The Internet has drastically changed the way that most businesses build and promote their brands as more and more consumers are engaging with brands online before making a purchase. Managing the digital customer experience for a brand has become challenging due to the combination of digital touchpoints where marketers seek to influence consumers stretching across paid, earned and owned media on different devices.
Even within offline channels, digital devices are being used to supplement the digital experience. It is therefore important for organisations to create effective digital experiences across all touchpoints. The website is central to this experience as most of your organisation’s content will exist here.
“According to Business Insider, 40% of consumers are heading to search engines like Google to get more information as they make their purchasing decisions.”
Google itself processes over 100 billion searches each month.
Managing the digital customer experience for an organisation was once quite straightforward. Businesses had a website, an email newsletter and some offline channels.
Today, it is far more complex where customer-facing touchpoints of a brand’s digital experience can include a desktop or mobile-optimised site, mobile apps, company pages on social media, emails, connected devices and the Internet of Things (IoT).
For multichannel retailers, the digital experience also includes providing digital devices in-store, including technologies like augmented reality.
According to smallbizclub.com, as digital capabilities multiply, consumer demands have risen in four areas:
Now: Consumers want to interact anywhere at any time.
Can I: They want to do truly new things as disparate kinds of information (from financial accounts to data on physical activity) are deployed more effectively in ways that create value for them.
For me: They expect all data stored about them to be targeted precisely to their needs or used to personalise what they experience.
Simply: They expect all interactions to be easy.
It is this that is driving change in our marketing approaches. Marketers are under pressure to build on the increase in consumer power bought by the digital age. Therefore, marketing needs to move beyond being ‘always on’ to being ‘on demand’ and more relevant and responsive.
These increases in consumer power coupled with the growth in digital technology have resulted in some fundamental shifts in consumer behaviour. Your website needs to cater to this.
Consumers now have an increased amount of power because they have a greater number of choices, more complex choices, and more channels through which to pursue them today than ever before. In such an environment, simple, integrated solutions to problems will win the loyalty of the time-pressed consumer.
Here are a few of the driving forces behind the increase in customer power:
Peer-to-peer communication – social media, reviews, forums and communities allow customers to share information, collaborate and provide negative and positive feedback.
Increased control, personalisation and preferences – customers are less willing to accept marketing efforts and will pull information for themselves according to their preferences. Customers are increasingly demanding personalisation and products and services that are built around individual needs.
Global citizens with increased choice – technology enables customers to be global consumers with more choice, access to alternatives and price transparency.
Access to more information and mobile technology – customers can use technology to research companies and products. The increase in mobile technology means that customers can do this anytime and anywhere.
Customers no longer compare companies only with competitors – customers now compare an organisation’s performance with a variety of organisations, based on their benchmark of ‘what good looks like’.
Customers are less tolerant – customers now tend to be harder to satisfy and quicker to explain. This can be seen through increasing complaints and falling customer satisfaction levels. They are demanding and many will expect any required information at their fingertips as well as expecting ease of service.
Customer-to-customer dialogue has grown – social media, forums and review sites have enabled customers to talk to one another more readily. Customers are now led by the online opinions of strangers as well as their friends or followers.
Customers are less loyal – customers are now much more open to switching providers and technology has often made this process easier too. Customers are no longer prepared to accept poor standards and demand quality.
Customers no longer accept marketing from organisations – the growing ability to screen out advertising messages through technology as well as a widespread distrust of mainstream media means organisations have to find other means to develop relationships with customers and prospects.
Customers are more informed – digital technology has given consumers greater knowledge of products and services. It is now easy for consumers to gain information and opinion online to support their decision-making process.
Customers are now multichannel users – the customer now uses multiple channels to communicate and purchase goods and services. It’s important that an organisation is available through such channels.
Your website is core to your online marketing strategy and is the key to being ‘findable’ to customers that are looking for the products and services that you offer. In order to be found, there are two search engine marketing tactics that you should be embracing as part of your online marketing strategy:
Search engine optimisation (SEO) involves achieving the highest position or ranking practical in the natural or organic listings in search engine results pages (SERPS).
Paid search (pay-per-click) marketing (PPC) is similar to conventional advertising; where a relevant text ad with a link to a company page is displayed when the user of a search engine types in a specific phrase.
When developing a website, a large amount of focus must be dedicated to SEO as in essence, if you get it right, you will not be paying for your organisation to appear on the search engine’s results page (SERP).
“Search engine optimisation (SEO) involves achieving the highest position or ranking practical in the natural or organic listings on the search engine results pages after a speciﬁc combination of keywords (or keyphrase) has been typed in. The position or ranking of your listing is dependent on how well your content matches with the keyword or keyphrase that was typed in.” Chaffey & Ellis-Chadwick (2019)
Image Source: Fishkin
To fully understand the purpose of SEO, consider the scenario of going to all the trouble (and expense) of designing and launching a website for your company, only to have no visitors to your site.
