It has become clear though, that while these websites look pretty, they just aren’t doing well enough at getting visitors and converting them into leads.
We’ve been speaking to four experts in the industry to find out what they think about this problem.
Our four interviewees are from different professional backgrounds within digital marketing, and their outlooks on lead generation websites reflect that.
We spoke to:
- Jayne Reddyhoff, Founder and Director of The Ecommerce Advisor
- Simon Lassam, Managing Director at Ridgeway
- Shelley Hoppe, CEO at Southerly
- Peter Meinertzhagen, Digital Marketing Manager at Journl
We started out by asking what they thought about brochure versus lead generation websites and let them explore what it meant to them.
Jayne Reddyhoff, Founder and Director of The Ecommerce Adviser
What is the difference between a brochure website and a lead generation website?
“I think the main difference between the two is that a brochure website is about us, the company, and a lead generation site is about you, my customer.
“A brochure site is just information; and by definition, is like an old-fashioned brochure telling customers what we do. It has nothing to do with recognising the issues of our customer and being helpful; but it’s about us, and what we offer.”
So this is the pithy summary; do you have examples?
“Take one of our clients, Majenta. They’re a lead generation business, and they recognise that they need to focus on their customer’s needs.
“Majenta has a wide variety of products and services suited to a wide variety of industries. They provide systems to transmit huge quantities of data quickly, as well as software and hardware. Majenta also sells 3-D CAD / PLM (computer aided design and product lifecycle management).
“One of the things they want to do is have a website that allows their potential customer to find the information they need, whatever their perspective.
“If they had a brochure site, talking about their products in a simple way, it would only work for someone who already knows the product, rather than someone who’s looking for a solution to their specific problem.
“Many people in different industries don’t realise that a solution for industry X can also be suitable for industry Y and won’t necessarily believe the supplier can solve their problem.”
So in this case, a lead generation site would allow them to talk to customers about specific questions?
“Yes, and one of the first things Majenta is doing as part of their new website development is mapping the customer journeys, and they’ll then go on to a content audit. This means mapping content to customers and implementing calls-to-action, and specific landing pages targeting specific search enquiries.
“This is just one example of a company going from talking about “us” to talking about “you, the customer”.
“The guidelines are always the same in terms of identifying your customer and their journey, but the stages at which you need to attract your customers will be different.”
Simon Lassam, Managing Director at Ridgeway
What is the difference, in your experience, between a brochure website and a lead generation website?
“The whole ‘I’m a website designer’ claim a lot of people in our industry make is a big cause of the problems we see with websites. There are very few websites designers who would openly admit to having the full breadth and depth of understanding required to deliver a good quality website.
“Here’s an analogy: a car will only function if it’s designed by a team with specialisms relating to different parts of the car. Engine, wheels, steering wheel, dashboard, etc are all specialist functions. If you just hire the guy who knows what makes a nice looking car, it doesn’t mean a car will handle or perform well.
“It’s the same with websites. If you hire the guy who makes it look nice, he doesn’t necessary know how to make it perform. This is true of so many small business websites.
“The client’s brief is ‘I only need 4 pages’ but what they fail to realise (and many website designers fail to explain) is that the same thought process and skills are needed to deliver that 4-page web site as would be needed to deliver a site that needs 400 pages.”
Do you think this problem is limited to just small businesses?
“No, we see it up and down the scale, no matter how good their design skills are. The warning bell for a client should be when the first conversation with a website designer begins with ‘how many pages do you want?’ or ‘what do you want it to look like?’
“Really, the first questions should be ‘who is your target audience’, ‘what does success look like’, and ‘what time do you have to manage and contribute to the website?’ If the business doesn’t know the answers to those questions, there’s some research to do before anyone starts thinking about what the site should look like or what content it needs.
“There is a distinction, though: some clients do just want ‘a website presence’ and that’s fine as long as they’re not expecting the website to deliver any new customers directly. But, if there’s a need for it to convert leads of any nature into customers of any nature, then the level of thought that needs to go into the site needs to be above and beyond ‘look and feel’.
“This is why Ridgeway is organised in the way it is, and it’s why you need a mix of skills to make a website that will deliver. In 20 years of working in the industry, I’ve not met one person who has it all: user experience knowledge, design, technical, marketing, SEO, and strategy.
“Firstly, how do we ensure the difference between buying a good looking website that might deliver leads but not the ROI the customer was hoping for, and investing in a strategy that will deliver what the client is looking for?
“For the average SME that will invest a large amount of money (total cost of ownership calculated over 3-4 years) that investment needs to deliver a return – often very quickly.
“You can’t do that if you’re there at the beginning of a project discussing colours and design. I think the people who are most susceptible to poor advice in this respect are owner managers whose businesses are not able to employ an in-house digital specialist.
“Owner managers are very good at what they do as a business, but often have little or no experience of marketing or digital projects and often struggle to distinguish between a website designer offering good advice and one offering poor advice.
