Each year, BtoB selects 10 b2b Web sites that do an exceptionally good job of communicating with their audiences. These sites find innovative and compelling ways to share product and services information and, just as important, they make that information easy to find. Though they use different means, the end is the same: meeting the user's needs. As simple as it sounds, it's an approach that's too rare in the world of business marketing.
"One of the biggest problems with b2b Web sites is that the marketers who design them are not seeing their sites as a resource but as more of a promotional experience," said Hoa Loranger, a user experience specialist at Web usability company Nielsen Norman Group. "For a business customer, the Web site is often a starting point to see if they want to include your company on a short list. They don't have patience or time to waste."
The best Web sites, Loranger said, are the ones that forget that they are trying to sell anything.
"Companies aren't thinking enough about usability because they feel like they already have a captive audience," said Alan Webber, a senior analyst at Forrester Research. "That's the mythology they are telling themselves."
Navigation in particular is key, because site visitors who can't find what they're looking for will simply leave. Good sites have clear, intuitive pathways in and around the site, and navigation options don't diminish once you get inside. This is especially important today because a large segment of b2b visitors come into the site via a search engine, which often drops them several pages in.
Then there's the content. Unlike b-to-c sites, good b2b sites don't need as many images or Web 2.0 options, Loranger said.
"We hear a lot about RSS, and podcasts and community-type features," she said. "There's a lot of hype around these features, so designers rush to put them on a site without taking the time to see if these are the best ways to present content."
The same is true of multimedia. Video is a wonderful way to sell and support complex products, but you may be better off with detailed diagrams or images.
"In the b2b space, [visitors] aren't looking for a lot of glitz," said Bill Rice, president of the Web Marketing Association. "Don't use Flash or video unless it serves a specific purpose."
Webber offered this bit of final advice: "The Web commoditizes all products," he said. "What's going to win customers is not products, it's experience; and that experience starts on your Web site."
|10 GREAT WEB SITES|