A change is occurring in how prospective clients seek, select and hire professional services firms. This change will have meaningful, lasting effects on the very nature and role of marketing and business development within your firm. The change I speak of is content marketing and its increasing importance in a firm’s ability to build its business development pipeline and sustain client acquisition goals. No place will this change have more significant effects than on your firm’s website.
The Role of the Professional Service Firm’s Website
I’m willing to bet that your firm has had at least three, if not four or five websites since the Internet first emerged as a commercial medium. That said, I’m also willing to bet that the last time anyone in your firm asked why you have a website was when you built that first site almost 20 years ago. So, let’s ask ourselves the question — why does your firm even have a website? While there are probably hundreds of possible answers to this question, I tend to think a professional service firm’s website exists for two primary marketing reasons:
1. Help close business with prospects who know you.
This first role is really to augment the firm’s traditional marketing and business development efforts that occur primarily offline. These are prospects who have determined largely through other means that they need a firm like yours, know your firm based on your existing marketing and business development efforts, and are visiting your site to gauge how credible and capable your firm appears to be relative to the expertise they’re seeking. In this role, the site is functioning relatively late in the prospect’s buying process and is a somewhat passive participant in your own business development process. Your site has likely been filling this role for almost 20 years.
2. Attract clients who don’t know you.
In this second role, the website is operating at a much earlier stage in the buying process. It’s assisting to generate potential leads for the business development team, it’s helping to build the firm’s pipeline, and as a result it is actively contributing to the firm’s annual bookings and revenue. It’s attracting potential clients who don’t know you, engaging them over time through informative content, and nurturing them in such a way that we’re able to identify high value (and low value) prospects for the business development team. This second role is a rather new one for your site, and it may not be doing this much or at all right now.
Three Types of Content
It actually takes three different types of content for your site to successfully accomplish the two primary roles outlined above.
1. Experience-Oriented Content
This is the content almost every professional service firm’s website already has. It’s content that outlines who the firm is, what it does and who it’s done it for in the past. It includes such things as corporate history, founding philosophies, service offerings, project profiles, firm news, and bios of firm leaders and consultants. If I asked you to draw up a site map, this content would represent 95% of the pages you’d likely see on it. That said, ideally it should comprise less than 10% of your site’s total content. This is the content used to accomplish the first role of your marketing website – helping to close business with prospects who already know you. A prospect with an already determined need who knows your firm is really just using your site to gauge your experience and the content outlined above is sufficient to move your business development efforts to the next step of that process.
2. Expertise-Oriented Content
On our blog, I’ve described this as content that educates. This type of content exists in the form of blog posts, articles, branded research studies, white papers, and webinars. While this content would comprise only a handful of pages on the sitemap of even a relatively large firm, it should represent the bulk of a site’s content (upwards of 90%). Your firm uses this educational content to cast a net to attract prospective clients to your site via search.This content becomes the definitive source and proof of your expertise. The amount of high value educational content you’re able to produce over time will be the single most critical element in accomplishing the second goal of your marketing website – attracting clients who don’t already know you to your firm. To accomplish this task, your firm needs to be prepared to add a minimum of 2,000 words of useful, high value content to your website on a monthly basis, according to Mark O’Brien at Newfangled Web Factory.
That said, if you’re just beginning to produce this sort of content, chances are you wont see much results from these efforts until this content comprises at least 90% of your site’s total content. For instance, if you’re just beginning a website redesign and have outlined a 25 page sitemap, don’t expect to see much volume or value from “non-branded” search traffic until you’ve added another 225 pages of educational content to your experience-oriented 25 page sitemap.
This content largely takes the form of short-form case studies and testimonial videos. It logically follows your educational content from the perspective of the buying process – a prospect finds your large volume of useful, informative, and educational content, self diagnoses a need you can solve and resolves himself or herself to do something about it. Your motivational content inspires him or her to move forward, ideally with your firm.
While this content represents less than 5% of your site’s total content, it is critical to execute well in that it helps you move your prospect down the funnel and gives them the inspiration they need to move forward. In that regard it functions as a linchpin between your educational content and your business development team.
Visibility and Analytics
Getting insight as to what types of content a prospect has consumed on your website to your business development personnel when they’re speaking to him or her becomes a critical part of realizing the second role of your marketing website. To do this, your site needs to provide insight into who’s on the site and what types of content they’re consuming both at a macro level for the marketing team and at a more granular level for the business development team.
This is accomplished through a successful integration of CMS technologies and various marketing automation platforms. Platforms like these can help you use your high value content as a means to convert casual website visitors into real leads for your business development team and gain visibility as to where they are in the buying process based on the content they’re consuming.
Bringing it All Together
In many sectors of professional services, content marketing could best be described as a land grab. Less than 10% of firms are doing an effective job of producing a consistent flow of high-value, educational content to market their firms. Yet, executed correctly, content marketing has the potential to convert your website from a billboard into a source of 10-15% of your firm’s annual revenue. The firms that make the investments now and commit to the strategy over time will build a sustained competitive advantage for years to come.
O’Brien, Mark. A Website that Works. Rockbench Publishing. 2011.