Big Idea: Digital Food for Thought for 2016By Joe Walsh
December 18, 2015
Five year-ending website trends and opportunities learned from 200 professional service firm website visits
As the year wraps up, we want to share parting 2015 thoughts on Site VisitsSM. If you’ve not heard of Site VisitsSM, it’s a first of its kind catalog of the 200 largest professional services firm websites. If you haven’t already visited the catalog, please do; we think you’ll find it time well spent. If you have seen it, we invite you to tour our work again and learn some more.
Inside sitevisits.gbltd.com, you can navigate five frequently visited pages of 200 law, accounting and consulting firms by sector, size or name with maximum efficiency. Each firm has a page like this one for McKinsey...
The reviews will help you spot trends, see how your firm measures up and unearth recipes for success—next year and beyond. Following our mom’s advice, we always found something nice to say in our reviews. Our goal continues to be to find best practices and encourage improvement, not wag our fingers. To that end, outstanding features or designs have been awarded green ribbons, which you’ll find explained on the sites receiving them.
Meanwhile, in the spirit of a year-end review, here are the big five trends and opportunities we see in looking closely at the websites for the 200 largest professional services firms around the world:
1. A thought leadership and content marketing arms race is in full force. This is a good thing. The Big Four are masters of thought leadership, borrowing from their forefathers and mothers in big consulting. Now, in an age when content has been declared king, firms of all sizes are heavily invested in delivering news clients can use online. Content marketing is the new black and everyone is wearing it. Some where it well like Baker & McKenzie, Deloitte and Towers Watson.
But with the sheer volume of leading thoughts on firm websites, we wonder if clients are overwhelmed by the volume(s)? How ironic! Thousands of interviews with buyers of professional services shows they want nothing more than new ideas from firms, yet with so much research being commissioned and shared, is your work getting lost in the crowd? How can your ideas get the attention you seek? Nearly half of the firm sites reviewed file thought leadership under “insights.” Information overload? Forget it. Think “insight overload.” Buckle up. The race is on. This means ...
2. Engaging content is the next frontier. In 1971, the Nobel-winning political scientist and economist Herbert Simon addressed the new realities of an information rich world. He said “a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.” On the sites reviewed, information abounds, but the new responsibility is making it memorable. This amounts to opportunity for those who dare to be different and better in earning attention for their messages and content. In business and elsewhere, we no longer have readers, we have scanners. Great sites are quickly adopting charts, graphs, images, tables, maps, videos and other tools to share substantive information graphically. The best sites (and other marketing communications) have moved from text heavy reading tasks to visually balanced experiences relying on non verbal clues. A good example? Our client, Steptoe & Johnson, shares its shale gas sector research in a compelling way—going steps beyond the old word-based white paper. When words are used they are purposeful and, thankfully, brief.
3. Room renovations are a smart way to avoid the cost of tear downs. Great, you say, we just spent a bundle and a year on our new site. While it may not be as compelling as Wolf Blitzer's interactive news wall in the CNN Situation Room, we're loathe to redo everything. The good news is you don't have to. Smart firms are doing room-by-room renovations on their websites, constantly improving them. Instead of waiting for the next big tear down/do over, they pick a strategically important industry or subject area and create more compelling pages, or even issues-based micro sites.
The law/wealth management firm Hemenway & Barnes' new wealth management thought leadership center targets the next generation of family members among the firm’s existing and prospective clients. The goal is to share lessons learned at key moments in life with the next generation. The firm’s advisors contributed a series of how-to articles on subjects like creating your first estate plan, early financial planning and buying a home. The articles are drawn from years of experience and are packaged in a responsive microsite format that 20 and 30 somethings hopefully find informative, personal and relatable. Instead or an invasive and expensive redo of the main site to reach this target market, a microsite fills the bill. In this case, with some help us.
4. There's still too much me, me, me on the sites. Most professional service firm sites still focus on “me,” “news about me,” “events from me” and “more about me.” Now and then, we are seeing things important to “you,” the client, appear on firm websites—a tilt in the right direction. As you cruise the firms sites the words “we” “us” “our” and “the firm” appear far too frequently. Here’s a practical tip, go to any of your pages and count the number of times the words above are used. If they outweigh the number of times clients or client issues are mentioned, rewrite the copy. Better still, rethink the content (see above). Several firms reviewed in SiteVisits demonstrate that they get that self-centered marketing is sub-optimal. Firms like Simpson & Thatcher are in this minority. Their home page is dominated by five simple words formed in a courteous question: "How can we help you?" (which doubles as a search bar). Some day, we'll see some firm with a navigation bar item called "About You" instead of "About Us." Isn't the best marketing always about the client or prospect?
5. Custom experiences have promise but few are engaged in delivering them. The idea of custom experiences on web sites is getting lots of lip service. But, frankly, no one has figured it out, yet. Combine the more sophisticated CMS platforms many have invested in with the progressive talk about the brand being the experience and, well, we see promise but not widespread implementation in our reviews of 200 sites. We found a couple of forerunners who are showing us all what comes next. Baker Tilly (accounting) has aced every marketer’s goal of providing user-customized content. Content is delivered to the individual user through a simple filtering device that greets the visitor on the homepage. Visitors choose the industry and service that interests them, tap go, then receive a custom content in return. Excellent. Now, about making that content engaging with devices other than words...
We promised five observations about what we saw in our visits of the largest 200 professional service firm websites and we'll keep to our promise. We could go on and on about this topic but you certainly have other things to do for this year's holidays and next year's marketing plans and that emergency proposal that just landed on your desk.
So we'll leave you wish best wishes as the year ends and better wishes for the year ahead. If you happen to be wishing for a great new website or microsite in 2016, we hope you'll give us a call.