March 13, 2022

What we've learned over the last year building marketing websites

Ambitious goals, understood, creative digital answers to ambitious business problems through Strategy, design and technology
Ambitious goals, understood, creative digital answers to ambitious business problems through Strategy, design and technology

Intro

You might be interested in reading this if you're involved in the marketing of an existing site, an upcoming site, or if you've just poured a coffee and have nothing else to do. β˜•οΈ

Who Am I? I'm Dan πŸ‘‹ I run Mawla, where we create conversion optimised marketing websites for SaaS companies. In 2021 we turned over €560k and we aim to hit 1mil in 2022!

I want to grow an audience and the way I'm hoping to do that is by contributing content back to the almighty great internet cloud. I'm hoping the content that I find interesting will also be interesting to the type of people I want to engage with.

You see, a realisation I've come to is that the people I'm most interested in targeting are people in the marketing space of SaaS businesses. I think you're the type of people I can help, and you have the sort of problems I enjoy solving.

I've also realised that I'm not going to create an audience or engagement unless I find a way to create value. I've been stuck at 300 twitter followers for awhile now and I can't understand why. What do you mean people don't want to follow me just to watch to me pat myself on the back about my revenue targets? 😲 Pfft.. fine I'll try something different!

So what have we learned, what is working, what isn't?

You could say I know a little bit about Marketing sites β€” in the last year Mawla has created:

  1. Glenveagh's new customer centric marketing website
  2. Harmon.ie's new site
  3. Kingspan's annual report site
  4. Foxit's marketing site
  5. Glanbia's Milkman marketing site
  6. Our own marketing site
  7. A few others launching this month or under NDA.

The way I'd like to structure this conversartion is:

Content

Content is the core of this conversation, 99% of internet traffic consume content 1% create. This can probably be said to be true for the world in general but lets not get into that πŸ˜…

A user arrives on your website because they've been linked to it, searched for you directly, searched for a keyword, etc. Inversely people are also not arriving for those reasons, if you don't have links out there, keywords, content etc.

Copy writing, blogs, etc are very important here, I'm not going to go into them for now but I will in another post.

Structure

One of the first things we do with a new customer is a UX focused discovery workshop. The structure of your site is the backbone of the entire project. This is essentially the architects

The way we break this down is:

  1. Sitemap - what pages, in what order, nested in what way
  2. Information architecture - the structure of the pages, how information is laid out and explained to the user
  3. User journeys - where does a user first land, how do they move through the site, how do they turn from a cold lead into a conversion

Sitemaps

Here is a sample of a sitemap for our site, this structure lets us visualise the overall website in a tree map style.

Here is an example of our older sitemap:

Information Architecture

Here is a comparison of a few agency home page IAs. When you zoom out from the actual content and look at the sentiement in each block like this you can see how each site is trying to build trust and ultimately convert.

The core part of the IA is identifying the structure of the page, from top to bottom. Once that is done, you then need to look at each of those blocks - lets call them Modules, and figure out .. okay how do I actually get the message across within this module.

tailwindui modules

This depends on the type of information, but the way we work is we have a set of core modules we think every website needs similar to this tailwind link. We decide what module will best represent your content - if it is very visual but needs some text to explain it, then a 50:50 text and image split module is probably the job.

We will also seek to elevate content important for your business and make it a first class citizen in the final CMS. For example a housing company thinkings about Properties and Housing Developments, a SaaS company thinkings about Products, Features, Pricing.

You want to be able to see these as tangible content types, not free text within a marketing page. You want to change the pricing in one place and for the whole site to respect that.

User Flows

Try to organise your website into core flows, you want to be constantly bringing people back to the core flows, and focusing your efforts there.

The big call out here is to stop thinking of home pages as the front door of your website, users are arriving from every angle. They are climbing over the rool, falling in the windows, parachuting into the garden πŸͺ‚.

Yes, a significant portion of your traffic will land on the home page or navigate to your home page at some stage, but not all of them. You need to think of your website and your content as a journey for your user.

A user may search for a problem, and land on a landing page catered to that problem, or a blog post. This is their first entry point, so you need to decide what is the natural progression of their journey, what lane can you move them into to move to the logic next step, ultimately moving lower down the funnel and closer to conversion.

