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2017’s buzzworthy trends for B2B and professional service firm websites

By Joe Walsh
December 9, 2016
2017’s buzzworthy trends for B2B and professional service firm websites

SiteVisitsSM is a catalog of 200 large professional service firm websites. Launched just over a year ago and updated quarterly, the catalog has now become a source of trend lines that mark where sites have been and where they are headed. Here are seven of this year’s trends.

1. THE PACE OF CHANGE AND NEW WEBSITE LAUNCHES IS BRISK ACROSS THE B2B SERVICES LANDSCAPE

Nearly 1 in 4 of the largest 200 professional service firm websites are new to market and relaunched in 2016 (so far).

The Dish: The shelf life of a new website appears to be contracting. A “set it and forget it” approach that led to site tenures of 5 to 8 years, is now being replaced by more frequent updates trending toward 3 to 4 years. Technology changes, mergers, expansions and the natural effects of aging all drive marketers to replace the old with the new.

2. THE MAJORITY OF WEBSITES ARE NOW RESPONSIVE OR OTHERWISE MOBILE FRIENDLY

Nearly 60% of the largest 200 professional service firm websites are now responsive. In 2016 alone, 17% of the 200 sites reviewed were relaunched with responsive design.

The Dish: We expect within a year or two that the number of responsive sites will continue to climb as responsive design becomes ubiquitous. Add in sites using adaptive design or other mobile specific site adaptations, and close to 80% of the sites reviewed are considered mobile friendly. The next frontier is not just device agnostic delivery, but delivering content on any device that visitors find valuable.

3. THE WORD IS: WORD-BASED CONTENT AND COMMUNICATIONS STILL DOMINATE WEBSITES

74% of professional service firm practice area or industry pages rely heavily on words to communicate substantive information about their offerings. That number is down 7% from 2015, yet lots of words are still the norm.

The Dish: Research suggests what we all know from our own practical experience: people scan things instead of reading, especially marketing-related communications like websites. Yet, most sites fail to deliver substantive information graphically or rely on too many words. We expect to see more exceptions, like consulting firm Roland Berger’s well-balanced approach to content in their new site. Less is more.

4. NEWS, EVENTS AND PUBLICATIONS PAGES ARE GIVING WAY TO INSIGHT CENTERS

Nearly half (45%) of the largest 200 professional service firm websites now feature news magazine-like thought leadership centers instead of chronological listings of all firm “publications and events.”

The Dish: The big consulting and Big Four approach to featured content is on the rise (up 8% over last year). Content marketing is the new black and everyone is wearing it. Some well, some not. Expect more of this approach to editorially curated thought leadership. As more firms share their thought leadership under the banner of insights, the question is, who will get theirs noticed?

5. ROTATING CAROUSELS REMAIN UBIQUITOUS ON HOMEPAGES

66% of the 200 sites reviewed—down 5% from 71% in 2015—have a rectangular rotating marquee that cycles through multiple things the organization wishes to promote.

The Dish: Marketers are challenged by all the things internal clients want to promote online, particularly on page one of the website. The net effect of this competition for space are homepages that behave like superstores (we do everything)—sharing too much information in undifferentiated ways.

6. THE OLD HIGH SCHOOL HEADSHOT REMAINS AT THE TOP OF THE CLASS IN WEB BIOS—NOT A GOOD THING

70% of firms feature a thumbnail size photo of professionals on their site’s biography pages. Nothing to smile about.

The Dish: On the flip side, 30% of the 200 firms in our catalog have biography photos that are larger and, arguably, much better than the old thumbnail photos. In B2B services, the product is often the people and the people deserve to look great and be the stars of their page. Yes, it is costly and logistically challenging to redo these “product” shots, but we see more and more firms rising to the challenge.

7. OBVIOUS TAGLINES AND PERVASIVE BRAND DIFFERENTIATION THEMES ARE FEW AND FAR BETWEEN

The majority of firms forgo organizing themes and taglines for sites and broader brands. A year ago, fewer than 30% of the reviewed law, accounting and consulting firms had an obvious tagline on their website. 2016 brought no change to that number.

The Dish: Firms like EY, Accenture and Dorsey are outliers in that they are among the minority using taglines. And all three use them exceptionally well to explain their firm’s value. What remains the same, in our year over year reviews, is the dubious view some have of tag or themelines.

We’ll continue to update our SiteVisitsSM catalog quarterly, featuring accounting, law and consulting websites that have changed. Meanwhile, our heart goes out to those of you putting in the extra hours to get your new site launched before the end of 2016. Keep up the good work!