Now that we know that the Business to Business (B2B) audience is different than the Business to Consumer (B2C) audience, how do we design our website to cater to their needs?
The most important part of any design is to put yourself into the shoes of those who will be using your design. When you are at work and using the web (for work purposes), what are you doing? What sites do you visit? You are probably doing one of two things: browsing or searching. When you browse, you look at a handful of sites for updates on what is going on in your industry. Since your time is valuable, you expect to visit each site and be able to see if there is any important information just by looking at the homepage. If you are looking for something specific, you will probably start out at your favorite search engine (google, yahoo, msn, etc.). There may be a industry-specific search engine that works much better. On the search results page you click on links, click back to the search, try to refine your search by adding, removing or changing keywords, and hope you find the information you are looking for.
How do we incorporate these behaviors into our website design? There are few points worth highlighting:
- Expect to see any important information just by looking at the homepage.
- Browse to only a handful of favorite sites.
- Industry-specific search engines.
- Refining search keywords.
Let’s take these one at a time…
1. Expect to see any important information just by looking at the homepage. In both browsing and searching, you expect to find what you’re looking for either on the homepage or linked to from the homepage. The number of clicks to get to important information should be as small as possible. Scrolling down a long page is not as annoying as having to click through multiple pages, usually due to the time to load a webpage (even if small). Still, important information should be at the top of the page, arranged left to right, just as you read.
2. Browse to only a handful of favorite sites. Becoming one of these favorite sites is not easy. You need to have information that is of value, a lot of it, and it needs to be frequently updated. The type of information that busy business people find valuable and worth spending a few minutes on. It should be organized and preferably searchable. This takes a bit of a time commitment but doesn’t have to be difficult. The same types of things that help you gain rank in search engines, are also what are important to your visitors.
3. Industry-specific search engines. Being at the top of search engines such as Google, Yahoo! and MSN can be difficult for B2B companies. These search engines are usually used by consumers for consumer purposes and so their results are tuned to that type of search. B2B sites may be trumped by much larger and more popular consumer websites. Frequency of keywords, frequency of updating, number and importance of sites linking into the website all impact ranking in search engines. Take a look at any industry-specific search engines to see if you can submit your site to them and if they have any tips on how they formulate their search results. Trade links with other sites in your industry (preferably those favorites from #2). Encourage people to link to and share the content on your site by adding the ability to email your content, link to your content, and add your content to various social networks (digg, technorati, del.icio.us, etc).
4. Refining search keywords. B2B sites may have keywords which are used in the consumer industry by much larger and more popular websites. Using industry specific keywords in the content on your site will help make that content more findable. B2B sites can also stand out by purchasing sponsored links or ads in search results (usually at a fairly reasonable cost). Content you believe people are looking for, which you can tell from your web stats, should be easy to find – either on the home page or linked directly from in descriptive link text (not just click here).
Web design is not an easy process, but these tips should get you started in the right direction. Feel free to leave a comment or contact me with any questions.