"People will come, Ray! They'll come to Iowa for reasons they can't even fathom. They'll turn into your driveway not knowing for sure why they're doing it…. 'Of course we won't mind if you look around,' you'll say, 'it's only twenty dollars per person.' They'll pass over the money without even thinking about it."
– Terrence Mann, Field of Dreams
It is now almost unheard of to find a consulting, technology, or professional service business that does not have a web presence. But if you build it, will people come? And will they hand over their (proverbial) twenty dollars?
It is all too common to hear service business leaders lament, "We've spent all this time and money on a website and we have no idea if it is helping us generate clients or not." Essentially, they are wondering whether or not people are coming because they built a website, and whether it is affecting their revenue stream.
Over the last few years, we have identified five major effects that a website has on service business branding and service business marketing. By evaluating how your web presence stacks up, you can draw conclusions about how your website affects your ability to attract and retain clients.
Effect #1: First Impressions
Potential clients of service businesses now form a good part of their initial opinion of a firm based on the firm's website. During their first website visit, prospects spend a minute or two quickly evaluating the following three questions:
- How clearly does the management of this service company communicate? Based on the flow of content, clarity of content and professional look of a website, potential clients develop a first impression of how well the people in the firm communicate.
- How modern is this service firm? Service business clients want to know that their service providers are actively engaged in staying current with new technologies and approaches to service delivery. If a service firm has a website that looks like it was built in 1998 with 1998 technologies for 1998 buyers, it raises questions in buyers' minds of just how current the firm really is.
- Is this firm attentive to detail? Mistakes such as bad grammar and typos, broken links, and out-of-date current events raise questions of quality. Website browsers, who may become service customers, upon seeing errors will ask themselves, "If their own website is full of errors, how good is their client work?" Essentially, they are asking themselves, "Is this firm up to my standards?"
Effect #2: Service Specialty
After a prospect forms a general opinion of the quality of a service firm, they move forward (assuming they have not dismissed the firm after forming their first impression) to evaluate whether the specific service offerings apply to their needs. Clients look for specialties.
For example, clients may want to know that a CPA firm has a specialty in "mid-market mergers and acquisitions" or "estate planning for clients with over $1 million in personal assets."
If the prospect finds the services applicable to them, they may think, "This service specialty may be important to me soon. I'll have to remember this company."
Effect #3: Increased Brand Impressions
Many site viewers forget that a site exists because they only visited once. Like all advertising and marketing efforts, the creative piece and its core message must be seen and remembered. It does no good if the brand impression does not make, well, enough of an impression. Consider the following two points to make sure your brand and message are not forgotten:
- Number of qualified site visitors: When it comes to websites, if you build it, do not assume they will come. Marketing directed at driving qualified prospects to your site, search engine optimization (this is becoming more important because it is becoming more effective), and the overall search-ability (from a technical perspective) of your site is important.
Service firms can spend tens of thousands of dollars building their site, employ a webmaster to keep the content fresh and the site debugged, and then gain little marketing leverage from the site because there are too few qualified site visitors.
- Power of brand impressions: The more visitors return to your site because they find value in the content, the more affinity they are likely to have for you.
A June 2003 study released by the Online Publisher's Association, "…found 38% of 'high affinity' visitors were 'very or somewhat likely' to buy in the next three months…Thirty-two percent of 'low/medium affinity' users said they were 'very or somewhat' likely to buy.
"The three measures used to create an affinity index are: a) the likelihood to recommend the site to a friend; b) satisfaction with site content; c) whether the site is considered a 'favorite' within its category. The study builds on previous OPA research that indicated that users' affinity toward a Web site influenced their reaction to advertising on the site."
Given this, ask yourself how much your site content gives viewers a reason to stay and a reason to return.
Effect #4: Service Lead Generation
Now assume you have website visitors that believe your service firm projects a high-quality image, the service is applicable to them, and the site content is satisfactory—what do you do to convert them into buyers?
You simply follow the tried-and-true AIDA direct marketing formula: you have already captured their Attention, generated Interest, and created a Desire for your services. Now you have to get your prospects to take Action.
This action may be signing up for a consultation, registering for an event or webinar, inquiring about the service itself, becoming a newsletter subscriber, or requesting a white paper. Eliciting visitors' action is a necessary step in converting them from a website visitor into a live prospect.
Effect #5: Service Loyalty
Let us assume you have a client discussing his great satisfaction with your services to a colleague. The colleague asks your client if your firm has a website.
Your client may say, "Well, their website is a bit of a mess, but their services are great." They could also say, "Have a look at their website, you will be impressed with that as much as you will be impressed with their firm."
The questions you want to ask yourself are, "Does our website support and strengthen the confidence our clients have in our firm?" or "Is our website a liability that makes them question our professionalism and quality, thus limiting the amount of colleagues they refer to us?"
So If You Build It...
Trends in how people buy services are leading them to your website. This website visit is a critical component of the overall impression that a potential client forms about your service firm.
As a result, it is essential for most service firms to 1) build a website that creates a positive impression with appealing visuals and valuable content, 2) drive as many potential clients to that website as possible, and 3) inspire them to engage your firm and become a loyal client for years to come.
Clearly, if you build it, they will not simply come. And if they come but you do not build it right, you will not be seeing their twenty dollars.
Want to learn how important your website really is in prospects' eyes? Check out How Clients Buy: The Benchmark Report on Professional Services Marketing and Selling From the Client Perspective.