Red on Marketing Blog

B2B website design: can comments save websites?

B2B website design: can comments save websites?I’m working on a list of action items I have for our main website. Meantime, a thought struck me: is my site obsolete?

My web team may kill me for writing this. And for good reason. They’ve got blood and sweat in that nav, content and tags. So am I nuts? And which articles on this am I overlooking? I’m sure there are many good ones.

Since launching our business blog in early 2008, I’ve tended to steer fresh content to our blog instead of posting it to our main company website. I favor the blog vs the main site. Why?


B2B blog content vs B2B website content — a theory about why what goes where

  • I really want to have a two-way communication with visitors. But, sans public comments feature on our main site, we’re encouraging… listening. That is, I don’t think that offering a response form with a field for entering comments counts as fostering dialogue; that mechanism sends a private communication to the site owner. What fires people up is playing a part… impacting through contributing.
  • My perception is that reader/visitor expectations are different for the main site and the blog. And as the author, publishing to the blog is lower stress. The blog posts are supposed to be authentic. It’s not the end of the world if I leave out a word. It’s ok if I don’t know the answer to a question. As long as I’m not squandering your time or committing other heinous acts on Tom Pick’s memorable list, ”The 7 Deadly Sins of Blogging“.
  • Because of (2), publishing to the blog is quicker. It feels gratifying to get an idea ‘out’. Making something new is creative. These days, it’s the closest I ever get to making art.

I’m not suggesting that our main corporate website be a wiki. Or that it’s not worthwhile at all without a public comment feature. I am, though, observing that blog infrastructure invites public dialogue; a traditional website does not. And wondering if that is ok in the long term.

So in the vein of the hard-hitting “reality bites” Forrester telecon I helped Laura Ramos with on Oct 29th – I wonder: are traditional websites without comments, obsolete?


Traditional website + public comments = all the usual social media benefits and challenges?

To walk the walk regarding participation, could we invite comments using a form at least on B2B Central pages where we lay out ideas/approaches most likely to spark reader feedback?

At the simplest level, we could manually post people’s comments to the page as they are submitted… or get fancier and automate it. The online Business Journal websites, for example, has space for comments under each online article now. (Note: to my knowledge, no reporter or editor has responded to any comment I’ve posted at a site.)

However we rig up the technology, I feel there’s still the question about why a business would maintain a main website and a blog separately.

  • Perhaps it has to do with separating personal opinion from corporate policy.
  • Perhaps it’s because buyers still expect a company to have a company website that looks like a company website.
  • Perhaps it’s because a company needs to convey respect for visitors by presenting a polished online presence – not one created with haste or inattention to detail.


B2B websites — why not abandon ship?

Now, why not? That is, why not just do what comes naturally and keep posting all the fresh content to our blog?

Again, I fear my web team is going to absolutely kill me. And for good reason! For one thing, this blog is not optimized, and it shows. It doesn’t ’sell’ our company. It is about ideas, persepctive… connecting with others.

The main site, by contrast, was designed to make our business case. It shows we know our best customers are savvy consumers seeking not just a likeable or hip consultant but a pro wearing the scars and medals that indicate trustworthiness. There are testimonials. Pages telling our skills and services and experience. Press releases noting our successes.

And it’s more usable — content is ‘chunked’ up. It has calls to action. It shows we’ve got some Skills. It’s like wearing business attire for a Friday client meeting.

And I can just hear David Meerman Scott now, thundering “Nobody Cares About Your Products and Services!” I mostly agree David, I mostly agree!


Applying Peter Kim*

Peter Kim’s thinking about Social networking and the ego trap may be applicable here. Kim writes,

Social networks are valuable for building and maintaining relationships.  Updates and status feeds preserve the signal strength of current ties and boost the signal of weak ones.  But adding connections with low relevance and connection result in static, increasing in annoyance as one’s network grows.  Useful social networks require a high signal-to-noise ratio.

Extending this idea: could it be that, while a high volume of comments is gratifying, the ”signal-to-noise” ratio will worsen overall? 

His thinking about the scalability of social media bears mention too. In Social media marketing’s scalability problem he writes,

People don’t scale, either. Frank at Comcast does a great job, but he’s only one person. Dell has 17+ people on Twitter, like Amie Paxton. Scott Monty is a new kind of leader, but he’s only one person…

…From my last post asking if social media matters, the commenting consensus seems to agree, with its impact in awareness, consideration, and preference.

But if social media marketing matters, then does it scale?

I don’t think so. I think the technologies scale. But the programs – especially those with a labor-intensive component – don’t.

What if our main site did have a public comments feature and 50 thoughtful visitors weighed in tomorrow? I’d need to surf that wave, rather than drown in it. And that might require Brogan-ish Social Media Skills.


Other website doomsdayers

Others have written about this – some an impressively long time ago! But while their headlines grabbed me in the Google results, their beefs seem to be different. Here are some examples:

In a 2002 article in Digital Web Magazine Jeffrey Zeldman writes in 99.9% of Websites Are Obsolete that,

“…In off-brand browsers, in screen readers used by people with disabilities, and in increasingly popular non-traditional devices from Palm Pilots(TM) to web-enabled cell phones, many of these sites have never worked and still don’t, while others function marginally at best…. Peel the skin of any major site, from Amazon to, from Sony to ZDNet. Examine their tortuous non-standard markup, their proprietary ActiveX and JavaScript (often including broken detection scripts), and ill-conceived use of Cascading Style Sheets-when they use CSS at all. It’s a wonder such sites work in any browser.”

Someone called Titus Hoskins of writes, in Are Websites Obsolete Already? Will they go the way of the DoDo?, a seemingly orphaned blog post dated 2005:

“…we see the start of such a direction in the blurring of sites that are not exactly a blog or a website — but a cross between the two. People are building complete websites in rss/xml coding so they can feed them directly to their site’s customers or patrons…”

Now – I noticed some months ago that a couple of industry leaders don’t have separate blogs and corporate sites. Their blog IS their corporate site. It has pages for Services and About… but the main area one lands at when you use their root URL, is their latest post and its comments.

This is interesting to me because it’s an acknowledgement of the way b2b conversations need to happen now… two way, less formal, less preachy, more authentic, more inclusive, more timely, more shaped by the community of players and ideas of which it is one part.



What do you think? Is trying to structure all corporate communications to be interactive an ego trap… and too hard to support? Or is it silly and shortsighted to get stuck on those issues… in the same sort of way that it’d be silly to not use email because there’s so much of it to keep on top of?

* A far cry from Being Peter Kim

Blog home page ›
Topics: Performance Lead Generation