Less Cher, more Iron Man: B2B Website optimisation and the Strangler Fig pattern

There are typically two patterns businesses fall into when managing their website: Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO), or approaching a rebuild.

Most businesses rebuild their websites from the ground up every 3-4 years, but have they really gone so far away from achieving the business goals that a rebuild is needed?

Of course, sometimes there are underlying business changes, a brand re-positioning, or a complete product/service overhaul that makes the end justify the means. But too often it really is a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

The case for CRO

CRO should be the fundamental state of any B2B website. After launch, performance should be monitored — from what content is resonating, to how users convert and are nurtured.

A failure to budget and underestimate the need for CRO lies behind the failure of many B2B websites. Over a period of years, they become unfit for purpose. The content plaything for the marketer, sometimes an occasional SEO investment, but with every other part of the site falling between the organisational gaps.

What is the what, if the what is in why?

When this becomes realised at a senior level, either through a failure to generate leads, or due to organisational / brand shift, the answer is to rebuild.

But it’s important to understand what impact a business is trying to achieve and the ‘why?’

  • Is the website not delivering the leads the business needs?
  • Is the brand not correctly represented in visual form or positioning
  • is the content in need of an overhaul
  • Is the underlying technology fundamentally flawed or compromised?

It could be argued that only when two or more of the above conditions are met is a rebuild genuinely needed.

The digital trinity

Our own agency approach to delivering any web project is to ensure that 3 streams are considered through every stage of a project, from discovery to final delivery.

  • UX: how a user views/experiences/interacts with the final digital output, whether website, landing page or app.
  • Content: how we engage that user with written, visual or video content that aids their journey with your brand.
  • Technology: how we use technology to deliver that content and digital experience and support a business’ marketing function.

Fundamentally the same three streams map to how a website is developed:

  • The front end: how the website is presented to the user and becomes interactive, through HTML, CSS and JavaScript
  • The content: the copy, illustrations, animations, videos, blogs, white papers etc that form the foundation for that experience
  • Development and platforms: the backend systems that support the user experience, from CMS platforms to CRM and marketing automation.

Understanding the need for change

Once you look at a B2B website through this lens it becomes easier to understand what change is really needed.

Content will need a refresh, but 90% of all content can be migrated to a new site anyway. Most technology platforms now auto-update, so only in the case of complete neglect or initial poor development do they become unfit. And updating the front-end experience in no way requires an overhaul of the other parts.

The problem with trying to move quickly is you can sometimes not give the correct time to the right decisions, and base those decisions on internal consensus rather than data and user insight.

The foundations of many B2B websites are not as broken as marketers may think. A CMS is undoubtedly in place, there will be huge amounts of content there, integrations are in place…

Why start from fresh and still end up with an MVP to hit time constraints – start with your MVP and do better?

The ‘Strangler Fig’ pattern of development

The strangler fig approach to development is based upon slowly overtaking the foundations on which a site is built until the original website is no longer there – much like the strangler fig overtakes the tree which hosts it.

A bit more fundamental than ‘progressive enhancement’, this method aims to slowly replace the old website piece by piece, using a test-and-learn approach to deliver new design and functionality in a safe and data-driven manner.

It allows us to make rapid gains on the things we know need fixing now, and work in sprints to enhance the content and user experience where the impact is most needed.

It also completely de-risks the development process:

  • No sudden SEO impacts
  • No complex content migration
  • Less copy development
  • Smaller stakeholder groups
  • No long testing spells
  • Less technology risk

Practical possibilities

Once you understand the approach, it becomes easier to think about your key objectives and how they could be met without a new website.

The easiest way to approach it is in terms of ‘sprints’ – identifying a single opportunity for improvement, and focusing on that alone, with a limited timeframe to deliver and a clear plan for measuring success.

Working this way becomes easier to make marginal gains almost immediately, as it’s a data-driven approach that allows you to test and learn and move forward with the data. Each sprint becomes self-justifying with proven ROI to help fund the next sprints.

For a typical B2B website, here’s how some of those sprints might take shape:

  • Start with the low-hanging fruit – your converting pages. Whether sign-up forms, or gated content, really analyse what users are doing through analytics tools, identify where the friction points are and address them. A/B test where you can to validate that your changes are having a positive impact.
  • Performance, coding and site speed issues can be addressed behind the scenes giving an instant improvement in user experience
  • Mobile UX issues can be identified and worked on
  • Break the site down into ‘templates’ and sections. If your product or service pages are no longer fit for purpose, redevelop them in isolation as one sprint – new content, new visuals, new hierarchy.
  • If a visual brand refresh is needed, that can be designed and applied through front-end updates without disrupting the content or technology beneath
  • At a lesser level, new brand visuals, photography, illustrations and animation can be added to enhance the user experience
  • Sections with separate stakeholder groups, like careers pages, can be managed in isolation as one project.
  • CMS templates can become more modular over time, allowing far greater flexibility in managing content for marketers.

Be less Cher, be more Iron Man

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(Header photo: Geran de Klerk on Unsplash)

Superficially this kind of approach can be seen as a ‘facelift’, a lick of paint, and hard to sell internally. But it can be something far greater than that.

To use a not entirely great analogy… Cher may have gone through some ‘enhancements’ in the 80s and 90s, but she was still fundamentally the same Cher.

In contrast, Marvel’s Iron Man (admission – I have never watched a single Marvel film) develops a suit of armour to save himself and the world, and then continues to develop solutions and make technological advances to achieve his goals. Building upon himself and reinventing to be far, far greater than the sum of his original parts.

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(Header photo: Geran de Klerk on Unsplash)