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Once upon a time, there was a website with near 100% bounce rate

That’s how this story begins. With a call from a desperate website owner, whose website apparently was such a poor match with whoever visited it, that Google Analytics indicated a near 100% bounce rate on practically all pages. So what do you do then? Right: you call a digital agency to develop a new website. Right?

Tibor Uittenbogaard | 04 nov 2019

Do you call a digital agency to develop a new website when you're bouncerate is near 100%? Well, not exactly. We didn’t design or develop a new website for this client (yet), but we really helped them. This is the story of how we helped this cliënt, and what we’ve learned in the process. A story of assumptions, validations, and reframing of mindsets. And this is also a teaser for a possible follow-up blog, because our story isn’t finished yet. It has only just begun.

It must be the website, right?

Because we’re a respected agency, I’ll hide the real names of my client and all those involved in this story. So let’s call this client X-works Inc. The first call went a little something like this:

X-works: 

“Hello, our website isn’t performing for us because we have a bounce rate of near 100% and no leads. So we got a quote from another agency but our IT consultant told us to call you for a comparison quote, because it seems a bit high.”

Me: 

“Well, that’s great and I’ll be sure to thank him for the referral. But I’m looking at your website now and at least in the front-end, the code doesn’t appear to be at fault here. How is it that you’re concluding that the website needs to be rebuilt? Are you sure that’s the real problem?”

Long story short: that was (probably, as far as I can tell at this time) not the real problem. They just assumed that the website was at fault. And the other agency was more than happy to provide a quote without asking questions, so this client could have ended up with a new website and not one single lead more to show for it. 

Why, Who, What?

As it turns out, X-works had done a lot of work to make the website. They set up the Wordpress CMS themselves, they changed the theme styling to match their brand identity, they created a lot of content about their product and services, and they even invested in good quality photography to make the whole thing look professional and nice. And it didn’t look too shabby to be honest. But because they did the development themselves and thought they knew their business and content well enough, their immediate assumption when it didn’t generate leads was: it must be something we did wrong with the development. And sadly, that is true, but not in the sense they initially assumed.

You see, what they did wrong is not so much the web development part, but the first - most vital part: developing a strategy that becomes the foundation for all communication efforts. That’s the foundation that will then translate to means of communication, a website being one of them. What they should have done but skipped, is asking themselves these three vital questions:

  1. Why should anyone use our services?
  2. Who should we pitch our services to?
  3. What services and content are useful to them, and can make them contact us?

Like so many, they provided the content they knew they could create: things about them, about their product, their services and their news. But when I asked them who they were trying to reach with that content, they didn’t really know. X-works had a great product and were just happy to sell it to their client base, but when asked for a client profile (a persona), they couldn’t produce it. Which is weird, looking back, because as it turns out, they knew who their target audience was quite well. They just didn’t think to identify them for the benefit of marketing. 

Assumption is the mother of all validation

After our call, it was my assumption that it was not the website that was at fault, but the content. And it was my assumption that whatever content had been produced, it wasn’t clearly targeted for a specific audience. It was mostly a sales pitch but without a clear idea of who we were pitching for. And as we all know, assumption is a mother. 

Luckily, the client acknowledged that, and with that mindset we agreed on a few things: 

  1. We need to better understand our target audience. Who’s buying what we sell exactly?
  2. We need to better understand their Buyer Journey. How do they approach buying a product like ours, and where and how does the website come into play?
  3. We need to validate these assumptions as soon as possible and prevent ending up again with something that doesn’t work

The validation process

We outlined a process in which the end goal was not only to have a better understanding of the buyers and their Buyer Journey, but also to have validated our assumptions about those two subjects. So the process was this:

  1. Persona Workshops
  2. Validation interviews
  3. Customer Journey Workshops
  4. Validation interviews
  5. Additional Customer Journey Mapping

Workshops

We did the workshops with the sales team. The validation interviews were done with the actual clients of X-Works, and some buyer personas we were able to generate from within our own network. The interviews were done in a way that wasn’t so much a review of a checklist of the persona profile, but interviews in which we really wanted to know the context and behaviour related to buying our product. We asked about trigger events, information needs, the Decision Making Unit (DMU), brand awareness and a lot more. 