Funnels

One of the most important things to do when building trust with a new visitor is to speak to their problems, don't jump in with solutions right away, show them that you understand their problems and emphathise with it. This applies to a lot of the marketing and sales process, always try to speak about a customers problem first.

People tend to search for their problems, not for their solutions, but you can market and speak to both sides.

Lets take Calendly as an example of a problem, solution and how they approach it.

Problem case

In the case of the problem a user might have searched for "How to get more intro meetings"

In this case, you would want the user to land on a landing page that begins with their problem, shows you understand it, and then shows how features of your service solve it.

You might link the user back to your home page or a feature section as this point.

Solution case

Or if they searched for a solution, maybe they are a little bit further along in their journey: "Free appointment scheduling software".

This user wants to see solutions, features, services. The Calendly home page goes right into this in the hero

The page then proceeds to ourline all the features.

Conversions

Ideally at this stage in the funnel/user journey you have established trust, shown that you understand their problem, and shown that you can solve their problem. So, the next step is to close.

When it comes to the end of the funnel and creating conversions, there is no better way than product led growth and self-serve.

Let the visitor try out your product themselves on a trial or free tier, let your product win them over on its own merits. There are a number of in-app marketing techs you can use to support this e.g behavioural messaging tools like Intercom.

The conversion process needs to be catered to your business and your user types. If it is an enterprise lead with a complicated integration process or if you expect they'd like an enterprise sales process then build that in.

Gather as much information as you can here - role, company name, company size etc. If you can support this with a third party scoring system or enrichment service like leadfeeder or marketo all the better.

If your process requires a few different questions consider turning it into a multi-step wizard - be sure to indicate the number of steps to the user to avoid drop-off.

Flexibility

Agility, flexibility, staying lean β€” these are all regularly talked about when it comes to business models in the SaaS world, your website needs to be treated the same way.

Your product will evolve, the market will change, if your marketing can't change to follow it you'll start to lose.

This is one of the core places where the technology behind marketing websites starts to become more important, up to now a lot of the talk was about research, UX, and conversion led thinking but now lets talk about what we want to get out of our technology.

Ultimately success here will boil down to how your website has been built, which will resolve into CMS choices, frontend frameworks, programming languages, hosting, security, speed.

Lets not go that far for now, for now lets think about how the technology can support flexibile in relation to:

  • Brand
    Your website should be built from a component based design system. The components are the atoms that make up the molecules and other analogies to form your site.

    If your site is built from a modular component based design system and your brand changes, you just need to change the components and your changes will cascade down throughout the entire website.

    The alternative is having to seek through every page updating every text, button, input box πŸ₯΄
  • Content
    Flexibility of content is where things get real.

    Lets outline some of the core use cases, of a marketer β€” As a content marketer I want to:
    • Update pages, products, pricing
    • Create new pages
    • Create new site structures or sections to the site
    • Create landing pages, blogs

      I want to do all of this in real time, with my team, across devices, and preview my changes in real time. I want to be able to view version history, roll back, keep things in draft/published states, schedule posts.
  • Integrations
    This is one of the places where websites can get really bogged down. Integrations are where a lot of the secret sauce is added, but equally it is where a lot of the tight coupling and hardcoding happens. In many cases integrations will be done at a code level meaning you'll need to pay every time you iterate or change here.

    Some integrations most sites will need, and likely see baked in are:
    • A CRM
    • Analytics/GTM/Insight tooling
    • Cookies/GDPR
    • A/B testing
    • File hosting
    • etc

      The way to try to get around this is to instead look for your site to be built with user managed hooks, instead of tightly built integrations.

      For example you may use Hubspot for your CRM right now, so instead of the website posting straight to hubspot when a user registers interest ask for it to post to a no-code workflow tool like Make.com

      In this screenshot you can see this gives us the freedom to easily configure and change up what happens with the form submission - we could easily swap out hubspot in the future, or use two CRMs.

Some other things to consider around flexibility are:

  • A/B testing conversion flows
  • Landing pages
  • Multi-lang

Wrap up

I will likely continue refining this, but it is a first draft.

I think if you consider these things when approaching your website, or a new website project you'll put yourself in a good place for the future.

If you're looking for a new website:

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