A website with no traffic to it is a waste of resources and serves no purpose.
This is where SEO fits in. SEO helps people to find your website. Basically, you tell the search engine what content you have on your website and the search engine matches your website to anyone that is looking for the content that you have. This is done by listing your website in the search results of the person looking for your content.
SEO is continuously evolving, and experts are quick to change their tactics should a search engine change their rules or elements within their search algorithms. There is however a constant in that SEO is managed across two areas or ‘pillars.
On-page SEO which includes the way web pages are set up with meta data, meta descriptions, heading tags and image ALT tags. It also looks at target keywords on your website pages and how well written your content is to include these keywords. On-page SEO is also concerned with website speed and the format of URLs. Social sharing capability also forms part of the on-page SEO pillar.
Off-page SEO includes tactics such as link building, social signals and bookmarking.
SEO includes the use of many technologies including but not limited to:
The SEO Pyramid – Source: Chaffey (2019)
As you can see from this list, it takes a lot to rank a page in Google.
SEO is a massive topic. As such it would be impossible to do everything at once.
Also, not all elements of SEO are equal and should be dealt with in a strategic way so as to build on each other.
The SEO pyramid helps marketers to understand what comes first and what to prioritise when building a sustainable SEO strategy.
Using the SEO Pyramid is simple:
Accessible, quality content – This is the basic requirement. No content means no SEO. So, you start by creating content that will inform your visitors and keep them on your site as long as possible. The accessible refers to your site being ‘crawl’ friendly. Make sure there are no linking errors and that the structure of your content makes sense.
Keyword research and targeting – This step is all about your ‘on-page’ SEO pillar. Find the keywords that are relevant to your website. Think what keywords customers would use in a search in order to find your website. Then make sure these keywords are used in headers, tags, meta tags and descriptions.
Link building – The link building step is all about the ‘off-site’ pillar of your SEO strategy. Search engines love links. You need to find as many ways as possible to link from your website to another and vice versa. You can also build links into your content to link to other areas in your website.
Social – This is where your content strategy comes to life outside of just your website. Linking to social platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and other forums or blogs can go a long way to getting your content shared and if you are really fortunate it will go viral. All of this is to achieve the main goal of SEO – to generate traffic back to your website.
The concept customer experience has evolved over time, take a look:
“Customer experience is the perception that customers have of their interactions with an organisation.” (iPerceptions, 1998).
“It is the cumulative impact, both emotional and practical – of all the encounters and interactions that a customer has with a company.” (Soudagar, Iyer & Hildebrand, 2011)
Basically, customer experience incorporates the sum of all brand interactions across all of the channels that customers use. Customer experience considers how customers interact with your company and brand throughout their entire experience of being a customer. It has become a more commonly recognised term in recent years and has become one of the key priorities for a marketer. Customer experience is fast becoming the primary differentiator for many businesses.
To understand, manage and improve customer experience requires a thorough understanding of the journey that customers take with a business and this includes digital touchpoints.
“An integrated digital customer experience is business-critical; today’s leaders don’t update their website designs every few years as used to be the case, or even, every few months, instead they invest in continuously optimising their digital experience.” (Chaffey & Ellis Chadwick, 2019)
Your organisation needs to create a strategy that includes all of the places that prospects, customers and stakeholders engage with a brand.
“Online interaction and communications may have changed many things, but certain underlying key principles remain – the experience is all about the customer, the offer and the journey they have in finding (search), engaging (content) and transacting with the supplier.” (Bamforth, 2015)
“Organisations are recognising the need to develop a more customer-oriented viewpoint.” (Temkin, 2019)
Some of the benefits of a positive online customer experience are:
Assuming your website is findable and you have a good SEO strategy in place, you then need to focus on the user experience of your website. It’s pointless pouring resource into SEO if when users land on your website the user experience is lacking. A poor website journey can severely impact your ranking in search engines. Users that cannot find what they are looking for, or who have difficulty navigating your checkout process will bounce off your page and never return.
Simply put, UX is important as it helps the user (your customer) to fulfil their needs in the quickest and easiest way possible. In an online space, this builds loyalty and results in referrals and repeat business.
In order to create a great user experience, you need to get close to your users, you must talk to them and you should watch how they navigate your website and use your products. These insights will give you a deeper understanding of what is expected from your website.
The International Usability Standard, ISO 13407, specifies the principles and activities that underlie user-centred design:
“The central premise of user-centred design is that the best designed products and services result from understanding the needs of the people who use them.” (UK Design Council, 2017).
A user-centred focus is required to design customers’ experiences throughout the buying journey.