Interviews

We did the interviews in a way that was aimed at really understanding the buying process, and without guiding those we interviewed in certain directions. This way, we got some pretty amazing insights. Turns out we didn’t do a half-bad job at identifying the buyers, but we missed some vital aspects to their decision-making process. And some key content was missing entirely.

The insights

Here are some key insights about the buyer personas, Buyer Journeys and decision-making unit, which we gained from the process - the validation interviews in particular.

  1. Data is key
    While we assumed that our DMU wanted to know everything about the product, they themselves indicated that they were mostly interested in benchmarking data. No data? No deal. 
  2. It’s about who you know and who knows you
    Our client assumed that anyone that was going to go shopping for their product would find them. The buyers themselves indicated that their sole vendors were the ones recommended by their network. In other words: if they don’t already know you, you may as well not exist.
  3. Peers & degrees are more important than the sales pitch
    During the interviews, the buyers took a look at our client’s website and immediately noticed the lack of peers or degrees mentioned in references and the company profile. Apparently, the specific product wouldn’t be sold, without at least a degree holder in the team.
  4. There is a big DMU, but only one key influencer
    We already assumed that the Decision-Making Unit for this product would be big, and that was confirmed. However, the influence of the DMU was very limited as it turned out. The key buyer persona was the end-user and his / her manager. This insight has made the focus point of the next steps a lot more targeted, and we won’t be investing much effort in the non-essential buyers.
  5. The product is nothing without a service model
    Our client provides an excellent product and excellent service. However, hów they achieve that excellence is very poorly presented. While all the buyers indicated that issues and the need for support are rare, when it is needed, it is of vital importance. Our client will, therefore, start to outline a service model and proposition, to cover that hiatus. 

Next step: campaigning 

At this point, we have a pretty good idea of our target audience, the decision-making unit, the buying process and the types of information they require. Furthermore, we gained some valuable insights that are not relevant for online marketing, but very valuable for our client’s sales efforts, like creating a network of professionals that refer prospects and organising events. In other words: so far we did some solid qualitative research. But we also understand that our validation was done with a very limited test population. So quantitative, we’re wanting. Next steps are therefore aimed at validating more, and with a bigger audience. 

In the coming months, we will set up a marketing campaign in various media outlets, with specific content triggers and landing pages that align with what we’ve learned about the buyer personas, their information needs, their buyers journey and the online touchpoints (searches, channels, website landing pages). We will monitor the clicks and conversion to further validate what works and what doesn’t. We’ll also be launching some landing pages without campaigns, for SEO, and to experiment with some service value propositions. And we’ll be working with the sales team to learn more from each lead, and to get them to work on their network. We’ll also initiate activities like organizing an event. That, too, will generate more useful content for future marketing purposes.

Should we apply A-B testing? 

One last thing to address before we leave you on the edge of your screen. A-B testing isn’t included in our next steps. Why not, you may ask? Well, because the target audience for this particular product and service is very specific and small. And we’re not testing small tweaks but big themes: content, campaign messages, and behavioural assumptions about the entire Buyer Journey.

A-B testing can definitely be very useful for optimizing digital experiences. That includes sales funnels, both to- and inside websites. However, as a rule of thumb A-B testing is best applied in situations where there’s a large traffic volume. This allows you to really spot the significant impact of small tweaks like changing a button or image. In this case, we’re expecting low traffic and even lower conversion rates, so we won’t be testing with UX or design variations yet. But who knows - we may in the future.  

About the author

Tibor Uittenbogaard is Digital Consultant at One Shoe since January 2010. Tibor consults and guides our clients in determining goal-oriented strategies and optimal practices for project cooperation, software development and digital communications strategies. Feel free to contact Tibor if you’re curious to learn more about brand strategy, user experience, development of websites, apps and software, or other topics relating to communication and digital marketing.

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