Imagine an interconnected online world where one action leads seamlessly into another. A world where the most used websites (social media) share their APIs for the benefit of the people, not themselves. Maybe this was the original vision of the internet: an interconnected world. But it’s still glaringly obvious that websites continue to be discrete entities. Content lives in-platform and it’s difficult to port it in a usable form from one website to another. This is mainly because each site specialises in one or two things; creating a barrier for integrated digital marketing. Twitter is great for broadcasting to a mass of individuals simultaneously, but it’s bad for conversations. Pinterest is great for discovering new décor, equipment, and aesthetic setups, but you can’t really engage with other users beyond pinning their images on your own boards. These are just two examples. Each site has a specific target audience. The way we’ve become accustomed to working around this limitation of sites being separate is through search engines. They crawl websites, using links to create logical interconnections between sites, while also granting each site authority through the crawl. As any brand or retailer, you need to be aware of these limitations in the way the internet is built. If you don’t understand the core architecture of the web, you can’t leverage it to your advantage. The best way to leverage the web right now is through search engine optimisation (SEO). Think about this: how do you win an F1 race? Beyond knowing how an automobile functions, makers of an F1 vehicle need to know much more. They need to go beyond the basics to reach the zenith of automobile engineering that is an F1 vehicle. The current best-selling car in the world is the Toyota Corolla with a top speed of 200 km/h. Most people will hardly clock that speed because of country-level speed limits. Meanwhile, a Ferrari F1 can reach a top speed of 375 km/h. And in 2005, at the Italian Grand Prix, Juan Pablo Montoya reached a record speed of 372.6 km/h. How? Because F1 leverages the understanding of what a car is and how it functions and pushes it to the maximum possible, sustainable threshold. Keep in mind the concept of ‘sustainable threshold’. As an online retailer, whatever strategy you use to link your presence across these discrete websites should be sustainable. It should be scalable as well. It can’t work for just one product or product set. You should be able to iterate the strategy across different product categories to get the most out of it.

Where do you integrate your brand across different websites and how? Let’s take a journey.

Welcome To The Best Inter-Website Customer Journey

Hi, my name is Vatt and I’m your customer. I want to create a comfortable, modern home office. This is something I’m sure a lot of other South Africans are doing. I’ve already built the room in my house. It just needs

  • To be painted
  • To have tiling/linoleum/carpeting installed
  • Needs office furniture
  • Needs the necessary equipment (extra screen, a projector, wireless keyboard, and mouse etc.)

I have a fairly good acuity with the internet, so I start with a basic search for all the things I will need for this project. I like to have a roadmap with stores and ballpark prices so I can create a realistic budget.

Image showing a home office with wooden flooring, and floor-to-ceiling cabinets.

How Can Your Brand Help Me?

At this stage of my customer journey, I have done little. But it would be nice not to have to go all over the web to find what I need. If you’re a retailer that specifically deals with construction and décor like Builders Warehouse, you could help me with my roadmap. I don’t think you need to do a lot of research to find the common projects people undertake using what you sell. We’re in the midst of a global pandemic, so working from home is at the top of the list. All you need to do is help me by anticipating the steps in my journey.

Give me a project page with one simple call to action: What Are You Working On?

And then options for common project types available such as Home Office, Bathroom, Kitchen, Living Room, Home-Bar, and Patio/Balcony. You’ve covered most of the projects that a homeowner could have. Unless the person is doing something out of the ordinary like building a home cinema, the above options should be enough to increase your conversion rate and sales. Your site needs to make me sign in with my email address and also include an opt-in feature for future newsletters about products and sales. It could help you generate more leads, but for now, its purpose is to help me save my project.

Task 1: My Walls Need To Be Painted

My first port of call here will be to choose a colour. I need to find a swatch on a paint manufacturer’s website that matches the official Pantone colour on the Pantone site. Once I’ve chosen the colour, I’ll want to find the correct paint to use. Should it be flat, eggshell, satin, semi-gloss, or high-gloss? What about the brand of paint? Is there a specific brand that leads in the eggshell category versus the semi-gloss? And finally, once I’ve chosen the paint it should be, I need to find a painter to paint the room. This involves another search. I need to know that the painter is good for people who have used the services. A painter is not a national business most of the time. So, a review site like Hello Peter is out of the question. I decide I’ll enquire about an excellent painter with a great track-record using a basic Google search. The Google My Business feature (GMB) is great for local businesses as it includes reviews, a link to the business website, operating hours, directions, and contact details. GMB strategies are simple and low-cost ways to drive traffic to your website and get client leads. Those are two critical KPIs of any business. A Google Search Result for the search term 'Painter Near Me' showing a Google My Business snippet.

