Even though most companies have long realized the value of sales-ready and usable designs to encourage consumer engagement and sales, B2B websites are lagging in this arena. Only in the last few years have B2B companies started seeing the value in changing up their design to better suit their buyers’ or customer’s needs.
So, what’s the reason?
Unlike B2C consumers, B2B leads don’t end in impulsive purchases. Let’s be realistic here — it’s not likely that someone is going to stumble onto a software platform’s website, armed with only the information provided by the content on Internet, and make a large purchase via a shopping cart.
B2B customers will make a greater investment by taking a greater risk and therefore, they usually want to speak with a salesperson before they commit. But this doesn’t mean that a B2B website design should just be a static page. Even though the website might not be involved in the drafting of a contract or the physical exchange of money, it is still a salesperson and in this process a mighty influencer.
How it is possible?
Today, the Buyer is a lot smarter. They contact a sales rep at a stage much further down in the sales funnel than they would have a few years ago, so, it means the content on your website does a lot of the legwork that would have earlier been the job of the Sales team. Apparently, instead of asking the Sales Rep for a product pitch, they are now referring to the website, reading the company blog’, checking out the Influencers endorsing the product and signing up for premium content assets like e-books and whitepapers. Presently, the consumer has as much information, if not more, about the product he or she is buying than the salesperson does. They are very much well-educated today. Now, if that education is taking place on your website, your company will be better positioned to establish brand preference at a very early stage of the buying process. It’s safe to say having an amazing B2B website design is more important than ever!
For simplicity, best practices for an amazing B2B can be seen from two perspectives. First, from a design standpoint and second, from a usability standpoint.
Best Practices from a Design Standpoint
Do the homework
- Before you begin to think about the website’s design it’s imperative to do some research to make sure you are staying true to your brand persona and centering the content around the business’ goals. Developing a clear target buyer persona lets you have something to refer to as you write content and design the website. The focus should be on meeting their needs and solving their pain points.
- Often the objective of B2B website design is to convert visitors into leads. Aligning the wants and needs of your business with the wants and needs of your customer is a great way to ensure your website is accomplishing this goal.
What do customers want?
Most consumers say the most important factor in a website’s design is ease of use, and the ability to find the information they need.
What do businesses want?
They all seek more sales, a higher conversion rate, better quality leads and loyalty.
How does your B2B website design meet all these needs?
With an easy-to-navigate structure, advanced functionality, dynamic content, and offers that align with your target personas.
Focus on User Experience
- Think about what exactly is it that you want visitors to do when they get to your page.
- Do you want your visitors to check out your products? Would you prefer they visit your blog or download a premium content offer? Establish your goals and the anticipated conversion paths before you start designing your website.
- Developing Personas based on field research and interviews, laying out an empathy map (are basically affinity diagrams on steroids!), drawing out the user story and flow, and lastly wireframing; is the best way to define a visitor’s flow. Even though it’s tempting to skip the foundation-building aspects of a website and jump right into design, it is assured, wireframes and the various activities before that (these can be termed as activities under design sprints or Sprint 0) are a critical initial step in creating an effective user experience.
Write like a human
- Think of your website as part of your sales strategy and use it to introduce buyers to the solution you provide for their pain points, while explaining why your business is best at providing this. This doesn’t mean you need to cram industry jargons into every page. Use the same vocabulary that your buyer personas use in the solutions they’re seeking. When in the research stage, capture as many “quotations” from your target personas as possible so you can relate to all that when chalking out your content strategy.
- Don’t bombard your users with information. Rather, state what your business offers in simple terms and state how it is aligned with their goals and offers a solution for their pain points.
Building your business and gaining trust is all about developing relationships. This can be done through content production, such as having a great blog. Effective design plays a big role here. Here are ways to accomplish great design:
- Minimalist design:Minimalism is one of the most influential styles today – from design, to architecture, to music, to literature. In fact, there’s every chance that you’re a fan of minimalism even without knowing it.
Minimalists ask the question: How much can you strip away from an item without losing its essential purpose and identity?
- Ditch stock photography: Let’s be honest here. Using images/creatives from stock photography is even worse than having nothing at all.
- Use consistent calls to action:Ensure that your call to action buttons across the site are using a consistent color and design. By doing this, visitors will always understand where to look for that next step and understand which elements on the page are clickable and which ones are not. Use Heat Maps and A/B testing to monitor the website’s performance and optimization.
- Highlight social engagement:Sharing and responding to your content is a good starting point as it encourages engagement. Also, it can boost your page rank and increase your market reach. Include icons on your homepage for the social media networks, you are active on and after each blog post, make it easy for your readers to share it on social.
Remember your Brand
- One of the most important aspects to creating an engaging and satisfactory user experience is presenting a consistent branding which is even vital to the success of the business.
Does your business have a style guide?
Style guides touch on all aspects of your brand and establish the norm for colors, images, fonts, context of logo usage and tonality of the copy. Before you begin developing your website or writing your blog or even making social posts, establish a simple style guide.
Best Practices from a Usability Standpoint
Usability heuristics are considered “rules of thumb” (or best practices) for user interface design. When applied to your site, these will help reduce friction and keep the user focused on the message you are trying to convey, as opposed to getting distracted or confused by a deficient or incomplete interface.
Like you know, the higher the value of what you are selling, the higher would be the inherent friction and the number of questions you need to answer throughout the site.
In these situations, information architecture is a much more complex task. Some B2B firms are notorious for ignoring these facts with the argument that – “it’s not important for us, because we do not actually sell anything in our website…”
Heuristic #1: Make Your System Status Highly Visible
“The system should always keep users informed about what is going on, through appropriate feedback within reasonable ime.”
