In this episode of The Kula Ring, Jeff and Carman talk with Christina Liebman, Director of Global Marketing and Digital Strategy, about the iterative website redesign process she recently followed at Advanced Energy Industries. By continuously testing and refining along the way, she was able to meet the objectives set out for the redesign. Christina also discusses the unforeseen challenges she met along the way including working with more vendors than anticipated and educating the team to create mobile-friendly content that would also resonate with international audiences.
Testing 1, 2, 3: A Manufacturer’s Iterative Approach to a Website Redesign Transcript:
You’re listening to The Kula Ring, a podcast made for manufacturing marketers. Here are Carman Pirie and Jeff White.
Jeff White: Welcome to The Kula Ring. My name is Jeff White, from Kula Partners. Joining me today is Carman Pirie. Carman, how are you doing?
Carman Pirie: I am doing well, Jeff. And you?
Jeff White: I’m doing really well, too.
Carman Pirie: It’s good to be with you. I think we’re going to have to get some listener feedback on our opening banter because I find, sometimes, we’re hopelessly Canadian, and all we want to talk about-
Jeff White: It’s all about the weather.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, yeah.
Jeff White: And given that we usually record these and release them later, it’s no longer relevant, or could be worse.
Carman Pirie: Well, it’s kind of relevant, because the weather is always horrible.
Jeff White: Yeah, that’s true.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. Well, we don’t have the weather to talk about, and nobody else has suggested anything better. So without further ado, let’s introduce today’s guest.
Jeff White: Sure.
Carman Pirie: Today’s conversation is going to help dive into an area that, look, every modern marketer has to head down the path of a website redesign at some point. And many feel, probably midway through the process, that it could be career-ending. So I hope that today’s guest helps shed some light on it, from very much the client side of the house and takes Jeff and I’s agency bias completely off the table, and give our listeners something to think about. So Jeff, no further ado.
Jeff White: Sure. So today, joining us from Colorado, all the way from Colorado, is Christina Liebman. She’s the Director of Global Marketing and Digital Strategy with Advanced Energy Industries, a manufacturer of power supplies and plasma. It was very interesting. I was reviewing the site, and everything looked, you know-
Carman Pirie: That’s Jeff’s code for, Christina, please tell us what it is that you do when you introduce yourself, please.
Jeff White: Yes, yeah. Welcome to The Kula Ring, Christina.
Christina Liebman: Hi. Thank you, guys. Thanks for having me. Yeah. Advanced Energy, basically, it is a power conversion company. We do offer multiple high and low voltage power supplies. And then we also design components, that we actually take the power off the grid, package it up into various components, and then sell those to OEM providers that then incorporate those into the designs that they’re using. So it’s highly technical. Yeah. It’s a lot of power, in any way that you kind of want it.
Jeff White: So many possible taglines.
Christina Liebman: Yes. So I run the global marketing team here for the company.
Jeff White: Very cool. And you recently went through a website redesign, not your first, by the sounds of things, either.
Christina Liebman: No, no, definitely not my first. So I’ve been with the company for almost two years. And when I started, one of the key initiatives that they had for me was to redesign the website. The site that we had previously had was about 15 years old, and it was built on a homegrown platform, so it needed a lot of updating. We also needed to kind of take a look at the brand that the company had evolved over the last 15 years, so figure out, you know, what that story is, and how we easily communicate these products to our customers, and identify kind of the value that they can bring in a web environment; so sort of digitize the customer experience from soup to nuts.
Jeff White: Wow. 15 years with a single platform, I think that may be one of the longest I’ve ever seen.
Christina Liebman: Yes, it was definitely dated.
Jeff White: Yeah, wow.
Carman Pirie: You know, and it’s always a question that you get often, too, of course, is, “How long should I expect this website redesign to last,” which, of course-
Jeff White: Not 15 years.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, yeah. That’s really the only answer you can give to that, I think.
Christina Liebman: Well, I think definitely longer than you anticipate it, it’s going to last. You always run into a number of roadblocks. For this particular project, you know, we were doing a lot of change management internally, because we were trying to transform the way we spoke about our products, the way we represented our products, and kind of how we wanted to navigate that buyer’s journey throughout the website. So it definitely was a project, if you will. I think websites, just in general, they need to evolve. They need to grow. They need to transform, in order to meet, you know, that end user’s expectation.