Developing a great online customer experience is about tapping into the emotional sentiments of a customer and using emotion to gain interaction, which can then mean the brand appeals to the customer. Creating a great online customer experience can also help develop loyal customers.
These provide a distinct financial benefit to the business, as it costs less to keep a customer than it does to try and attract a new one.
Content on your website can support the buying process of your customer in many ways. Here are a few examples of the type of content you can use at each stage of the customer buying process:
The main development tasks that need to be scheduled as part of the planning process for any digital experience according to Chaffey (2019) are as follows:
Pre-development tasks. For a new site or app, these include domain name registration and deciding on the company to host the website. They also include preparing a brief that sets out the aims and objectives of the site, and then – if it is intended to outsource the site – presenting the brief to rival agencies to bid for and pitch their offering.
Discovery, analysis and design. This is a research phase involving detailed analysis and design of the site and includes clarification of business objectives and market research to identify the audience and typical customer personas and user journeys and their needs.
Content creation, coding or development and testing. Developing the site to create prototypes including integration of content management systems, database integration, usability and performance testing.
Publishing or launching the site or improvement. This is a relatively short stage, involving releases of different versions of an application or website update. A soft launch is used, where the site is updated but the version is not widely communicated until the owners are sure the site is stable.
Pre-launch promotion or communications. Search engine registration and optimisation is most important for new sites.
Ongoing promotion. The schedule should also allow for promotion after site launch. This might involve structured discount promotions on the site, or competitions that are planned in advance. Many now consider search engine optimisation, content marketing and pay-per-click marketing as a continuous, ‘always-on’ process, and will often employ a third party to help achieve this.
Ongoing development. It used to be commonplace for there to be a time gap of several years between major website redesigns involving new layout and typography. Although content relating to products, services and promotions would be updated, the layout of page templates remained static.
This is where we need to work out what our needs are and what our consumer’s needs are (i.e. do they need a website, mobile site, app, social media page, etc.) We should not conduct an analysis once-off, but it should be repeated in order to answer who, what, why, how, when and where questions. Here we can use our customer personas to ensure we have an idea of what our customers want from the site. When we talk about what the user needs we should consider the usability of the site (is it user-friendly?), the accessibility of the site (is it allowing all users to interact with the site), where the site accessed is from and the information needs. Another aspect that we need to consider is localising the website. This means tailoring the website for individual countries.
There are different levels of localisation:
Standardised websites – these sites are not altered according to country as the site is the same worldwide. For example: YouTube is quite standardised (it has the same format in every country).
Semi-localised websites – there is one site worldwide but there are certain aspects that are localised (i.e. contact information). For example: the Nestlé website is standardised but does offer specific information on South Africa.
Localised websites – these websites are country specific. Hence, they may have an option for language translation. For example: Coca-Cola provides the option for consumers to select their country on the main site.
Highly-localised websites – these websites are country specific where details like time, date, currency formats, etc. are localised. For example: booking.com, automatically detects the country you are in and provides quotes in ZAR currency.
Culturally customised websites – sometimes we may need to alter the website depending on the dominant culture in that country. For example: McDonalds customises their website according to the country where the website is accessed from. They also offer variations in menus dependent on country culture.
When we are analysing websites, it is important to look at what our competitors are doing by looking at their websites. You would be surprised how much information you can obtain about your competitors from their website. For example, if Apple wants to know about Samsung’s future developments, going to their website and clicking on ‘About Us’ allows them, or anyone else, access to their performance, their vision for 2020, etc.
Next, we need to design the information architecture which involves a plan to group information logically. We need to ensure that the structure of the website benefits both us and the consumer. Architectures differ depending on the type of site we are developing: are we transacting, providing information, etc.? This would determine the complexity of the website.
Many consumers do not land on the home page; they land on pages that have been searched for on Google for example, let’s say you are looking for a Samsung TV and you Google this. The first result comes from Takealot. If you click on this page, you are taken to the landing page and not the home page.
We, therefore, need to be careful of how we design these sites because we want them to be inviting and prompt customer action.
Success online involves investment in higher quality on-page content, website architecture, usability, conversion to optimisation balance, and promotion. If you don’t take that route, you’ll find yourself not ranking in search engines.
If you don’t already have an integrated website marketing strategy in place that includes an effective website and SEO strategy, then you are most definitely missing out on valuable opportunities to reach and engage your leads online.
It could be that you have a website, but it isn’t fit to handle your digital marketing strategy. There are many online auditing tools that could help you with this, but often, you will need some help from an expert in this field. Otherwise, you could waste a lot of time and money.
Our team of digital marketing experts and website developers can help your small to medium sized business to set up a website that is pleasing to your customer and drives loyalty and engagement for your brand.
Give us a call, let’s level you up so that you can enjoy the competitive advantage that comes with a functional website.