Exactly one year and a day ago, Administaff's VP Marketing Gregory Morton proudly launched a new site, HR Powerhouse.com, that he hoped would generate lots of leads for his field sales force.
Why have a separate site?
After all, the Company's corporate site was very well designed, and already collected sales leads through a clever "Is Administaff right for your company?" quiz for visitors.
Morton explains, "I liken it to not asking someone to marry you on the first date. The chances are that some visitors may not be in a position where they are a good candidate for us yet."
However, as Morton says, "It's easy to have a vanity site where people go who already know your name; it's difficult to mine the Internet for prospects."
He hoped a compelling content site on the subject of HR would be able to educate and warm prospects until they were ready to become Administaff customers. Plus, he could take advantage of marketing partnerships, creating co-branded entries into the site from partner's sites.
However, if you are planning on using your marketing site to warm up sales leads over a period of time, that means you have to get people to return repeatedly.
It is hard enough to get prospects to visit for the first time, how could Morton make the site so compelling that people came back time and time again of their own accord until they at last converted into active leads?CAMPAIGN
"At first the mindset was not to have any registration, everything was going to be free for the taking," says Morton.
Instead, Morton decided to require that visitors register to access the best of the site's no-cost content. That way he could collect some data from them, and ask them for permission to send a monthly site newsletter designed to entice them to return.
He and the Web team agonized over where to put the registration form. Should it be on the home page, or should it be in front of just the most valuable content on the site?
"We bravely went forward with the idea that we would give them a fair amount of value, and then if they wanted a little more, it would be in exchange for something of value, which is the ability to communicate."
The team also heavily debated what the form should look like and how many questions it should contain. The first iteration of the form included some contact info (name, email, city, zip, country) and a few demographic questions such as number of full-time employees and industry.
However it did not ask for a user name or password, because many people dislike using these and it adds to customer service load. Therefore the form cookies completed visitors and passes them through without a barrier forever more (or until they delete cookies or switch computers).
Naturally the team also debated the design of the site's home page long and hard. They settled on a Yahoo-style design with a clickable list of subjects. (Link to sample home page and registration form below.)
The site launch, on June 11, 2002, went pretty well.
Morton studied his initial reports carefully, including tweaking his search marketing daily to get optimum results.
After a while he noted that on any given day about 29% of visitors were repeats (people who had been to the site in the past). Plus, about 32% of visitors who reached the registration form wound up filling it out entirely to register.
Most marketers would be happy with these results. Morton was itchy to do even better.
"It's an incredible branding opportunity for us," he explains. "There's not room for a dozen folks who can own a brand on HR on the Internet. I thought, 'Let's be number one.'"
Trolling through site log files for data to improve the site was incredibly cumbersome. Morton invested in some site analytics software, making sure it included useful reports and the ability to tie into his sales rep's CRM system so he could feed them useful data to help with pitches to particular prospects.
Based on the new metrics reports, Morton and the Web team settled into a pattern of revamping the site to improve results about twice a year. The first revamp was in November 2002, and the second just a few days ago in June 2003. (Link to fun before-and-after screenshots below.)
They learned four critical lessons about what makes a successful business site:
Lesson #1. Do not copy Yahoo's home page
Although it is really famous, Yahoo's home page is not an optimum design to copy for usability. (Note: MarketingSherpa published research data last year on this fact, see link below.)
Morton and the Web team went through two rounds of simplifying and reorganizing the home page so visitors could find the most popular sections and tools more quickly. They worried that a confused visitor would just leave instead of exploring further.
The first home page version gave equal prominence to almost 20 main links. The current home page version has half that number of main links, and these are grouped into five featured categories.
"Our goal now is to put enough of a handle out there on the front page that there's going to be something of interest, and then let them drill down for more rather than putting everything forward," explains Morton.
He adds, "It's like shopping in a grocery store when you're short on time. You use the signs over the aisles to locate the right one, and then you find what you need and get out."
Lesson #2. Copywrite using language your prospects use
"In earlier versions, the navigation was a little frustrating because it wasn't broken down into categories in terminology that visitors used. It was in 'HR Speak,'" notes Morton.
His prospects were CEOs and other leaders of companies with 5-500 employees, companies big enough to need HR help but not to have hired a full-time in-house staff. These folks did not use terms such as "compliance" in their speech. Instead they talked about things like "productivity" and "profitability."
After conferring with the sales team to learn how prospects used language, and noting from metrics reports which words were clicked on the most, Morton rewrote both the navigation tags and much of the site's body copy to reflect these prospects' language.
Lesson #3. Create special landing pages for top keywords
One of the ways Morton drove first-time traffic to the site was by purchasing keyword text ads on search engines. At first he had all of this traffic sent directly to the site home page.
However, once he learned from reports which keywords produced the most valuable prospects, he asked the Web team to create special landing pages for about the top 20. While landing pages contain the regular site navigation, they feature a prominent headline with that particular keyword in it.
The existence of pages have also helped with search engine optimization rankings (non-paid search results) for the same terms.
Lesson #4. Shorten your registration form as much as possible
Although Morton loved all the data a long registration form delivered, it simply did not deliver the volume of names that a shorter form did.
After testing different lengths, Morton cut his form to the bone.
However, bear in mind the site registration form is not Morton's primary lead generation tool, it is there to help him grow his email newsletter list, which in turn keeps visitors coming back, which in turn warms and educates them until they are ready to be plucked as ripened leads.
In order to pluck the ripened leads, Morton relies on the same clever tool the main Administaff site does: A quiz that visitors take to find out whether they should consider being a client or not.
Since revamping the site based on metrics, the return visitor rate has jumped from 29% to 45% of average visitors (plus total visitor numbers also have grown overall).
Since making the registration form radically shorter, the percent of visitors on that page who convert to registrants has jumped from 32% to 53%.
About 1% of all visitors each month (including repeaters) wind up as qualified sales leads who have taken and passed the quiz and asked to be contacted with further information. The form allows them to reach out in three ways: 98% choose to fill out a Web form asking to be contacted 1% pick up the phone and call Administaff 1% check the "call me now" button
Morton was pleased to learn that leads coming from the educational site have been warmed enough that their average sales cycle is six-nine weeks versus the 9-12 weeks he would expect from leads generated by other marketing programs.
However, he was vastly surprised to learn that the site's leads often result in bigger accounts from bigger companies than leads generated from other marketing.
He had been expecting to garner lots of very small businesses, so this was a shock. "We hadn't anticipated groups as large as 100- 300 employees. The top of our bell curve is more like 16-18 employees. It opened our eyes to a wider marketplace."
You have to love that.
1. Before-and-after screenshots of the home page and the registration form design - fun to check out:
2. NetTracker metrics software that Administaff uses to track and report on the ways visitors are using sites, as well as their value as sales leads:
3. Case Study on measuring visitor satisfaction site metrics (the story in which the Yahoo design data appeared):