You’re definitely never, one and done, once you launch a website. So you want to constantly analyze the user behavior, and understand the content that is the most sticky, that people are clicking on; and kind of what call to actions are working the best, and kind of how you want to manage conversions throughout the site; and continuously upgrade your information to support kind of the way that the users are interacting with your content.
Carman Pirie: I don’t want to get too far from something you just said around the change management involved in creating the new site, because it just occurred to me when you said that, that sometimes maybe the website isn’t the biggest … The website’s almost, in some way, just the most visible manifestation of a whole host of other changes that are happening, many of which aren’t particularly, or none, at least, exclusively related to marketing and sales. So basically, you know, as you talk about the change management components of the website project, you know, stretching it out, making it longer, making it more arduous to deal with; let’s unpack that a little bit, because I think a lot of companies find themselves in that position, where the website project is really just a proxy for something much larger that’s going on.
Christina Liebman: Sure, sure. Consistency is key. So you’ll fundamentally need a website strategy. Like, what is that site trying to actually do for you? Is it just to brand your company? Are you trying to generate revenue on your products? Are you trying to educate people on your products? This site, in particular, was a little bit challenging, because we have a global audience, so we wanted to make sure that the messaging we were saying to our English-speaking customers resonated with what we were putting up there for our Asia customers; and that it all made sense, regardless of how you actually consumed the content.
And then I think the feedback is generally important. So you want to test. You want to measure. You want to learn. You want to see kind of what’s working, because you don’t know what you don’t know. So you know, if you design a wireframe that you think is the end-all, be-all, and it’s going to increase conversions, and it flops dramatically, then you want to kind of figure out why aren’t people actually engaging in the content the way that I think that they’re going to; and then, you know, test different call to actions, different buttons, different colors, different types of images, just to make sure that you’re actually transforming the site the way that you want and making it better.
Carman Pirie: So when you were working through AdvancedEnergy.com and bringing through this latest iteration, I guess, how did you incorporate that CRO process into the redesign process? Was the testing conducted more on the front-end, at the mock-up stage? Or has it been something where we’ve been iterating the site on a more ongoing basis, from, let’s say, more of a minimum viable product type of launch? How have you approached that, I guess, to conduct the testing that you’re speaking of?
Christina Liebman: Sure. So I think, well, where we started was, we actually started at the persona level. And we identified key personas that actually would come to the site, and what they were looking for, and how their buying process differed. And then we had to build a navigation, or an information architecture, that actually served up the products that we offered, but in a simplistic format so they were easy to find, easy to navigate, and provided the information that the manufacturing audience was looking for.
We also incorporated a number of tools, where they could compare product to product, or they were able to justify an ROI on spend, because that actually helped with the decision-making process. We met with product marketing. We met with customers. We met with leadership. We gathered all this buy-in at the get-go, and then kind of took that, and internalized all that, and came out with, “Okay, these are our recommendations. Here’s how we think we need to change the navigation. Here’s how we think people are going to search for these products,” and then did some usability testing just to make sure that our assumptions were, in fact, correct.
So you know, we built out a dummy navigation, and asked people to do a series of tasks in the website. And we wanted to understand where they got lost, where they faltered, and how they actually, you know, engaged in, or how they actually moved to deeper throughout the site. So that was kind of the initial phase. And then once we got there, we worked through the navigation … I mean, not the navigation, the wireframes, just to make sure that the design was what we thought it should be; and then layered everything on top of analytics, so that we could test, we could learn, we could see what was happening on the back-end and refine as we moved forward.
Jeff White: Now, where you were coming from, an existing site that was obviously, you know, given the age of it, it probably wouldn’t have had the, necessarily, the same amount of flexibility to try these things out, or to kind of see how conversions were happening, or things like that. What were you basing your decisions on, in terms of how you were structuring the content? Was it entirely around the conversations with product owners and customers? Or was there any data you were able to pull from the old website to bring into play?
Christina Liebman: Yeah. So we definitely leveraged data from the old website. And one of my biggest recommendations was to not skip on a content management system. So you know, that’s very important, because that allows you to scale. That allows you to add more geographical sites, if you will. It allows you to easily add pages. It allows you to have site administrators that can manage the content without having to be HTML experts, if you will. So that was a big, key driver for the site.
Jeff White: Was the CMS-choosing process arduous for you? Or did you work with an agency partner?
