.
2. Put longer-format pieces behind registration. As I mentioned earlier, people will trade a modest amount of personal information for content they think will help them build their business. So if you want to build a list of loyal, interested prospects, be sure to require registration for some of your best material.
3. Never sell your content. To be honest, we don't think a professional services firm is going to make much money selling content. There are exceptions, of course — particularly in the market research world. But most firms are going to get a lot more mileage from giving away content (with and without registration). Why? By removing the barrier of payment, you dramatically increase the number of people who will download your content.
There is at least one more exception. If you have published a book (whether through a traditional publisher or self-publish it), by all means sell it on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. A physical book with good reviews is impressive and can only enhance your reputation.
Get Thee to a Library
So what do you do with all you content? We advise our clients to collect it in a central place on your website, which we call a library (you can call it whatever you like, of course). Here, you can organize the material in a variety of ways (by topic, industry or format, for instance). As people begin to recognize you as experts and seek you out for educational information, they can conveniently find what they need. Don't forget to retain that mix of freely available and registration-required pieces.
Wait. There's More.
I've covered some of the most important features of a high performance website, but there are many other components that oil the machine. Here are a few that I'll mention in brief:
Analytics – If you can't track what's happening on your website, you'll never be able to improve its performance. In a previous issue, I cover analytics in more detail.
Clean, Simple Navigation – A high performance site is streamlined and easy to get around. That means using familiar terms that people can understand. There is nothing wrong with “About Us” and “Services” and “Industries.” Boring? Perhaps. Intuitive. Absolutely.
Clear Messaging – People should be able to grasp quickly what you do and what services you offer. When possible, use plain language that any layman can understand, instead of opaque technical jargon.
A Focus on SEO – While a blog is an important source of search engine traffic, a high performance site includes many regular pages optimized for specific keywords. These may include pages devoted to specific niche services, industries or even locations (location-based search is an important part of many firms' SEO strategy).
XML Sitemap – This is not the sitemap you've seen at the bottom of many a website. Instead, this is a behind-the-scenes file that search engines can use to find and index content on your site. Most content management systems can be modified to generate an updated XML sitemap every time a page is updated or created.
There is quite a bit more to say on this subject, but I've covered the most important aspects of the high performance website. You may want to take a hard look at your own website and see how it measures up. Are you prepared for the changes in professional services marketing that lie ahead?
- Elements of Modern Professional Services Marketing 1: Research
- Elements of Modern Professional Services Marketing 2: Positioning
- Elements of Modern Professional Services Marketing 3: Content Marketing
- Elements of Modern Professional Services Marketing 4: Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
- Elements of Modern Professional Services Marketing 5: Social Media
- Elements of Modern Professional Services Marketing 6: Analytics
- Elements of Modern Professional Services Marketing 8: Email Marketing
- Elements of Modern Professional Services Marketing 9: The Role of Traditional Marketing Techniques
- Website Planning Guide