In the world of digital media, there is a key player in the clubhouse that, while a stronghold and long time dependable asset, is often given less attention in favor of new, flashy, and “more fun” channels. However, a brand’s website deserves the same time and attention as the latest and greatest in digital media; in fact, it deserves more.
I will admit, early in my career I was far more excited about projects focused on social media and live events than those more centered on a client’s website. Not to date myself, but particularly in the early to mid 2010’s, social media for brands was exploding with what seemed liked endless potential, and every industry publication was eager to share the highlights, the strategies, and the expert opinions of the winningest brands.
But, as we have seen in the last several years, the dance between brands and digital channels can be a delicate one, as algorithm changes and pay to play models have zapped much of the shine (and the results) from the once favored channels.
Recently, a common theme has emerged among content experts, urging creators in particular to rethink how and where they build an audience, and how to protect their reach long term. The channels of choice for these experts? Owned websites and email lists. Founder of The Content Marketing Institute, Joe Pulizzi, is one of the strongest advocates for building an audience away from platforms not controlled by the creator themself in an attempt to reduce the risks associated with an ever changing digital landscape.
The same logic can be applied to brands. Whether they are decades old or newly launched, digitally native or traditionally brick and mortar, a quality website is an invaluable foundation for a brand’s digital presence.
Let’s examine what makes a website a brand’s most valuable digital asset in the competitive world of today and tomorrow.
The Future Is Unclear
Before there was TikTok, there was Vine. Before going live was available on most every channel, there was Periscope. There are countless examples of platforms and mediums rising to prominence before succumbing to new entrants, new technologies, or fickle consumer preferences. Building an audience on a particular platform alone comes with security risks in the event the channel crumbles, is banned (TikTok), or even if a profile is corrupted or hacked. All of the information and correspondence is stored on the platform’s servers, often with limited capabilities to export data or directly connect it to other channels outside the so called walled gardens.
Websites, on the other hand, have provided a constant and easily understood link to brands for the masses for nearly two decades. If a consumer searches for a brand online, they generally expect to find a website where they can find out more information, discover products and services, and either make a purchase or be directed to how to make a purchase. The brand controls how and when the website is available, the data captured during a site session, and the overall look and feel of the experience on site.
Savvy brands will consistently monitor and update their strategies to activate on the channels most valuable to their target market, but through the ups and downs and occasionally unnavigable waters of today’s market, websites have provided a safe haven for brands to always communicate with consumers.
First Party Data & Access
The value of first party data has been a hot topic for a numbers, most frequently brought to attention as Google warned, then retracted, then warned again of a cookieless future. First party data’s value extends beyond the ability to target consumers for advertising however. Website data can be leveraged to tell the story of the consumer journey, to decipher, predict, and react to evolving consumer tastes, and to drive strategy across other consumer touch points as behavior informs business decisions.
When properly structured and tracked, brands are able to gain a complete view of users’ behavior on the site, as well as insights on how they came to be on the site. Information regarding consumers’ time on site, path of exploration, cart activity, and lifetime value or loyalty are all key data points aiding in extending or improving the experience for consumers at the individual level, and as a whole. Further, the options for A/B testing and other digital experiments provide extensive opportunities for learning and strategic response.
Full Control of Experience
A solid brand strategy includes a consistent representation of the brand across channels and touch points; however few channels provide brands the level of customization and control as their own website. As today’s consumers search and expect to find more personalized experiences, the ability to control and tailor experiences with the brand is not only advantageous, it is becoming necessary. According to research from Salesforce, “73% of consumers expect companies to understand their unique needs and expectations, and 61% (up from 52% in 2020) are willing to share personal information if it enables a better buying experience, which in turn creates additional value for the brand.
Research also shows over 80% of consumers view the buying experience as important if not more important, than the product itself. For brands, this means the ability to be agile and proactive in delivering an exceptional experience is key. Opportunities to deliver could include special access for loyalty, exclusive content or products, or interactive shopping tools such as virtual try-on and product personalization. While these offerings may be somewhat limited through other channels, a brand’s website is limited only by the time and resources they are willing and able to dedicate.
Unites the Brand Experience Across Channels
A brand’s website may not be the “coolest” asset in their digital arsenal, but it is perhaps the most cross functional, uniting the many access points consumers have with the brand at one central location. This includes any physical retail or business operations, as the large majority of consumers will research a brand online before pursuing a purchase.
How To Enhance Your Website in 2023
Focus on Performance
The majority of today’s buyers are far more savvy when it comes to technology than in the past, and they expect brands to optimize their experience to meet the technological standard. A slow website is not going to cut it for consumers with innumerable choices in nearly every category.
For reference, this is the reality for brands optimizing their site for speed and performance:
- A one-second site speed improvement can increase mobile conversions by up to 27% -Shopify
- 47% of customers expect a website to load in two seconds at the very most. 40% will abandon it altogether if it takes longer than three. — The Drum
- 79% of people wouldn’t return to a site that had previously performed poorly for them.
- A one second delay in age load can hurt conversions by up to 7% — Neil Patel
Make It Mobile Friendly
It is surprising this needs to be said in 2023, but there are still a shocking number of websites not optimized for mobile. Not only does a lack of performance on mobile negatively impact a user’s experience, it will experience a negative impact in search engine results, as Google prioritizes mobile friendly websites to curate a better experience for its users. Forcing users to visit on a desktop device is a surefire way to lose sales to the competition, as mobile commerce is expected to account for over 43% of ecommerce sales in 2023.
Use Great Imagery
Whether you choose to go with traditional photo and video, or delve into immersive product experiences such as 3D visualization and augmented reality, the quality of the imagery on a website is paramount to delivering an exceptional customer experience. The majority of consumers believe imagery is more important than product descriptions for purchase decisions. If it doesn’t look great online, few buyers will take the gamble and hope it looks better in person, particularly if there is a competitor brand with a product that looks fantastic online.
Make It Easy
Buyers are often eager to spend money, but generally unwilling to work hard to spend money. Optimizing your website for product discovery and education, enabling accessibility tools, and streamlining the purchase process will go a long way in thrilling buyers and encouraging their return.
Do you have other recommendations on improving a brand’s website? Leave me a comment and let me know.