B2B Website Design: What You Build vs. What Visitors Want [Orbit Media & Ascend2 Research]

Recently, Andy Crestodina, CMO and Co-Founder of Orbit Media Studios, and I were on a call and Andy brought up the idea of doing an original research study on website design. Specifically, Andy wanted to know if there was a gap between how brands build websites and what visitors want from those websites. So Orbit Media and Ascend2 decided to work together to find out if there was a gap, and if there was, in what areas. Both teams had ideas and opinions, but we wanted data to reveal the truth.

Original research is helpful for a variety of reasons:

  • It is unbiased. The data is the data. We all have our opinion, but data cuts through opinion and reveals truth and reality.
  • Research tells a story: When you review research, you see trends, you are sometimes surprised by the results, or the research may confirm a belief you have. Whatever is the case for you, the research tells a story if you take the time to review it and think about it.
  • Research should lead to specific actions: Research should move you to make specific changes as a result of the data.
  • Plus, for marketers, original research is great for thought leadership content, SEO, media coverage, brand building, lead nurturing, sales enablement, and more.

We completed the study and were surprised by the results. Andy and his team have a detailed review of the original research in the article, What Do Website Visitors What? It’s Not What B2B Brands Are Giving Them. I encourage you to review Andy’s article for insights and analysis.

In this article, I want to share with you three data sets (website characteristics, website features, and content formats) and provide insight, analysis, and action steps from B2B marketing and content experts. What story does the data tell you? What specific action steps should B2B companies take as a result of the data? What experiences would you be willing to share that support the data? Leave a comment or message me on LinkedIn and regularly we will use your insight (attributed to you) to update and revise this article.

Also, if you have an idea for an original research study that you would like to do, please connect with me to discuss it. Let’s Talk Research.

Let’s get started!

Finding #1: Is there a gap in the characteristics of websites?

We asked:

  • B2B website visitors: Which of the following CHARACTERISTICS of a marketing website have the most influence on your purchase decisions?
  • B2B website contributors: Which of the following CHARACTERISTICS contribute most to the success of your marketing website?
most important characteristics of a B2B website chart
Most important characteristics of a B2B website

Where are the largest gaps between visitors and contributors:

  • Social Proof: Contributors value it more, by a difference of nearly 48%.
  • Compelling Brand Message/Story. Again, 44% of contributors value, while only 24% of visitors agree. That’s about a 59% difference.
  • Beautiful design: Are you surprised that visitors value design more than contributors?
  • Team Photos/Bios: Visitors want to know the people behind the company.

Here is what the marketing community has to say about these particular findings…

Amber Sawaya, is the Captain of Anchor & Alpine, talked to her web clients about this research all week. Amber is a UX expert and says “It’s considered a best practice to include social proof at high-stress points, like close to the ‘buy now’ area. It was interesting to see this isn’t something visitors wanted nearly as much as marketers. Another two that surprised me the most are team photos/bios and dates on articles—both things that visitors wanted and don’t always get. This must be a higher-trust factor than social proof. People want to know that they are working with real people and that the content is current and attended to. This was timely too because we were trying to decide on keeping or removing a slideshow from a client’s homepage, sounds like visitors love these big beautiful things, so we kept it.”

Nate Tsang, Founder & CEO at WallStreetZen, provided insight on the gap for a compelling brand message/ story. “I can understand that brand marketers value this heavily since they work on it every day, but it’s a bit disheartening to see less than a quarter of visitors resonating with the messaging. I’d wager there’s a large gap between brands that nail their story, versus brands that only do it somewhat well or not at all.

Paige Arnof-Fenn, Founder & CEO of Mavens & Moguls shares her view, based on 19 years of experience. On the gap in team photos and bios, Paige said “I’d expect the marketers to be just as interested as the visitors here. A key piece of the brand story is the personalities behind it so the photos and bios help bring it to life and differentiate it from competitors. I suspect the marketers know the people so take it as a given/old news whereas visitors are curious and want to know more in our influencer-driven culture.”  

