Pharma web projects – lessons from mainstream acquisition marketing

In the first of a series of three articles on harnessing a data-driven digital strategy, Nick Woolnough looks at the solid foundations on which websites should be built in order to attract and convert visitors in the short, medium and long term.

Based on a talk that Nick – Head of Marketing Operations at StrategiQ – recently delivered at the Pharma Multichannel Marketing Meetup, this series isolates the challenges that may be faced by pharma companies when attempting to adapt their development and marketing methodologies to match their fast-moving, iterative surroundings.

“If you build it they will come”

It might have worked for Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams but this quote is far less relatable in the field of website, app and software development. Brands can fail to recognise that simply being a major player in your space isn’t a guarantee that your website will perform and acquire new visitors.

At times a victim of its regulatory sign-off process, the pharmaceutical industry can be somewhat held back when it comes to creativity, with web development being a prime example of how the end result can suffer as a consequence. However – as contrary as it may sound – the primary factor behind a failed web project is very rarely down to the level of creative input. It comes down to how that creative input is channeled.

Solid foundations – giving consideration to the basics

Common user experience principles and Google’s web development fundamentals exist for a reason. They are not there to stifle creativity, but to provide a framework for success.

“Attempting to produce something truly groundbreaking, innovative or astonishing cannot be a benchmark for project success as it isn’t really measurable and even if it was, what difference does that make to the bottom line of the business?”

First and foremost, any web project needs to harmoniously address both the needs of the end user and the company themselves. If this balance is weighted too far in either direction the site won’t perform against its overall objectives. Create a visually stunning, resource-rich website that provides great value to the user but leaves them confused as to how to get in touch or buy, then the project has failed. Conversely, if you focus too heavily on your own conversion metrics and jam call to action buttons and pop-up contact forms all over every page, regardless of where that page sits in a user journey, the site will fail to perform.

This is where the marriage of creativity and data can be so impactful. Start with a sitemap that is signed off by all stakeholders and reviewed against real examples of how people are using your current site through Google Analytics and UX analysis tools such as Hotjar and ensure this has been used to influence planning your new site. This then provides the framework from which creativity can blossom (within the remit of compliance, anyway!).

Over simplify or over complicate?

A loaded question as clearly, you’d do well to steer clear of both. A stripped back brochure site may simplify the user journey and allow the aesthetic qualities to shine through, however if not carefully targeted, will lack the keyword focus and depth of content to generate organic traffic from search engines. The impact of a large, unwieldy site can be even more difficult to manage, with the prospect of pages within your website competing with one another in the search engines or Google’s crawl bots (their technology for discovering and indexing your pages) getting completely lost within your navigation and overlooking key pages. There’s a middle ground to be found, which again comes back to ensuring the sitemap is signed off by all stakeholders ahead of design and development.

The bad news – your website is never finished

You may have been unfortunate enough to have been part of one of those ‘never-ending’ web projects where milestones shift, deadlines drift and before you know it the website feels outdated before it has even launched. The pursuit of perfection and the ‘cold feet’ that can cause decision paralysis in the final stages of a project have many knock-on effects. One very much stands out though.

“If you never launch the site, how can you measure whether it is working? If you’re not gathering data then you have no basis from which to improve and iterate the website.”

Launching with a minimum viable product and seeing the website as an on-going, iterative process is the best approach and can prolong the shelf life of any platform. The temptation to down tools and claim that the site is ‘done’ when it eventually launches can be overwhelming, but without responding proactively to the way in which actual users are interacting with the site, the platform has a genuinely low chance of success.

Up next

The next article in this three-part series will look at the role of content in acquisition marketing, followed by practical tips on how to listen to the ‘silent majority’ that browse your website in order to noticeably improve your websites user experience. Sign up for the twentyeightb newsletter to stay up to date with these upcoming articles and the other useful resources coming up in 2019.