Christina Liebman: Well, I’ve done so many of these sites, I’m quite familiar with the platforms. I didn’t want … This company isn’t huge, by any means, so they didn’t need to be sold kind of the best. So we kind of migrated, or we kind of recommended sort of a mid-tier approach that would actually solve all of our problems without having too much of a spend. And then it was important that the site integrated into our marketing automation platform, too, so that we could actually manage conversions across the site, and track user behavior and lead scoring models.
Carman Pirie: I think one of the biggest questions that I get, that, frankly, if I’m being really, really honest, I find tough to answer, because it’s one of those things that it’s just been a while, I guess, since I’ve experienced it from the client side; and therefore, my point of view on it is skewed; and that’s the question of, how long does it take, or how much client-side resources should be being allocated to a redesign initiative? When people are heading down this path, when should they have it in mind? Like, this is going to be one person’s job, 50% of the time for six months. This is going to be a committee of 200, required for the next 30 years. Maybe it might feel that way.
I guess, talk to me about that. What’s the level of client-side commitment that you experienced in this redesign, that may speak, I guess, in some way, to the balance of tactical work between yourselves and your agency partners? I’m not sure about that, please.
Christina Liebman: Sure. So that’s an interesting question. I think it depends on the scope and the scale of the site, and what you’re trying to do. With this site, as I mentioned, there was change management internally that had to happen. So we had to actually work with product marketing to make the product marketing pages more conversational, as opposed to like, brochure-ware. So there was some give and take on that, because they wanted all the specs on there, which was great, but we also wanted to kind of take that story up a level, and explain what these products were and how they were going to benefit that end customer. So there was some back and forth on the content writing process, that took a little bit longer than I originally anticipated.
The scope that we had for this particular site was about six to nine months. And it ended up taking closer to a year, just because we decided to make some enhancements, to add some additional functionality and tools. And the other piece that we invested in was, we created digitized renderings of all of our products. So that took a while, because it involved getting the CAD files, making sure that the digital prototype matched the actual product, and then creating the different views of that particular product that could be on the pages.
So that took a little bit longer, but I was much more happy with the end result, having invested in that project.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. I think that’s a common scenario, you know? It takes a little longer than people would hope, and they end up probably requiring some additional content they didn’t think they would need to recreate.
Christina Liebman: Yeah. And so my, as far as your resource question, you know, I had a dedicated person that worked on the content. And she’s awesome, and she built the pages. We also had an agency partner that created kind of the high-level wireframes and site design. And then we did actually, they handed the development off to another agency that built the back-end into the CMS, so that we actually can now take the pages and work through the CMS the way we intended, as opposed to having to have development resources.
Carman Pirie: Understood, understood. And it’s funny. I always … I’m sure the person writing the content would agree with this next statement, right? I always say that everybody underestimates how much time it’s going to take to write content, except the person that’s actually responsible for doing so.
Christina Liebman: Oh, most definitely. Yes. And it was interesting, because you know, the content that we show on mobile isn’t, you know, what we always show on the live site. So we had to kind of take that into consideration, as well. You know, our mobile traffic has gone up exponentially, just because we did spend the time to optimize for mobile, and I think it makes it a lot easier for people to consume that content.
You’re listening to The Kula Ring, conversations on manufacturing marketing. Don’t forget to subscribe now at KulaPartners.com/TheKulaRing. That’s K-U-L-A Partners dot com slash TheKulaRing.
Jeff White: I think it’s interesting, because you know, it was only a few years ago that we were having to justify spending the additional time to optimize a site responsibly, or for mobile devices, or what have you. And now, especially Google has kind of forced everybody’s hand a little bit here. But now, it’s just a given that mobile has a place to play in large, B2B sales context, and that it is, you know, it’s probably providing at least a quarter, if not more, of the total traffic to many, many sites, if not all sites, at this point.
Christina Liebman: Agreed.
Carman Pirie: And of course, because of that dynamic, you have sites that are 15 years old, to your previous site, that certainly wouldn’t have been mobile-optimized. It’s one of, I think, the bigger changes that you see in the analytics, almost right out of the gate, with a redesign in that kind of a scenario. It’s just so obvious that now people are experiencing it via mobile, when they weren’t before.
Jeff White: Yeah. Your site, as well, Advanced Energy is in many countries. And you’re providing content in, I think, about half a dozen languages, maybe more.
Christina Liebman: Yes, yes.
Jeff White: What were some of your thoughts going into that, just knowing about cultural issues, and server issues with China, and all of those different sorts of things? What were you thinking of, in terms of the international strategy, as you approached that part of the site?