Keesjan (Case) Engelen, CEO of Titoma, wonders how website contributors undervalue the importance of beautiful design? “The fact that the contributors don’t place much importance on beautiful design is very surprising. An effective website design needs to be aesthetically pleasing. Human beings are very focused on visuals. Contributors not considering search boxes to be important is also very odd. Visitors need a website that is easy to navigate. If they may do so without opening Google, it is that much easier.”

Emma Williams, Digital Marketing Manager at Edge of the Web, gives her thoughts on how B2B marketers can share their brand story in a way visitors value. “Maybe the answer is in simplicity? We can see that users value answers to questions and easy navigation, and some of their preferred website characteristics include search boxes and live chat services. Taking time to map out user journeys and understand the user experience is key for any B2B website. If marketers can create a great user experience – one that minimizes any unnecessary fluff and provides the user with the quickest and easiest way to answer the questions they have and provide the services they need – that’s a surefire route to a successful website. But, it’s all about balance. Beautiful aesthetics and a compelling story can go a long way too, so don’t compromise on your brand’s personality.”

Do you want to examine the psychology behind some of the research? Ali Saeed, PR Specialist at Poixel shares some interesting points about the gaps in website characteristics. “44% of marketers focus on social proof while only 27% of visitors want it. However, in the latter question, you discover that 59% of consumers want to see reviews and testimonials. So, doesn’t this contradict the question itself? I think not. Here’s why. There’s a term called neuromarketing, that studies the psychology behind consumer purchase decisions. The interesting concept of neuromarketing is that consumers make decisions unconsciously to certain external elements. We, consumers, have a herd mindset. In that, we follow unconsciously what others are doing or saying. Social proof might not be what visitors actively look for on a website, however, marketers must display it on websites to add the element of “society” to their website. Social proof doesn’t just include testimonials. It also includes social shares, seals of approval from a higher authority, and so on. These unconsciously influence your purchase.”

 Finding #2: Is there a gap in website features?

We asked:

  • B2B website visitors: Which of these website FEATURES do you find most useful?
  • B2B website contributors: Which of these website FEATURES contribute most to the success of your website?
Most important features of a B2B Website chart
Most important features of a B2B Website

Where are the largest gaps between visitors and contributors?

  • Search Boxes: Visitors value it more, a whopping 90% difference from contributors!
  • Live Chat/Chatbots. Visitors value this technology, so why don’t contributors?
  • Calls to Action (CTA): Contributors seem to value them more than visitors, a difference of about 86%! We need CTAs, so how do we reconcile this gap?

Here is some insight on this data from the marketing community…

Nate Tsang, stated “The gap between Calls to Action (CTAs) is truly staggering at first glance, but I’d resist dialing back on your CTAs just because of the numbers. B2B marketers can identify a good CTA from a mile away, but for a reader, an overt CTA can seem annoying. I think this research is a signal that visitors prefer subtlety—that is, the best CTA is one they don’t even notice, but that still makes them take action.”

Grant Aldrich, Founder & CEO of Online Degree, dives into how marketers value brand story and social proof (characteristics from finding #1) and how it relates to website features. “Marketers tend to focus on building up a brand story and providing social proof, which is very ‘brand focused.’ Instead, they should make sure features that visitors want, such as search boxes, are easy to find. While visitors still need a brand story to connect emotionally to the company, it shouldn’t be front and center on the home page. The study suggests that websites’ home page should be more customer-centered, focused on answering commonly asked questions, and having easy navigation. The brand story and social proof should still be on the website but on separate pages for customers who want to read about it.”

How about the gap for live chat? Arthur Iinuma, President of ISBX, explains that “Visitors welcome live chat because it offers them a human touch to their user experience. Live chat serves to welcome them in natural language and invites them to freely discuss their concerns. B2B marketers need to recognize that visitors value responsive live chat over attention-grabbing CTAs. Live chat must be geared to support diverse customer personas, offer self-service solutions, and manage expectations for products and services. Live chat agents can be briefed to engage with a wide spectrum of customers and offer solutions to common problems.” 

Are CTAs condescending? Charles Leduc, COO at Mold Busters, asks the question, “While CTAs are necessary, are they grossly overused? People know that if they want to purchase your product they need to pick up the phone, send an email, or do some clicking. Contributors should assume that visitors to their website have a good idea of how to go about making a purchase and eliminate condescending, overused CTAs.”

