By Tony Probert, Digital Director, Accrue Fulton

Every company, from the very largest to the very smallest, now has a website, and most of them invest significant sums into content marketing, online advertising, social media, and other techniques to draw customers to their websites.

The 2014 CMO Survey revealed that 96% of companies with revenues between $26m and $99m increased digital marketing spend over the previous 12 months. Just 41% of them increased spending on traditional advertising. Given that marketing makes up an average of 11% of the firms’ total spending these are significant sums.

Yet, when they arrive, visitors find websites that all too often are dull, safe and uninspiring. Many SMEs experience bounce rates that are above the critical 60%, meaning that more people are visiting a site and immediately leaving it than are finding themselves interested and staying. Even those who stay may not be as engaged and inspired as they could be.

For many SMEs rather than spending ever more on digital marketing it would be far wiser to invest in their websites. By following these five steps to telling the company story online they could significantly reduce their online marketing spend, whilst achieving improved results.

Five steps to getting it right

1) Deliver a clear, strong narrative

Too many sites make the mistake of trying to be all things to all people. Instead, know who you want to speak to, and understand what it is about your offer that will most interest them. Then deliver that story in a clear, fluent manner.

A good example of this is White.net. Originally this Oxford-based digital marketing agency was called SEOptimise. Yet search engine optimisation, or SEO, was just one of many services it offered. Potential customers arriving at its website were confused and sales were lost.

So, it spent time to understand what makes it different, how it stands out in its market, and what customers value about its work. It defined its story, renamed itself and rebuilt its website to clearly articulate that story to visitors.

2) Allow the reader to discover your story

It is a truism that no one likes to be sold to, but this is especially the case online. In this channel we read differently. We expect to select our own journey, rather than following the imposed tradition of left to right, page after page. Rather than railing against this, use it — give visitors the power to make their own journey into your story.

This is a feature of the Companion Care Vets website. The SME operates 95 veterinary practices across the UK, and on its career website visitors can look for a job that is directly relevant to them by drawing a geographic circle and so only seeing results from within that circle.

3) Make it easy to use and read

Navigation should be simple and intuitive; language should be clear and precise. Work hard to remove clutter from pages and filler from sentences. On White.net’s website all the services it offers are clearly laid out where the visitor expects to find them, there are clear links through to examples of work, and text is kept concise and focused specifically on what visitors need to know.

4) Provide real-life evidence

The best stories are those that are the most credible. By describing concrete specifics, fiction writers transport us into the worlds they create, and make us believe them as real. In the same way corporate websites become more convincing, and interesting, when they are more than simply abstract theory, when they include real-life evidence. So introduce impartial research, news stories, and success metrics, or even customer quotes and references to award wins.

A good example of this is the Companion Care site which has a timeline where prospective partners can see what will happen at each stage if they decide to set a new veterinary practice with Companion Care. This timeline brings the experience very much to life for visitors, allowing potential partners to picture themselves opening and running their own veterinary practice.

5) Make it sharable

Once you have created a website which tells a compelling story and which will make visitors sit up and take notice, exploit the natural human tendency to want to share stories by making it easy for visitors to spread the word. So, on every page of the White.net website there are clear social media share buttons, allowing visitors to tell others about the story they have discovered.

Follow those five steps and you will transform your SME website, making it a vehicle to tell your story, inspire visitors, and grow your company. With so many of your rivals continuing to pour cash into digital promotion, attracting visitors to drab websites that they soon leave, you will also find you have gained a significant competitive advantage.