by Kathleen Booth, from Impact blog post, January 26th, 2015
Insurance is something everyone needs. Unfortunately, marketers in this field face two big problems: The product isn’t sexy, and the market couldn’t be more crowded.
So, what’s your differentiator? Let me guess. Is it your knowledge and unbeatable customer service? Sigh. The insurance industry is incredibly competitive and with everyone selling the same shtick, making the very best first impression is critical. No, I'm not talking about the first impression you make when a potential client walks through the door.
More important than that is the impression that potential customers see when they first visit your website, especially in comparison to your direct competitors. When you visit your competitors' sites and then return to your own, do you cringe? Maybe you already know your site isn’t up to par, but just don’t know how to fix it. Or, maybe that statement just got you thinking about your website.
Either way, why is it so important to have a great website in the insurance industry? Because, no matter the product (insurance, TVs, cars, sneakers, or clothing), the Internet has changed how we decide what to purchase. According to Shopper Sciences, 88 percent of consumers research before they buy, consulting an average of 10.4 sources before making their purchasing decision.
That is weighty. Think about it... any prospective client that hasn’t found you via a referral, the yellow pages or your last radio ad has come across your company via the internet. And that potential customer has viewed your website as well as the sites of at least ten of your competitors.
This is especially significant in the insurance industry, where competition is fierce. Differentiating yourself on the web is a great way to gain your prospective customer's attention and get them to engage with you.
Here is the good news. It isn’t difficult to wow your potential clients if your website is updated regularly and following best practices. These five web design best practices are absolutely crucial and non-negotiable for any insurance agency that wants to stay competitive in today's digital world. If you aren’t currently employing these practices, then it might be time to strongly consider a website redesign.
1. Responsive Design
Today's consumers use their smartphones for everything. According to Smart Insights, mobile digital media time in the United States is now significantly higher, at 51 percent compared to desktop (42 percent). What does this mean? Over half of your potential clients are using their smartphone to research your services. Are you providing them with the best experience possible from a mobile device? Are your competitors?
A responsive website provides viewers with an optimal viewing and interaction experience - including reading and navigation - across a wide range of devices such as desktop computers, mobile phones and tablets. Responsive websites provide a seamless experience without pinching, zooming or horizontal scrolling.
More importantly, Google prefers responsive sites. As of April 21, 2015 Google released an algorithm update that gives mobile-friendly sites a boost in search results, while penalizing those that are not viewable on mobile devices. If you are unsure if your site is considered “mobile-friendly” by Google, you can test it.
2. Support the Buyer's Journey
Let’s face it, insurance is boring. Come on, you know it is!
BUT you also know that those things insurance protects -- which is the reason we all need it -- are not boring at all. These things are everything to us, from the people we love, to our homes, our weekend toys and even our pets. Focus on the things your potential clients love most and create content that resonates with them emotionally. At the end of the day, potential clients aren’t going to care about the policy details; they are going to appreciate being protected.
It’s very easy to fall into the “it’s all about me” trap on a company website. Unconsciously, you want to talk about what you do, how you can help and why you're qualified. Your website isn’t an online brochure. It is an interactive knowledge center for your clients. Treat users like you would treat clients coming in through your doors.
Or, better yet, imagine yourself at a networking event. You meet someone over a cocktail and strike up a conversation. Think about it - you aren’t going to start the conversation talking about yourself. Instead, you're are going to make small talk, build a relationship, and then assess the potential client’s needs and determine the best possible solution together.
Your website should do the exact same thing.
So, how do you assess a potential client’s needs before you get to talk to them? By understanding where they are on their buyer’s journey. Every website user isn’t going to purchase after the first visit. They are going to research and compare products and services. The best thing you can do is make it easy for them.
• Call-to-Action Placement
A call-to-action is a combination of specific copy and graphics used to entice and persuade readers to take action. These are most commonly used to “gate” content like downloadable tip-sheets, eBooks, whitepapers and webinar recordings. They require the user to input a specific set of information (name, email, phone number, etc.) before receiving the download.
Get to know your potential client by strategically placing these call-to-action buttons on your services pages. By placing a relevant call-to-action on a services page, you can determine what service a potential client is interested in and how interested they are.
Depending on your specific content offers, and the type of information you require your website visitors to provide, you can determine if a potential customer is casually researching a solution, or if they have already decided upon a solution and are ready to purchase.
• Knowledge Center Resources
Your website shouldn’t be a sales pitch. People don’t like to be pitched to, and as clever as you think you may be, potential clients still know when you are “selling” to them. It often comes across as misleading, opportunistic and altogether unhelpful. So, be helpful!