James Behrends, Business Development Coach, of Successinars, teaches programming and site design. “Given that I fit into both categories of visitor and contributor, I have always kind of assumed that what I thought was important everyone else did also. The areas that other marketers found important did not surprise me as I mostly agreed.  But what visitors felt was important did surprise me. I had considered most of what they identified as secondary, useless, or even annoying (search boxes, chatbots, social media links, homepage carousel, dates on blogs). Most of the items visitors thought were useful fall into the category of ease of use tools. To get a good return on investment from adding these elements will require reviewing the current design and making sure the location and presentation of the elements are easy to understand and easy to access.”

Marie Gettel-Gilmartin, Founder and Principal, Fertile Ground Communications, “That search box gap is huge. Once again, the gap doesn’t surprise me, although the size of the gap does. As a website visitor myself, I get frustrated when a site does not have a search box. When I was working with a well-known website design firm on a corporate site a few years ago, they set up the site so the search function relied completely on tags. This limited the search function considerably and also made it more cumbersome to design the site. Clients want to get the information they need as soon as possible. Search boxes should be found, ideally on top of the page.”

Rick Hoskins, Founder of Filter King, chimes in on the search bar gap, “Honestly, if I visit a website and they don’t have a search option then I leave. Accessibility to all content, products, and service from the first page is very important as a customer. I am very surprised that B2B doesn’t consider this feature. It tells me that they are business-driven rather than customer-driven.” 

Luke Guy, PR, and Paid Media Specialist provided perspective on why visitors value dates on blog posts. “It makes sense because the publish date provides context for the blog post (is the content was recent). People want up-to-date news and I feel the same way.”

Finding #3: What content formats are most important?

We asked:

  • B2B website visitors: Which of the following CONTENT FORMATS do you find to be most useful in your decision-making process?
  • B2B website contributors: Which of the following CONTENT FORMATS do you find to be most effective at achieving the objectives of your website? 
most effective content formats chart

Where are the largest gaps between visitors and contributors?

  • Reviews/Testimonials: The visitors (59%) vs. contributors (36%) is a gap of about 48%.
  • Original research ranks high for both visitors and contributors. Note that visitors value videos and infographics, both are popular content formats of original research.
  • How-to Articles are favored more by contributors, a difference of about 44%!

Here is some insight from the marketing community…

Aaron Haynes, CEO of Loganix says “I’m surprised to see so few marketers valuing reviews, testimonials, and original research on their websites. This kind of content always worked for me and my clients, and it’s crucial to establishing a strong SEO presence. This research shows how much value visitors put on unique content backed by real insights as well as other people’s reviews and testimonials. Marketers should look to invest more effort into this type of content which provides real value to visitors.”

Shonavee Simpson-Anderson, SEO Strategist, Firewire Digital, shares “The gaps we see in the results about the content format are more indicative of perspective and how we communicate what we want more than anything else. For example, the research shows that marketers value case studies more than visitors, but the top three content formats visitors listed are the recipe for a good case study – its original research, testimonials, and infographics (created from your original research) make incredible visuals for communicating technical information. Those elements make a fantastic case study. So here, what we’re seeing is the difference between micro and macro-level perspectives. Marketers are thinking about big picture content – case studies – while visitors are breaking down what’s valuable within that context – content elements.”

“What an amazing and stimulating study. I’m bookmarking it because it was very interesting and informative.” Thank you, Jessica Rhoades, Owner of Create IT Web Designs for the kind words on the study and your insight on blog posts. “It is interesting that marketers value how-to articles/ blog posts more than visitors. This statistic does not mean that businesses should blog less. The right blog article can bring in traffic and there is a strong correlation that blogging increases the bottom line of the business. What the intent should be is that visitors only are concerned about the single article or information they needed to get when coming to the website.  Was their question answered? Was a purchase made? This may mean that the visitor had one question and the blog article answered that question.”  


Here at Ascend2, we’ve learned a lot from the research and the insight from the community. Please share your insight and give us your tips on how to apply the research findings to your B2B website strategy.