Translation for lead gen B2B web design: Always tell your buyers where they are, when navigating your site.
You can achieve this using —
- Breadcrumbs –Breadcrumb navigation works like a GPS, telling users where they are on your website always. Plus, with breadcrumb navigation users will have a path laid out that tells them how they got there. Use breadcrumb navigation on your site, whether that’s location, attribution or path-based.
- Page headers –The header of the page should also resemble the copy of the navigation items or links that the user clicked. This is not only a good SEO practice, it is also a good user experience practice. Chances are that if the page header of the page matches what the user clicked on, they will be reassured of their choices.
- Highlighting selected menu options –When the user clicks on a navigation item, keep it highlighted, bolded or underlined, so that the user gets instant feedback about the menu options where he is.
- Thank you pages– are also great indicators of status. If your buyer downloads an eBook, or subscribes to a webinar, for instance, it is important that the Thank You page confirms the action that was just taken.
Skipping these elements, will make the site confusing and the users will start to wonder where they are, which is a completely unnecessary friction point. Make navigation very clear.
Heuristic #2: Match Your System to the Real World
“The system should speak the users’ language, with words, phrases and concepts familiar to the user, rather than system-oriented terms. Follow real-world conventions, making information appear in a natural and logical order.”
Translation for lead gen B2B web design: Use phrases and words that the users are already thinking about and eliminate jargon. Users must come across words, phrases and concepts that are familiar to them, as opposed to terms that are far too technical.
In fact, the best language and tone of voice should come directly from the user’s mouths. Thus, spend time talking to your customers, ask them to tell you what your product means to them, what problem it solves, and how was their life before using it and comprehend these information in the sites content. Any information put on the site should be completely jargon less, and appear in both a natural and logical way.
Heuristic #3: Allow User Control and Freedom
“Users often choose system functions by mistake and will need a clearly marked ‘emergency exit’ to leave the unwanted state without having to go through an extended dialogue. Support undo and redo.”
Translation for lead gen B2B web design: Eliminate anything that takes off the control from the user’s hands.
Here are the two most common examples in which this heuristic is commonly violated in web design:
- Pop-up offers: We’ve all visited websites where a popup window suddenly appears and asks us to join a site panel or take a feedback survey. While intrusive popup windows like these are annoying on their own, they’d be worse if the user couldn’t reject such an intrusive offer. If the goal is to collect feedback by asking the user to join a panel or take a survey, then be sure to give them 100% control and freedom by letting them reject the offer when the popup window appears. Believe it or not, this will increase the quality of your surveys since those who opt in are more likely to be honest and genuine.
- Auto-play videos: Another pet peeve for users is that some websites (such as ours) automatically play a video as soon as a user lands on the site. This can be frustrating because some users may see that as a nuisance. It’s important not to assume what the users want to do, so let the user play the video only if they want to, and let it be supplemental to the information presented in written form.
Heuristic #4: Use Consistency and Standards
“Users should not have to wonder whether different words, situations, or actions mean the same thing. Follow platform conventions.”
Translation for lead gen B2B web design: The last thing you should subject the user to, is a sense of confusion on your website. They shouldn’t be put in a position where they’re wondering if various words, situations or actions really mean the same thing or not. Websites should not be puzzles. Instead, create fluid experiences that eliminate any guesswork.
Follow a standard look and navigation style across different sections of your website.
Heuristic #5: Prevent Errors
“Even better than good error messages is a careful design which prevents a problem from occurring in the first place. Either eliminate error-prone conditions or check for them and present users with a confirmation option before they commit to the action.”
Translation for lead gen B2B web design: The best defense against any error is to do whatever in your power to avoid them in the first place. When you design carefully and mindfully for the user experience, then errors don’t pop up much at all. This may require several iterations of usability testing and improvements on your site.
Here are some errors that are easily preventable:
- Typing the wrong info in a web form: This is accentuated when, in an effort to make the forms clean and sleek, the field names are placed inside the fields themselves, and once the buyer clicks on the field itself, he is forced to remember what was he was supposed to write in there.
Make it easy on your buyers, don’t stretch short term memory and just lay out the field names outside of the form.
- User thinking it clicked on the wrong place (when in fact didn’t). When a call-to-action button does not resemble landing page language that it directs to, it causes your buyer to doubt or feel frustrated and anxious.
- Search boxes are other places where users make common mistakes. That’s why using the auto recommendation feature can work wonders for each user. Take, for example, Google’s auto recommend feature. Every time you enter a short- or a long-tail keyword into the search engine, a list of possible, exact matches will drop down from the search box, thereby avoiding typos. These are the kind of best practices that make a difference on
- Clear distinction between primary and secondary calls to action: In any conversion oriented page, there should be always a most wanted next step. This doesn’t mean that there you should lock your buyer to only one possible action, but it does mean that you need to establish a clear hierarchy and make sure that the primary call to action is clearly bigger & bolder than the secondary ones.
Heuristic #5: Prevent Errors
“Minimize the user’s memory load by making objects, actions, and options visible. The user should not have to remember information from one part of the dialogue to another.”
Translation for lead gen B2B web design: Your buyers need to be able to quickly recognize where to go or what to do next when exploring your website.
There are a few UX features that can help you achieve this:
- Accordions – Accordions stretch short term memory quite a bit, so they work best if the wording in the question is the same kind of wording he (user) has top of mind already.
- Sticky menus– For long pages, a common problem is letting your buyers know how deep in the page they are. Sticky menus are a sleek solution for this, because no matter how deep in the page the buyer is, he always will have access to the menu navigation options.
- Change the colors of visited links– this is a very often overlooked principle with the evolution of material design, but a very simple way of improving on the recognition heuristic.