How to Serve Multiple Audiences by Using a Segmented Website Structure
The problem: Sites with a “something for everyone” architecture rarely satisfy anyone.
Appealing to multiple audiences is one of the biggest challenges in creating content for corporate websites.
A typical business site typically draws visits from:
- Job seekers
Firms that recognize the importance of these various groups attempt to appeal to all of them, usually by building content sections with high-level navigation labels, such as For Investors, Careers, or Media Center. Using this type of audience segmentation far exceeds doing nothing, but it still falls short.
The key issues
Watered-down messaging. Content fed to all audiences serves too many masters. Product pages, for instance, must be highly detailed for shoppers doing research, persuasive enough to influence shoppers who are in decision-making mode, and yet not so persuasive as to annoy customers who already know the pitch. The usual solution is to say a little about everything and not much about anything — a recipe for blandness.
Content fed to specific audience segments can be nuanced, up to a point. For instance, messaging in the Investors section could differ noticeably from that in the Careers section. However, segmented messaging gets watered down by the need to maintain a consistent writing tone and design scheme across the entire site.
Substandard user experience. Diluted messaging is not the only site factor that leaves visitors cold. Because audiences are looking for different types of information, navigation must be executed to an absolute “T” to enable everyone to find what they need — far easier said than done.
For example, detailed product pages are of keen interest to both customers and shoppers, and yet these pages are often buried deep in the page hierarchy with hard-to-find links. On the other hand, if navigation makes these detailed pages prominent, reporters or investors wanting an executive summary may be confused by the detail. By attempting to serve all audiences, sites can easily end up satisfying none of them.
Missed conversion opportunities. Most lead generation sites display at least one or two offers. However, most of these efforts — white paper downloads, free consultations, etc. — are targeted to shoppers. And while this is a great start, few sites bother to set up conversion paths for suppliers, employees, investors, or media — and perhaps even their own existing customers.
Yet if firms were to try to develop conversion strategies for all of these audiences, implementation would remain a challenge. When a site is loaded up with 10 or 20 offers, it starts to look like a used car lot. Navigational and design limitations also get in the way.
The solution: Sites that are fully segmented by audience type
The “content cafeteria” approach to site architecture I’ll lay out now attempts to overcome these problems. It is based on allowing users to self-identify their audience type and to navigate to a highly customized “microsite” built specially around the needs of that audience.
The hoped-for result is a corporate site that:
- speaks persuasively to each audience
- maximizes the user experience of each audience
- includes compelling calls-to-action perfectly suited to each audience
This is the type of site that could really elevate a brand, drive leads, and deliver ROI on multiple fronts.
The idea of segmenting a site by audience type is nothing new. Two types of organizations using this approach now are colleges — whose sites have separate sections for students and parents — and staffing firms — whose sites have distinct sections for employers and job seekers.
What is new is the ability to expand the model for general business use. Here, I emphasize B2B lead generation sites because that’s what I know best, but I don’t see why the content cafeteria model couldn’t work just as well for B2Cs and e-commerce sites of either type.
The content cafeteria model allows users to identify themselves both on the site home page and on every page of every site section. In addition to providing consistent navigation, this self-select design element would help tie the various sections together into a coherent brand.
Each section of the site can be thought of as a microsite, having its own navigation, design, messaging, and conversion paths. In this scheme, the main site (corporate home section) would contain only high-level information about products, services, company, etc., along with a detailed explanation of what people will find in each audience section.
Let’s see how the model addresses the issues of messaging, user experience, and conversion.
Audience-driven site sections enable copywriters and designers to address the core needs of each user with maximum impact. Thus the messaging strategy for product pages might look something like this:
- For customers: Include a quick resell (i.e., “Remember why you bought this product?”), and highlight specification changes and upgrade options. A little product jargon might even be OK. Lots and lots of pages would be developed for this section.
- For shoppers: Emphasize benefits, and use simpler, jargon-free language, since this group will be less familiar with the terrain than customers are. Include more graphical elements for both clarity and persuasion. Again, lots of pages will be developed here.
- For investors: With a financial spin, review the product’s position in the market and how it fits into the overall product line. Only one or two pages would likely be needed here.
- For employees: Get personal and talk about who developed the product, why it was developed, and how it compares to the competition. This could be set up as a blog, rather than a set of static pages.
- For media: Present a one-paragraph elevator pitch, along with a few bullet points noting newsworthy aspects of the product (if any). Only one or two pages would likely be needed here.
Maximizing user experience
Improved user experience would come largely from messaging (which we just covered), and conversion activity (discussed below). Clearly, these are shortcomings of business-as-usual corporate sites that contribute to their reputation for being dull and minimally useful. The content cafeteria model makes it possible to get past these obstacles and send visitors away impressed — and, better yet, also having done something.
Sometimes we marketers are guilty of “settling” — of assuming that certain user types are just there for information and there’s nothing to be done about it. However, what if we took the attitude that every user can be converted? For one thing, it would certainly force us to use our imaginations!
Here are some conversion messaging ideas for oft-neglected audience segments, just to get the creative juices flowing:
- For customers: Sign up for an annual business review. Volunteer for a beta test in exchange for a discount. Refer a customer.
- For suppliers: Sign up for an annual business review. Sign up to participate in a product show/open house. Refer a customer.
- For investors: Subscribe to a monthly newsletter from the CEO. Sign up for a quarterly performance review webinar. Refer a customer.
- For employees: Contribute time or money to a corporate charity drive. Take an employee-satisfaction survey. Refer a customer.
- For media: Schedule an interview with a member of the executive management team. Request technical information for researching a new story. Refer a customer.
A “microsite” approach allows developers the latitude needed in design, navigation, and content to create scores of enticing conversion paths that produce qualified leads, create dialog, and build loyalty.
Domain structure: For the greatest SEO impact, a subfolder structure is generally best:
Duplicate content: Even with the cafeteria model, it’s likely certain pages could be used globally or in multiple sections (subfolders). For SEO purposes, duplicate pages should be not be indexed. Making pages unique requires about 70 percent of content to be unique.
If this model were problem-free, everybody would be using it. One issue that jumps out at me is how much creative work is required from content strategists, writers, and designers. A second challenge is a little ironic: Even though the model offers a better user experience, its very novelty would probably confuse new site users.
Over to you: Do the benefits of a content cafeteria architecture outweigh the challenges? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.
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