The new zixi.com is just about a month old. And I couldn’t be happier with the results. Traffic is way up; average on-site times are increasing and Google seems to really like the site’s content, boding well for future traffic increases.
My love affair with WordPress is well known (see related posts at the bottom of this post). This is the fifth or sixth WordPress website, depending on how you count, I have done for employers and clients. And I am convinced it’s the best. I thought you might be interested in some of the tips and techniques I used to create a successful B2B website using WordPress. Here in no particular order, are my thoughts and experiences:
Maintain absolute control. It’s obvious you want to manage the designer/theme-developer closely. But you should know WordPress well enough to understand the relationship between the coder/designer’s output and the way it will affect what you can do on the site long after she is finished with the initial site. For example, you may need a contact page template that offers no navigation if, like me, you subscribe to the theory that anything on a landing page other the the input form is a distraction to ADD-addled visitors and reduces conversion rates. Or, you might want to change the way video is embedded in your site; that means you need to understand the capabilities of the plugins she’s relying on.
But I am not talking about just control at the WordPress level. As tough as it sounds, you need to become good enough at Linux, Apache, php and MySQL so that you can actually install WordPress yourself. There’s just no substitute for being able to add/delete FTP users, update WordPress file permissions and diagnose MySQL if you want a smoothly-running website. And the time savings in being able to get things done with your own resources is significant. Note that I am explicitly saying that pre-configured WordPress sites you might get from your ISP are an unfortunate loss of control. I am also saying that if you want to be a successful online marketer in the 21st century, you simply have to step up to the technical, geeky aspects of online marketing. The downside is that your client or boss will never understand all the value you are providing unless they happen upon you when you have a WordPress php file open in a text editor. But you must get that good.
Finally, write the site yourself. Nothing makes you more conversant in your product that making sure every word on the site is from you. It also makes for a remarkably consistent site. This means you will also need a proofreader because none of us are good enough to catch all our mistakes. Budget for one, ideally someone you have collaborated with previously who understands your writing style.
Host your WordPress site on Amazon Web Services EC2. For typical B2B website levels of traffic, an m1.small 64-bit instance running AWS Linux (really CentOS) is just right. This costs about $50/month. Peanuts. For the first year, you can create an image of your site in a t1.micro instance for free using AWS’s free tier. Do it. Learning how to change the files in /etc for a different IP address, subdomain and other miscellaneous changes to make the image run in a separate instance is just the ticket to help you get good at administering a Linux site running WordPress. Plus, once your site is in production, you would be crazy to update plugins without testing them. Get good at staying up late at night and creating AMI’s that are complete backups, including EBS storage, of your website. Enjoy the benefits of consistent response times, high availability and the ability to simply upgrade the site when traffic increases.
Instrument the site. Zixi’s architecture is built on three products: Zixi Feeder, Zixi Broadcaster and Zixi Receiver. It’s easiest to understand Zixi if you think of the products in that order. And so that was the original order of the products on the home page and menu structure. Analytics told me within days that people were interested in Zixi Broadcaster first. Making that small change increased visit times by about 20%. Google Analytics is free and since you will also need Google Webmaster, you may as well sign up. But GA stinks, IMHO, for real-time analytics. My favorite real-time, modestly-priced tool is Clicky.
Give in to the popular design ethos. Why? Because your visitors will stay longer and consume more content if it looks a) “modern” and b) fits the current, widespread UX model. In our case, we mimicked Windows 8-style Metro apps. I decided to ape Metro because no matter how controversial Win8 is, Microsoft will stick with it and over time deliver hundreds of millions of users who “get” Metro apps. On zixi.com, we took that to mean we should use as little text as possible, use video (played via HTML5!), make menu text large and use tiles in no particular order to give users direct access to the content that interests them. Fashions change, of course, but if you have the talent to know “what’s next” and the fortitude to jump on the bandwagon early, you will extend the useful life of your WordPress site.
Must-have WordPress plugins. Do not make a site live without these: Jetpack, All-in-One SEO, Gravity Forms, Gravity Salesforce API integration, XML Sitemaps and Easy Fancybox. Others will tell you there are different plugins that do the same thing. They’re correct. But use these.
Be smart about your forms. No matter what the consultant you hired tells you, a form should be as simple as possible. Ask less, get more. On the landing page, don’t do anything except focus attention on the form. No other links — no other offers. Resist the temptation to confuse the user. Consider this miserable form the next version of which will ask for a DNA sample vs. this simpler one on zixi.com. You’d be amazed at what voluntary info we get because we made the message box big and invited users to tell us what’s on their mind. And that brings me to my last point about forms: get smart about custom fields in Salesforce. Create one to hold the comments from your form. Make sure that custom field gets promoted to the contact when the lead is converted. OK, one more point (sorry): put a sidebar form (also lightweight) on selected (not all) pages. On zixi.com I put them on the technology menu items. It’s converting like you wouldn’t believe. When you have good content and a call-to-action nearby, magic happens.
Show the product. It amazes me how many sites don’t bother to show the product. For example, on the Zixi Broadcaster page, annotated product screenshots work brilliantly. Nearly 95% of visitors click on the thumbnails to view the larger product image (courtesy of Fancybox), giving me another chance to show them a feature and or benefit. (I use Snagit to capture and annotate product screen shots.)
Use SSL for your forms. This is hard — really, really hard — to square with the rule of total control. It means you have to learn how to get an SSL/TLS certificate, how to implement it in WordPress (I offer some help here) and how tell WordPress to use SSL on certain posts and pages (just use WordPress HTTPS and be done with it. Why bother? Simple: if you, like me, are marketing a technical product, many of your users will be technical as well. They’ll be less reluctant to enter info in your contact forms if they know it’s encrypted. Even B2C sites should do this because consumers are being trained by banks and financial institutions to never enter data unless they see an SSL session.
Watch the analytics like crazy. Clicky’s spy function will show you what people are doing real-time. This gives you a roadmap for reorganizing menus and content (and in the case of zixi.com, the order of the tiles on the home page). With WordPress, the cost of moving content around is zero. So, do it and enjoy increased visit time.
I hope some of this helps you — I’d love to hear what you think of these suggestions.