Christina Liebman: Yeah. So the international strategy was interesting, because I hadn’t done a full-fledged international site in my previous life. So that was an interesting piece. But we definitely worked with our partners in the various countries to make sure that the content was resonating as it should, and kind of mocked up … We haven’t fully translated this site. That’s our project for next year. So what we have out there is kind of remains of our older site, that is translated, but it’s not the actual English site that we’ve translated, verbatim. That’s next year’s project.
But you know, as we take English and translate it into German, there’s definitely changes that have to happen with the navigation and the spacing, because the words are a lot longer. So we have to kind of take that into consideration. So we’re working through some tools that are going to help us manage that more effectively next year, we hope. We also looked at the server capability and the caching globally, just to make sure that, you know, if you are in China and you’re hitting our site, you’re hitting that CDN that’s going to have the most relevant content to you, so you’re not having to ping back to the US every time you’re trying to download a datasheet.
Jeff White: Right. And are you … You’re not doing eCommerce, presently, with the site?
Christina Liebman: No, no, not yet. They keep talking about that. But right now, I think the next priority is to translate it into kind of the key markets that we serve, and then address the eCommerce platform. I think, in order for us to do eCommerce right, we have to align our internal systems, just to make sure that that works properly. So that’s in the works. I think we might be probably a year out from an eCommerce strategy, though.
Carman Pirie: I think it’s a challenge that a lot of people have as they move to multilingual, multinational sites. Instinctively, they know that there’s an inherent benefit, obviously, in communicating with people in their language, and not forcing them to do business in English. You know, the justification in the other way is often, “Oh, well. English is the international language of business, and therefore, we’re going to have an English website.” But I think most people understand that there’s a benefit to be had there.
But at the same time, the care and feeding of that is not to be underestimated. It’s one thing to get the site translated once. It’s quite another to operationalize and set the framework, so that as site changes happen on an ongoing, weekly, monthly basis, quarterly basis, whatever it is, in a modern web environment, that the translation happens in a way that is not just simply a Google Translate, literal translate tool, but rather something that is more contextual, and has, frankly, a human set of eyes on it.
Jeff White: And search optimized.
Carman Pirie: Yeah.
Christina Liebman: Yeah, yeah.
Carman Pirie: And you know, it’s not like it’s a little bit harder to do six languages, versus four. It’s like, no, it might be exponentially more difficult.
Christina Liebman: Yeah, no, agreed.
Carman Pirie: But I haven’t found an awful lot of … I’ve found that that’s one area where I think people lose their investment enthusiasm. I think that they know that there’s a win there, but they may not necessarily want to pay to get there.
Christina Liebman: Sure.
Carman Pirie: Interesting. I’m curious, what would you say is the biggest pitfall that you experienced in this website redesign; something that happened along the way that was maybe not quite intended, or didn’t play out as you saw at the start?
Christina Liebman: Oh, gosh. That’s an interesting question. There was definitely a number of pitfalls along the way. I think the development time took a lot longer than I originally anticipated it taking, so that was a pitfall. I think … I’m trying to think of what else. You know, working, I think, closely with our product marketing team to kind of revamp their content, it just took some education. It wasn’t really a pitfall, if you will, but it took some kind of getting them to see that the content was a bit different, or needed to be written a little bit different to kind of make it a little bit more conversational. So that was definitely an education piece, as I alluded to before, just to try to explain to them, you know, how they could write content to transform it from one way to the next way.
Christina Liebman: We also created a number of interactive components in this site. So there’s video. There’s tools, and a lot of the tools just kind of aligning on the back-end, kind of how that data needs to be served up. It requires you to kind of think, like, “Okay. If I select A, B, and C, then these are the products that are going to rise to the top.” So it’s thinking through that logic, to make sure that you develop the tool in a way that’s going to generate the right results for that end user.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. I can identify with that challenge. I find that having the idea of building an interactive asset like that is often the easy part. Thinking through how that will actually function can be the challenging side of it.
Jeff White: Especially how it integrates with teams, and sales, and-
Christina Liebman: Sure, yeah, yeah.
Carman Pirie: But of course, usually, it’s worth it at the end. I’ve found that these types of assets tend to convert at more than double that of static, kind of more content-driven conversion assets. Has that been your experience?
