The following is a guest post by Robert Glazer, founder and managing director of Acceleration Partners.
How many times have you landed on a site that looked gorgeous but was almost impossible to use? Or a site so stuffed with SEO copy that it lacked a compelling message?
Both are extreme examples of what can happen to an e-commerce site when the balance between branding and performance marketing is off. Though both are necessary for successfully selling a business, at many companies these two teams fight internal battles for control of the website. Here’s what can happen when one team dominates the other and how to get them to work together.
The Problems with Brand-Heavy Websites
At many companies brand image is the dominant factor when it comes to designing the website. This is driven, in part, by the fact that when major luxury brands finally moved online, they did so without much attention to digital channels. The result was websites full of gorgeous fashion photography, but which were hard to use. The most well-known brands in the world can get away with this, but not the smaller companies and start-ups that have mimicked them.
Many new fashion or luxury e-commerce companies opt for splashy homepages more akin to a lookbook than a website. These sites may have large photos and a cool design, but they often lack the on-page content essential for SEO. Many don’t have copy at all, and when they do include it, they tend to use unique branded terms for products instead of the more generic keywords people are searching for. This can be a huge disadvantage when trying to attract people through organic search who aren’t already familiar with the brand.
Many also lack a clear navigation that makes it easy to move through the site as well as prominent CTAs that let customers know what to do next. People who land on the site may be impressed by the design, but they have no clear way to find or purchase products. As a result conversion rates for these sites are often low.
The Problems with Performance-Heavy Websites
An opposite set of problems can occur in sites that allow performance marketing channels to run without regard for brand image, adopting tactics that might have a return in the short-term while hurting the brand in the long run.
For example, affiliate marketing is often kept in a silo separate from other digital channels without receiving the attention it needs to be successful. In these programs, affiliates often employ tactics damaging to the brand, such as using old logos and promoting products that are out of stock. Some offer deals and coupons that are expired or use words like “cheap” and “coupon” promoting premium brands that don’t offer discounts. Behavior like this detracts from the integrity of the brand and can create a frustrating customer experience.
The same thing can happen in other channels, such as SEO. Old-school SEO teams frequently went overboard optimizing pages. One classic example is JCPenney, which a few years ago was using a link scheme to rank higher in Google. Though the tactics worked and they ranked well in a lot of searches, they were exposed by an article in the New York Times, penalized by Google, and became the subject of bad press.
How to Strike the Balance
Not only are there serious costs associated with one team dominating the other, but there’s also the missed opportunity of having them work together. A strong brand makes the work of the marketing team easier and some marketing channels can be a great way to help the brand team accomplish its goals.
Here are some tips for sites looking to integrate their branding and performance marketing efforts:
- Educate all employees about SEO – SEO as a specialized area of performance marketing is slowly dying. Everyone involved in site design and content creation needs to know what makes the search engines tick. This will help ensure that the branding team’s efforts don’t damage rankings.
- Make sure designers are well versed in UX – Make sure they understand what kinds of design elements help drive conversions and that these are incorporated into site design. A menu that allows for easy navigation, a clear site structure, and prominent calls to action are all important.
- Share brand goals with the marketing team – Marketing channels can be a great way to help accomplish brand goals. Make sure the marketing team is aware of them so they can incorporate the appropriate language into ad text.
- Synchronize promotions – Make sure the brand and marketing teams work together to plan and execute promotions so that all elements of the company are maximizing efforts.
- Synchronize the editorial calendar – Make sure no one team has total control over the editorial calendar. Alternate posts focused on long-tail keywords with posts focused on brand image for maximum effect.
- Use the affiliate channel to spread brand messaging – Affiliate programs can put brand messaging and promotions in front of influential bloggers. Invest in quality program management that keeps the brand in mind.
Following these tips should go a long way toward integrating the two teams and helping them accomplish their goals together. Ideally both branding and performance marketing should be part of a comprehensive digital strategy that outlines all of the company’s online behavior.