Web Sites: Now, Built for Leads

Lead generation is edging out e-commerce as the raison d’etre of corporate Web sites, according to a new survey by analytics provider WebTrends. Marketers, meanwhile, are taking over control of that Web site from the IT department. But as the mantle of power shifts from IT to Marketing, it’s up to marketers to optimize the site and to turn visitors into customers.

In WebTrends’ survey of over 1,000 marketers, 30 percent said lead generation is their primary site objective, while 28 percent said e-commerce is the main goal of their site. (Another 20 percent were content publishers; 9 percent focused on customer service.) The comapny is a division of NetIQ .

“There’s this massive silent army of lead generation sites that are responsible for people using the Web,” commented Brent Hieggelke, WebTrends’ vice president of marketing.

At the same time, marketing managers are more responsible for Web site optimization than ever before. In the survey, 38 percent said the marketing manager owns and manages the Web site optimization process, while 36 percent said the traditional Web development team handled it. Two year ago, Jupiter Research (owned by the corporate parent of this Web site) found organizations left ownership and management of the Web site to IT, not Marketing.

That’s a good thing for business, Heiggelke said. “With the shift of the Web site from IT to Marketing, now [the question becomes], ‘Where does the Web fit into our whole business, and how do we use it?'”

The best marketers are technologically savvy, adds Sean Carton, chief experience officer of Carton Donofrio Partners, a marketing communications company. “The problem with marketing people is that if they don’t have technical knowledge, they don’t know the good questions to ask,” he observed. “You end up with messes like these huge CRM installations where no one does anything with the data.”

Marketers who focus on lead generation must also grapple with grey areas, such as what constitutes a good lead? That’s been a big bone of contention with some of Carton’s clients. “People are used to considering every call to a toll-free number a lead,” he said. “But on the Web, is it an email query, someone who fills out a whole form, someone who fills out part of one?”

To Carton, a good email address as good as a telephone call. Some marketers must work to convince their internal clients that’s the case.

The good news, said Heiggelke, is the Web is proving itself as a medium. “We’re seeing that the impact of the Web on offline channels of doing business is more dramatic than people thought,” he said. “Companies don’t have to sell online to have a extremely successful Web strategy.”

Despite the recent rush to search engine marketing, Heiggelke said his company’s study has not found a decisive link between that trend and a greater emphasis on leads over coversion.

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