Christina Liebman: They do, they do. They definitely convert faster … or, not faster. They definitely convert more, I would say. And then, you know, once we build it, we’re like, “We could have added this functionality or this feature.” So with every tool we build, we have kind of that list of, “Okay. Here’s version two, and here’s how we’re going to make it better. And this is how we’re going to do it,” because sometimes, you don’t really know what you want until you start interacting with it. And then you decide, “Okay. Wouldn’t it be great if it served up this content, or if it sent an email to Mister Salesperson that said, ‘This person searched these five products. Give them a call to follow up.'”
Christina Liebman: So we’ve definitely got a shortlist of kind of enhancements to the many tools that we’ve created, on how we’re going to improve them going forward.
Carman Pirie: I think that’s nice, the instruction on, as well, to people that, just be mindful of the fact that you’re not going to know everything that you need to put into one of those assets at the start. So kind of forge ahead and get version one out there. See how people interact with it and use it. And then you’ll figure out how to improve it after.
Jeff White: Yeah, much to the chagrin of the development team.
Christina Liebman: Sure. No, and the development team we worked with was great. I mean, they had ideas on how to kind of improve things on the UI side, or on the mobile side, or you know, kind of evolve the tools or the ideas that we had. So that was great, because sometimes, you know, you’ve just got to bounce ideas off people, and then get them engaged, and try to explain what you’re trying to do. And then they kind of get on board and offer some suggestions on how to make it better.
Carman Pirie: Christina, this has been a fantastic conversation. There was one thing that kind of struck me, when you talked about how you went about building the site, that I think I just wanted to ask a bit of a parting question on. You noted that you had worked with one firm around the design and strategy for the initiative, and then another on the development. I think that’s actually a common approach. Were there any problems with the translation from one to the other? Or did you feel like you were getting, everybody was sticking to their knitting, so to speak, and doing what they were good at? Or did you feel like there was something lost in the translation between working with two partners?
Christina Liebman: Oh, there was a lot lost in the translation. Yeah. So basically, we had hired one firm to actually do the front-end and the back-end. And then midway through the process, that firm was acquired by another company. And so they actually recommended that we outsource the development to another agency that they found, that was completely savvy in the CMS platform that we chose.
But what we ended up doing was, or what we ended up seeing, was that the handoff wasn’t as seamless as we thought it was. And then there was constant … We experienced a lot of finger-pointing, where, “Oh, they didn’t do that. They didn’t do that. That wasn’t my job. That’s not my responsibility. That was theirs,” so it was back and forth, when we were in the middle.
Now, I have done these types of projects, where it’s worked better. This one was a little bit more painful, I think, than it needed to be. And I think that because the two agencies hadn’t worked together in the past, that’s where we ran into a lot of disagreements, or a lot of finger-pointing, if you will. You know, normally, a developer will sit down with a UI designer to kind of understand how they want that flow to actually happen, so that the developer understands how to actually build the back-end environment to make it so. And that didn’t happen here. So we would see a lot of development work, where we would say, “Okay. That’s not really how we want this to look.” And then it was, “Oh. We’re going to have to go back and change it, and we’re going to have to charge you guys for that.”
So there was a lot of conversations, if you will, to that end, because I wasn’t really happy with kind of the handoff and the management, because there wasn’t kind of that central person that represented both parties on either side.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. It sounds like that was a bit of product of a pretty unique situation with that acquisition.
Christina Liebman: Yeah, it was. And it wasn’t the best, but thankfully, I’ve done enough of these that I kind of knew how to manage it. But it definitely could have been done better. Now, I think, you know, we’re happy with the end result. But I can’t say it happened without some pain. Yes, yes.
Carman Pirie: There’s usually some blood and sweat along the way. Well, Christina, thank you so much for shedding some insight into this process. I think that for a lot of listeners who may be just staring down the barrel of a website redesign, I think you’ve really helped shine a light around a few of those dark corners and illuminate where they may want to keep their eyes open, in order to make, hopefully, the process be a little smoother for them.
Christina Liebman: Sure, no. I’m happy to.
Carman Pirie: That’s fantastic. Thanks so much. It’s been great chatting.
Christina Liebman: All right. Thank you, guys.
Jeff White: Thank you.
Thanks for listening to The Kula Ring with Carman Pirie and Jeff White. Don’t miss a single manufacturing marketing insight. Subscribe now at KulaPartners.com/TheKulaRing. That’s K-U-L-A Partners dot com slash TheKulaRing.