Forrester gives only four out of 60 B2B web sites a passing grade in content engagement study

Forrester B2B web sites
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A self-oriented focus on products rather than customers, reliance on jargon and lack of a human voice meant only four out of 60 B2B web sites received a passing grade in an analysis of engaging online content experiences from Forrester.

Released late last month, the market research firm’s report examined digital properties across 12 different industries using a 15 criterion ranging from whether the company was targeting different roles to use of video, graphics and other interactive elements. Despite having conducted similar assessments in the past, the 2019 results are actually worse than Forrester’s previous 2017 report, where six passed the engagement test. In fact, the B2B web sites were so bad on average Forrester lowered the threshold for a passing store from 30 points to 25.

While top performers tended to come from industry sectors such as human resources, manufacturing and security software, marketing software — which included an examination of web sites from Marketo, Salesforce, Oracle and Act-On — fell into what Forrester called the “middle majority.” The average score for martech vendors was 18.5, well short of the 25 points needed for a passing grade.

Laura Ramos, an analyst and lead author of the Forrester report, admitted she was surprised to discover how many B2B web sites had barely evolved past a digital version of company brochures.

“There’s just a lot of muscle memory left in how we design our web sites, going back to the 90s,” Ramos told B2B News Network. “I’ve found in many cases these firms are very proud of what they do. There’s this sense of, ‘Our stuff is just good.’ It’s kind of like the idea of, ‘build a better house trap and they’ll beat a path to your door.’”

Instead, Ramos and her co-authors recommend B2B firms adopt some fairly well-known content marketing best practices, from speaking to buyers’ pain points and using peer examples to feedback mechanisms where buyers can offer how well the content resonated. Some of the positive examples of B2B web sites include a security software firm called Vanguard, data management firm Splunk and even John Deere.

In many cases complacency or inertia might explain the lack of urgency among B2B firms about their web sites, Ramos suggested, though eventually an impact on business performance could change that.

“It’s not like these web sites have been massively unsuccessful for whatever reason,” she said. “That means there’s a real sea change in the kind of content or progress that companies need to make.”

Though the report doesn’t specifically recommend B2B firms turn to agencies to help support their web site engagement efforts, Ramos said an outsider’s perspective could be helpful in some cases.

“It depends on what their internal talent looks like,” she said, noting the rise of content marketing functions that are being set up inside many organizations. “That perspective can come throughan agency, but it can also come though being more diligent about customer data management. That included the collection of first party and third party data, and using it to understand what’s really going on with your customers.”

The ability to create engagement on a web site is arguably even more important as more firms explore approaches like account-based marketing (ABM), where personalizing specific landing pages can be critical to a campaign. Ramos said in another recent research project asking B2B firms about how they’re quantifying the benefit of ABM, the top answer was tighter alignment with marketing and sales, while the second most popular response was that they haven’t figure out a way to assess the benefits yet. “They’re struggling with it,” she said.

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Shane Schick

Shane Schick

Shane Schick is the Editor-in-Chief of B2B News Network. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing magazine and has also been Vice-President, Content & Community (Editor-in-Chief), at IT World Canada, a technology columnist with the Globe and Mail and was the founding editor of ITBusiness.ca. Shane has been recognized for journalistic excellence by the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance and the Canadian Online Publishing Awards.