How Can Your Brand Help Me?

Did you notice how many touchpoints there were in the entire paint-sourcing process for your brand to provide value?

Let’s go back to the project question: What Are You Working On? I would have chosen the Home Office project. And there I would have further chosen from 3 sub-options: From Scratch, Remodelling, Bits and Bobs. These are just some suggested categories to distinguish the extent to which I need your brand’s help. My sub-option would be From Scratch. Then you could lead me to each component of the home office, starting with the wall. From here, imagine a simple interface that super-imposes a chosen colour onto a virtual wall. This shouldn’t be hard to develop because all the other elements in the image are static except for the wall. You could have the exact Pantone colour under this virtual interactive image, including the paint. Under each type of paint, a textbox explaining its benefits in brief (for example, high-gloss is the easiest finish to clean) and the major disadvantage (high-gloss shows wall imperfections easier). Notice one key aspect: I did ALL of this without leaving your site. Not once did I click off the page, but I got everything I needed. This is the quintessential definition of rich content, great UX, and fitting on-page SEO. The likelihood of you landing a sale from this entire process is over 90%.

Task 2: My Floor Needs Tiling/Linoleum/Carpeting Installed

Image showing a handyman installing a carpet. This task is a little trickier than the last because there are so many options. Now that I know what colour my walls will be and I’ve made the purchase, the floor needs to follow suit. I would like to see how the flooring looks when juxtaposed with office furniture and equipment. The two social media sites I can use for this in terms of curation and user experience are Pinterest and Instagram. I would prefer Pinterest over Instagram because of its visual search feature that Pinterest has been working on for years. I know that with Pinterest I’ll get referred to similar setups and aesthetics, and that will most probably lead me to the correct look.

How Can Your Brand Help Me?

The Visual Search feature on Pinterest is specifically geared to help me with decisions like this. It’s made to suggest related aesthetics based on other people’s tags and Pins, and Pinterest’s machine learning and algorithms. Your brand needs to make use of this feature to the fullest. Pinterest has a Rich Pins feature with a Product Pins subset. According to the website:

“Product Pins make it easier for Pinners to see information about things you sell and include pricing, availability and buy location. Product Pins differ from Buyable Pins because although they make information about your product readily available on Pinterest, they do not let a user buy the product directly from Pinterest. Product Pins must link to the product landing page where you can purchase the product.”

This is exactly what any brand could wish for. Here, you don’t have to develop the site architecture, just the simple interaction of your own code (product info) with relevant Pins. All you need to do is take pictures of different décor and post them on Pinterest as Rich Pins. Since I’m already on your website, for this step I just click out of your site, find the décor aesthetic that I want, and once Pinned, it will lead me back to your site. It’s a loop. Technically, I only left your site because Pinterest already does most of the work for you. By the time I come back to your site, I just add the Pin to the project and your site can then further integrate the Rich Pin with the Pinterest API to add items to my cart. Seamless, convenient, and somewhat fun. This is an online shopping experience most people would enjoy.

Task 3: I Need Furniture To Fill Up The Room

I’ve finally got the walls, and the floor sorted and now I need to get the furniture that brings the room to life. Where do I start? Remember, as I’m going along with my project, your site should save it. Choosing the furniture will be similar to deciding what floor covering I would like. I need to see it all together to get a visual understanding of how it will look. Objectively, as a company, you have resources at your disposal. Use them. What I mean is that you can hire interior designers to work with all the furniture on offer and put it together in combinations that look incredible. A customer can only get adequately convinced by how a space will look if it’s presented as ‘lived in’. The presentation of the space with the furniture shouldn’t look theoretical. A customer must resonate with it.

How Can Your Brand Help Me?