“That can often end up being a very costly mistake to make and I’ve seen too many businesses literally hamstrung because they received poor website advice in the past.”
Shelley Hoppe, CEO at Southerly
What, for you, is the main difference between a brochure website and a lead generation website?
“The first thing I would say is that a brochure site isn’t much use if people don’t already know the exact URL. If it isn’t being constantly added to and updated then Google won’t find it, and so customers won’t find it.
“But more importantly, people these days expect something different from a website. Like many people I use the internet a lot, from grocery shopping to buying new shoes, but if I go to a website and it looks static then it puts me off.
“If your website looks dead then people might assume that it is. That attitude isn’t unusual among people who live their lives on the internet.”
But what about clients who aren’t particularly web-savvy and whose customers aren’t either?
“What I’d say to them is that even if you’re the least web-savvy person in the world and you’re looking for a product or service, you will still start with Google, put in an enquiry and expect to find what you’re looking for. From a service delivery or sales perspective, even if you’re not internet savvy, you still want to be found online.”
So one of the key elements you’d be looking for in a lead generation website is that it has evidence of being up-to-date…
“Yes. Nowadays we expect a lot from websites. We expect them to be up to date, and we expect to be able to interact, for example signing up to a newsletter. We may also want to stay in touch and be reminded about them, by following on Twitter or Facebook.
“I want to be able to interact with them, but if I can’t find that on their website then I’ll be put off.
“An interactive website can also provide a good way of looking after your leads. Here you have an opportunity to be friends, and gain confidence from your customers. As a customer, you may not quite be ready to ring them, but you may want to keep in touch loosely and be reminded of them via social media, a newsletter or blog feed.
“Particularly with B2B companies, the downloadable guide, white paper or free template is a good sales tool. It allows potential leads to understand you better so they can make an informed enquiry.
“It’s also a great way to explain to you how to do things, and to understand the prospect. You can see what they’ve been downloading which can allow you to gain an in-depth understanding of your prospects.”
At Southerly you’ve been working on your purchasing funnel for a year or so, is this beginning to deliver?
“Absolutely, but in combination with SEO, as they really work hand-in-hand. With Southerly, our SEO is getting better largely because of our blog. We find that our traffic is more and more relevant, and so our analysis can be more granular as to what kind of customer they might be.
“We can see what kind of guide they’ve downloaded, and often their enquiries are related to the resources on our website.
“Some come to the website and download everything. For example, the resources are very different. One is about employee engagement, one is about content marketing and one is about social media, but some people download everything.
“For example, we had one enquiry recently by someone who’d found us online, downloaded everything, including the case studies, and asked for a very specific proposal based on their reading from downloads. It was amazing to see such detailed enquiries on services because they’ve gained a more sophisticated outlook from looking around the website.”
Very interesting to hear the proof of the pudding that churning out regular content can convert into leads.
“Yes, but it’s quite a long term game as you try and get the tone of the blog right, and create and upload all your free downloadable resources. So for the first 3-6 months we weren’t getting exactly the right sort of leads coming in. But over time, we started getting more and more appropriate enquiries.
“It took a little while to build up a critical mass of content, create some good quality back-links and really find our audience, but it was worth the effort and the wait.”
So you’ve been focused on your customer personas and writing specifically for those?
“Yes, we did that last year, and noticed people subscribing to the blog, then downloading resources, then it grew and now it’s people coming to Southerly who are real leads with proper budgets in place.”
How are you doing your own automation?
“Yes, we’re using Mailchimp and WordPress. We did use a marketing automation tool, but now we’re finding it so much better doing it ourselves. Our blog looks much better now, our SEO and conversion rates have improved and our leads have increased.
“Doing it manually has helped us focus on what we’re doing. I wouldn’t suggest going straight to marketing automation because it can make you a bit lazy, as it does everything for you.”
Peter Meinertzhagen, Digital Marketing Manager at Journl
What is the main difference between a brochure website and a lead generation website?
“I think that most websites should be serving up something of a mix of the two.
“Pure lead generation requires a different kind of design than that of a brochure website. A brochure website (which still needs an information architecture that is well considered) very much puts the end goal in the hands of the user, letting them explore the content in a way that seems fit to them. It is user-centred.
“Lead generation requires a design that steers the user down a pre-determined path, with the end goal being strongly defined by the designer. It is conversion-centred.
“A website which was designed purely with conversions in mind wouldn’t be a good idea as you’d be taking too much control out of the hands of the user. Not every page on a website can be designed like a landing page.
“This isn’t to say that user-centred design is goalless in design, it’s just not focused on in such a single-minded way. Homepages, for example, are generally not designed purely for direct lead generation; they are designed to help the user find the information they are looking for.
“Of course, ultimately, this ease of navigation is to assist the user in getting to the point at which they become a lead. However, you are providing them with a number of choices to make, depending on what they want.
“Lead generation pages reduce the number of options the user has. The fewer the options, the more likely they are to make the choice you want them to make.
“In conclusion, both design styles need considering and they need to work together.”