In any form of marketing, it is particularly important to understand the distinction between activity (the things you do) and goals (what you want to achieve).

That may sound blindingly obvious - but you would be surprised. We meet plenty of people who, when they first come to us, “want a website”. When we ask what the motivation is, we get a blank look. In other words, they have decided to undertake an activity without having thought carefully about the goals.

To be fair, I believe in many cases clients do have some subconscious understanding of those goals, or may believe that they are so obvious that they don’t need to be stated. And it is certainly the job of the agency to work the client through the process of understanding goals and motivations. Our role is to ensure we draw out explicit motivations and goals - so we can respond accordingly.

It’s also mostly true that everyone does need a website. In the modern world, that’s just a fact. But it’s only when interrogating goals that we can understand what sort of website a client needs. And answering that question accurately is desperately important. It is actively damaging, after all, to copy ideas and techniques from organisations that have entirely different goals from your own. So with that in mind, let’s talk about how marketing strategy influences website design.

Which Online Business Are You?

The best example of how strategy influences design is the division of websites into two broad types: transactional and engagement. Before I go further I should say this is (of course) an oversimplification. Of course there is a continuum between these two extremes. But nevertheless:

  • Transactional sites seek to help users get something specific done as quickly and easily as possible
  • Engagement sites wish to encourage users to ‘stick around’ and spend as long as possible on the site

Like I say, it’s an oversimplification. But even a moment’s reflection tells us that not only are these two types of sites designed differently, success is also measured differently. For the former, time on site is a bad thing. For the latter, a good thing. They are fundamentally different approaches.

To tell the truth, many purely transactional sites have moved into the mobile app space (think ordering a taxi or a takeaway), but classic e-commerce lives on, and in it we see a classic tension between these models. On the one hand, an online retailer wants the customer to find and buy what they are looking for quickly and easily. That is why Amazon, for example, support one-click ordering. At the same time, they want users to spend time on site and find more things to buy - being led naturally through potential purchases. That is why the same company helpfully suggests complementary products before and after a purchase.

It is the same for most websites. Whether for a B2B software business or a concert venue, these twin approaches co-exist. Understanding that interplay is the first step to building a site that is right for your own needs, and complements your digital marketing strategy. Now let’s take a look at some specific advice around tailoring your website to that strategy.

How To Build The Site That Is Right For You

It isn’t possible to cover the entire world of web design in the space of a blog post, but I can offer some core principles to follow that should help align strategy and site - and deliver for both of them:

  • Always outline strategy first. If you find yourself saying “we’ve built a website, now we need to drive some traffic to it”, you have it the wrong way around. Before building the site you should have a very clear idea of the need you are addressing, and that means understanding the motivation and journey of your visitors. There should be no question around where traffic is coming from, or what sort of people they will be, after a site is built.
  • Know where your traffic comes from. A digital marketing strategy often involves allocating resources to various activities intended to increase awareness and ultimately business. Think SEO, paid media advertising (Adwords, display), PR, and so on. Build for that traffic. To give one example, if you are running a significant paid media campaign using specific propositions, consider building dedicated landing pages for those propositions within a ‘decentralised’ site dedicated to maximising initial engagement from those ads.
  • Understand the ‘a ha’ moment and design for it. If there’s a particular insight or understanding you want users to reach (because you know it drives conversion), take care to ensure that your design makes sure that happens. That means taking the time to alayse the typical route to purchase, and then employing UI and UX techniques, plus visual design where appropriate, to get the message in front of as many visitors as possible.
  • Design for your audience. Your digital strategy should be built around a clear understanding of your audience: what motivates and interests them, where they get their information from and how they like to consume that information, and how they measure their performance. When we understand and document the answers to these questions, it helps simplify design decision making when it comes to website development - and means what you create will deliver the right impression.
  • Build for the conversion you seek. Your digital marketing strategy will determine what you want from typical site visitors. A sale? The sharing of a name and email address? Just engagement? Understanding the end result (or combination of results) you want from your site will in turn inform UI, UX, content and design decisions - and mean your site is playing an active role in delivering new business.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly - verify your work both during the development process and after launch. Is your site fighting your strategy or enabling it? Does what you built deliver on the metrics you care about? At every stage both client and agency should be validating online design and development against marketing strategy. Otherwise you are in danger of spending time and money to go backwards!

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