Your website can be a highly effective tool for educating potential clients. A Knowledge Center should be prominently placed on your website to allow users to access your most valuable content, like case studies, eBooks, whitepapers and webinar recordings all in one place.
Knowledge Centers are most effective when they are easily browsable, allowing the user to filter by content type or topic. Don’t forget to gate your content by requiring users to fill out a conversion form before receiving it. After all, you want this content to be a source of inbound lead generation.
3. Simple Navigation
A few years ago, I had a client tell me that if it took them more than three clicks to locate what they were looking for on a site, they would abandon the effort and move on to a different site. It stuck with me and I have been using it as a navigational rule of thumb ever since.
Think about it, three clicks is a perfectly reasonable time frame to get the viewer to move through your site and get them to where they need to go. Any more than that and it becomes cumbersome and unintuitive. An unintuitive website is digital suicide. Don’t force potential clients to work to find what they need.
Before a potential client even visits your site, you should have an excellent understanding of who they are, what they need, and what their pain points are. Every interaction they have with your website should be mindful of these traits. We call these audience personas.
• Easy Access to Client Documents
Your website isn’t just a tool for gaining new business. It also acts as a tool for retaining customers and eventually turning them into brand advocates. Returning users can greatly benefit from resources like online document access and private client portals.
Easy access (think header buttons) to user/client portals like MyWave and CSR24 can save both you and your client valuable time. In addition, the ease of use could make you a very likely candidate for referrals from these users.
• Easy Access to Contact Information
Insurance is something you have, you pay for, and continue to have until you need it. In most cases, it’s a very “set it and forget it” product. But, when the need does arise, it is usually due to a critical issue in your client’s life. When the worst happens, make sure your contact information is easily accessible and placed consistently throughout your website.
Every website I have ever designed has contact information in the bottom right hand corner, on every single page. This, in addition to a clearly defined Contact page in the main navigation, ensures your site visitors can quickly and easily figure out how to get in touch when they need you the most.
In addition to ensuring your contact information is clearly visible on your site, make sure you check in regularly to confirm the information you've posted is accurate and up to date.
Lastly, don’t forget your mobile users. Best practice number one (see above) is to have a responsive website, because - let’s not forget - over half of internet users access the web via their smartphone. Make sure that your contact information is clickable on mobile. With a touch of a finger, users should be able to auto-pull your email address and auto-dial your phone number.
• Easy Access to Employee Information
Your company website should include a “Meet the Team” or an “About Us” page to key staff members. Typically, anyone is who regularly client-facing should have a professional headshot, biography highlighting key professional accomplishments and designations, and their direct contact information and links to professional social networks like LinkedIn. This is absolutely essential to humanizing your brand.
If a client does contact you to make a claim due to a car accident, a disaster like a fire or a death in the family, they want to know that someone is going to be empathetic on the other end. They don’t want to talk to someone halfway around the world. Instead, they want someone who knows and understands their needs - someone they have seen before.
Make this connection easy. Simply adding staff photos (real photos of your real staff) to your website will instantly make potential and current customers that much more justified in their decision to work with your agency. And, it will put you in stark contrast to the many insurance agencies that use the same old tired stock photography on their sites (you know what I'm talking about, right?!).
4. Be on Trend
Trend has become such a dirty word. In fact I was asked not to use it in this article because our clients don't generally value being on trend for its own sake. But it’s a concept that important to understand - particularly in the insurance industry.
In terms of web design, a trend is a general direction in which something is developing or changing. Trends aren’t radical, they are gradual. When compounded over time, they shape our reality and influence our opinions about what websites are supposed to look like. Think about it. Big 80s hair looks crazy now, but it wasn’t a radical change when it became popular in the 80s.
Unfortunately, many insurance agency websites are the internet equivalent of big 80s hair. Your potential clients are savvy internet users and browsing site after site isn’t anything new to them. After using so many different sites and subconsciously accepting the way a website “should” look, your site shouldn’t be a radical change.
Your site should be adhering to the most up-to-date web trends and providing your potential customers an experience consistent with their expectations.
So how do you do that?