It would be great if people who understand the form and function of a space can make the most of your product range. When the furniture is not just thrown together haphazardly, there will be an aesthetic congruity to things. And aesthetic congruity is attractive. It will help me even more if you recommend furniture that is also comfortable and ergonomically manufactured since I will spend many hours working at my home desk. Your brand should leverage Pinterest once again. Make sure you present photosets of ‘lived in’ office spaces. Spaces that apply for different moods and personality types but always keeping in mind your product range. Ultimately, you want to make a sale off these Rich Pins. So, it’s in your best interest to make it look as immersive as possible. Again, I’ll be taken off your website to Pinterest and back in a closed loop. And hopefully, it will be another set of items added to my cart.

Task 4: I Need To Get Home Office Equipment

Image of a home office desk with a Macbook, iMac, iPad and iPhone. This task sounds like the most straightforward of the lot. There’s not much thought to it or is there? You would probably expect me to go on your website and browse the equipment, looking at the specs, and then make my decision. That’s if you even sell electronics. What could a customer really want when shopping for electronics? Just like the Google Play Store or the iTunes Store, people trust reviews. Reviews. Reviews. Reviews. Because companies release electronics at such short intervals, most people don’t keep up with which one is leading in a specific category, reviews are the only research to go by. I could easily visit the top 5 websites for any search whether it’s for monitors, or wireless keyboards, or laptops. But who’s to say I’ll come back to your site after that?

How Can Your Brand Help Me?

You have two options here: produce relevant content yourself or link to relevant content. If your product range is vast, I suggest doing both. For all the latest stuff, you could link to content that reviews that particular device. This will also help with your link profile and give people the ability to see that you want to add value. A smart way of linking to the long reviews is to summarise them in around 200 words and then link to the full review. Posting a link under the specs of the device removes the necessary context. The summary is strategic because some people don’t need to see the full review. They just require the salient points. Another way to go about this if you want more grounded reviews is to link to the official forums of manufacturers such as Apple, Samsung, Asus, Dell, or Lenovo. You’ll be able to get the ‘man on the street’ opinions about the products as they’re released. The long-term play then is to have your own content where you speak to the brands you sell. Remember, you can’t show any favouritism because not only is that unethical, but it will hurt the image of your business as impartial. You need the customer to see you as an authority on the products you already sell, without explicitly directing them towards a certain product. Any direction should be based on a rubric you mark all the related devices against.

Conclusion

At every step, your brand can affect the customer journey of someone undertaking a project. The key is to integrate with websites and APIs that already exist, to try to keep the customer on your own site for as long as possible.

A caveat:

Although most of the strategy explained above works well for larger service providers, such as Builders Warehouse, it’s possible for small businesses to benefit. Every business can afford to be on every platform mentioned and do so for free. There are no overheads to taking pictures of your work for customers you’ve serviced and then posting them online. If there is a content strategy surrounding these images, you can leverage the advantages of each platform for maximum ROI. The key is to reach the user as seamlessly as possible through each platform. The only way to do this is to make sure that the correct content is found per platform. For instance, having someone answer Facebook queries versus maintaining website information that is not driving any sales. All content marketing needs a strategy because posting for the sake of posting will not lead to much in the long run.

After each task, you can ask your customer: Is Your Project Complete?

The customer can then continue or check out their cart. In my case, I will have continued with the entire customer journey until the end of task 4. And at the end of my project, I left your website having bought paint, flooring, furniture, and electronics. I signed up for a newsletter for continued after-sales leads. I enjoyed the experience and I will definitely recommend it to my friends and family.

How much have you gained by holding my hand where no other company would? You have made sales across multiple categories in your conversion funnel.

And don’t forget that your presence across these different websites continues to work for you even when you don’t notice it. The internet is a 24/7 shop. It has no work hours. It requires minimum overheads except for a working website and a means for people to pay. People can be led from Google Ads, the Pinterest Rich Pins you’ve set up, Instagram, and Facebook. I would even posit that for Home Offices, you could even get leads on LinkedIn. Once these customers are on your website, they can’t escape the A-grade user experience (UX) and inter-site integration. This is the future of content marketing. This is the customer journey that should be.