How The Humble Corporate Website Can Fuel Audience-Centric Performance Marketing

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"Brand Aware” explores the data-driven digital ad ecosystem from the marketer's point of view.

Today's column is written by Sachin Puri, vice president of growth marketing at McAfee.

Digital media is quickly evolving, but many brand websites are still catching up with the pace of innovations in outbound marketing. Sites are still overloaded with tags, aren’t optimized for organic traffic and have content that is hard to find.

When was the last time you performed a site audit? Do you have hundreds of pages but no in-depth content pages for topics that matter, and microsites that have never been scrubbed or integrated?

I’d highly recommend that brands redesign their websites to supercharge and support their marketing spend. Where to start and how to structure an initiative like this? Let’s take a deep dive into the key areas and insights. These insights are neither comprehensive nor linear but are important steps for an iterative website redesign process.

Start with the customer: Use analytics and research to develop key customer journeys

One of the key goals of a website is to enable customer journeys via well-crafted user behavior and engagement points to deliver the desired business outcome.

Not all users take the same journey, so it’s important to understand user segments and the associated journey on the current and future website. For example, someone visiting through a lower-funnel retargeting display ad is more likely seeking product or transaction information, whereas a new visitor, after watching an informational video on social, is likely still exploring and interested in long-form content, such as case studies. In either case, it’s advisable to enable cross-linking for deeper customer engagement and improved organic search ranking.

Start with the customer in mind and develop a comprehensive inventory of key user journeys for top segments. Engage marketing analytics and user research teams early to perform clickstream/path analytics and qualitative user research. This is one of the most enriching parts of website redesign and is often underfunded, rushed or skipped. Knowing customer behavior helps not only develop better customer insights but also hypotheses to guide future decisions and experiments to test these hypotheses.

Build a solid organic search foundation: What’s good for users is good for SEO

In the excitement of building an innovative and aesthetically stunning website, it’s easy for marketers to skip important SEO principles.

SEO is not a one-and-done tactic or afterthought, but a strategic cultural shift that guides the entire digital fabric of a company. Almost every digital and website element, such as global navigation, URL structure, page design and backend technology, requires thoughtful SEO consideration and ongoing updates to maintain freshness.

Search engine machine learning algorithms use some form of an E-A-T (expertise, authoritativeness or trustworthiness) framework. SEO best practices allow for better reach, ranking and relevance, which can all be improved in three critical areas:

Content: All visible and invisible content impacts SEO. Visible content includes text, images and rich media that users engage with. For example, an appealing page that allows users to customize product offerings leads to deeper engagement and improves dwell time, which signals to search engines that the site addresses intent.

Semi-visible content includes metadata, URL structure and bread crumbs that provide page information to the search engine query. For example, an ecommerce site selling loafers for men would likely benefit from using “/loafer-for-men” URL structure, with lowercase letters and hyphens to separate words.

Invisible content includes structured data and XML site maps that provide more detailed crawler-readable information about site structure and content; this data allows for rich cards and site links on search results.

Technology: The technical architecture is critical for site visibility on search engines and user experience. For example, slower site speed and limited or no cache not only delivers poor customer experience but also leads to lower rankings, as the “crawl budget” is exhausted on fewer slower pages rather than many faster pages, limiting coverage by search bots. Google announced in July 2019 that it will be mobile-first, meaning that Google will use a smartphone agent to crawl and index sites, so building a mobile-first site is a very important to rank higher (or even rank at all) on search engines.

Heavy use of dynamic content and JavaScript would also likely jeopardize visibility on search engines as it slows down the site. And avoid cloaking, showing different content to users and search engines, which violates Google’s webmaster guidelines.

Interlinking: Many marketers miss an important step to interlink between site pages and any external partnerships or PR releases back to the site. For example, an internal blog explaining the importance of device cybersecurity should link back to the appropriate product page and vice-versa. This provides a logical signal to users and search engines that the two pages are interrelated.

External backlinks play a very critical role in establishing the domain authority and website popularity for specific domains (remember the E-A-T framework). The more diverse and high domain authority sites link and reference to a site for specific topic, the more popular it’d likely appear to search engine ML algos. For example, if most fashion magazines reference a site for the quality of its loafers, the site will likely rank high in searches for “best loafers.” Thus, it’s critical to establish partnership models that allow for relevant backlinks for terms that matter.

Build the website for experimentation and personalization

Marketers must constantly experiment to enrich and personalize customer experiences. This requires thoughtful hypotheses development based on the qualitative and quantitative data. For example, a hypothesis that affluent buyers associate black and gold color with premium experiences can be confirmed with multivariate testing with KPIs such as conversion rate and order size. Many social and programmatic media buying platforms offer precise audience targeting and tools to personalize the landing page by audience type, enabling a seamless journey.

To allow for such experimentation and personalization, it’s vital to establish data analytics and audience management architecture early in the website development. The choice of tag management platform, web analytics and customizable web components require a thoughtful discussion between development and media management teams to ensure analyses and personalization of end-to-end customer journeys.

What next?

A brand’s website should not be considered as a one-and-done effort but rather a strategic asset that allows for collaborative experimentation across all functions. Each visitor is an opportunity to tell a brand’s story and engage with customers for eventual purchases, loyalty or other desired business KPIs.

I’d highly encourage marketers to initiate a site audit and develop an inventory of customer journeys to inform strategic and tactical site redesign discussions, with the key principle being customer centricity.

Follow Sachin Puri (@spuri79), McAfee (@McAfee) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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