• White Space
The concept of above the fold is dead, so don’t design a site that has every element condensed into a small, compact space. Let your users scroll and let your page elements breathe. Whitespace is helpful in five ways:
o Whitespace Makes Design Usable. Purposefully placed whitespace can help guide visitors through your site, help them find what they are looking for and make specific interactions stand out.
o Whitespace Makes Content Readable. It’s rare that a potential client is going to come to your website and read every last sentence of copy. Utilizing whitespace properly will help a user skim your content and make large bodies of text appear more approachable.
o Whitespace Gives Users a Break. Keep your design simple, remove the clutter and help your user focus on what is most important. Have the user make as few decisions as possible. Whitespace can even direct them to a specific goal of your choosing.
o Whitespace Looks and Feels Modern. Not only is an increased use of whitespace functional for your users, but it looks great. Taking a minimalist design approach looks professional and can aid in highlighting a single product.
o Whitespace Make a Design Emotional. Just because it’s called whitespace doesn’t mean the space has to be white. Adding color, shape or pattern to space that content hasn’t occupied can set the tone for your user, affecting how they receive the content.
• Flat Design
Flat design is a web-trend that is a case-in-point for understanding and maintaining an on-trend website. Over the past couple of years, designers have been gravitating towards this minimalistic approach that places an emphasis on user experience. In doing so, flat design strips away all the distractions that come with typical web design bells and whistles and - when done right - focuses the user on the content and the actions you want them to take.
• Large Images
Be aesthetic. Like we have said before, insurance isn’t sexy, but the things it protects can be. Using large, beautiful, authentic images can strike an emotional chord with potential clients. Combine large images with an effective tagline and call-to-action button to make prominent content stand out and drive conversions.
The right image can be powerful, professional and elegant.
If you don’t already have a company blog, you are running out of excuses. Blogs are amazing tools for increasing site traffic, generating lead conversions, establishing industry thought leadership and promoting brand awareness. Yes, all of that from one website feature.
Pretty amazing right?
• Client Education
Your website shouldn't be an online brochure. The end goal should always be to help your potential clients find a solution to a problem. Above all, a blog’s primary job is to educate and answer questions.
A well-written blog not only informs potential clients about your products and services, but it also allows users to get to know your company. For those potential client researchers who will skip the initial phone call to your agency, this is a great way to demonstrate some personality and establish the kind of personal connection that resonates with leads to long-standing client relationships.
Blogs work wonders for SEO (search engine optimization). Why? With each new blog post published, you are adding a page to your website. For small businesses, this brings a great advantage. In the eyes of Google, your site is performing just as good as, if not better than, a larger competitor. Revenue aside, blogs are a great way to level the SEO playing field.
The additional pages created when you publish a blog are a great start, but they cannot be counted on as an entire SEO strategy. Creating relevant blog content focusing on targeted keywords will bring an added advantage. Instead of cramming all of these keywords into a single services page, you have the ability to exclusively speak on a specific topic with each and every blog post.
Caution: The $500 Website
If it sounds too good to be true, it’s usually because it is.
Be very wary of simple website builders and offers to build an insurance-specific website with only a few hundred, or even thousand, dollars. Agencies that are purely focused on insurance websites tend to build the same site over and over with premade templates, setting you at a level playing field with your competitors and not truly taking into account what sets your agency apart.
Great web design focuses on equal parts strategy and execution. After all, you can have the most beautiful site in the world, but if it isn’t converting visitors into leads, what’s the point? Strategy is 50 percent of the puzzle. If you don’t have a well-defined strategy going into a redesign, you could be missing the mark completely. Plus, it is also important to understand how your website will fit into an overall marketing strategy once the site has been launched.
The last thing you want to do is launch a redesigned site that is never updated until the next redesign. A great website is a living, breathing, ever-changing digital device. Make sure you're prepared to keep up with it.
Is Your Website Following Best Practices?
Some of the tips we have discussed today are very obvious. Your site is either responsive, or it isn’t; you either have a blog, or you don’t. But, others may take some deeper digging to truly evaluate.
Understand your buyers and the journey they will take through your website before they make a purchasing decision. If you haven’t already, consider taking a stab at our audience persona worksheet. This will help you get to know potential clients better, and how to market to them. If you are looking for a more immediate response, next time you are on a client call, consider polling your potential customers.
Ask how they found you online and inquire about your website navigation - could they find what they were looking for in just a few clicks? Ask your staff, is our navigation intuitive? Any and all feedback is a great point of reference to make improvements to your existing website or begin a website redesign.
Remember that potential clients will do a lot of research prior to contacting you. Make sure you are catering to their needs. Add a blog to your website and a knowledge center. This not only helps to aid their journey, but it also helps you to understand a potential client’s needs by the type of content they access and download. This really gives your sales team the advantage they need to moving in on a hot lead and providing a solution.
Your website is your very best salesperson, so make sure it’s working hard for you.