“Our website is our online brochure,” I often hear from owners of small industrial companies.

Given my pre-Internet, print media background, I understand this mindset. Back in the day, a brochure was something a small manufacturer created to help communicate its capabilities and products / services.

These brochures were often written in-house and designed by a local printer. They definitely weren’t sexy. At one of the small companies at which I worked, the local PIP office printed these materials. (Today you can also get them done at FedEx Office stores, Staples or Vista Print.)

When the Internet came into play, it made economic and marketing sense to create a “brochure” website: once you created your website, you could simply point people to a URL.

No more print costs. No more having to throw away outdated materials. Just set . . . and forget. (Judging from the copyright dates I see on many industrial websites, this is exactly what small companies have done.)

A brochure, however, isn’t a website.

Let’s just start with the basics: One, a brochure is paper. Two, it’s static – meaning, it doesn’t change. And three, you can’t do anything with it. Try as I might, I simply cannot touch a word on the page and have my “touch” get me to a new place within the brochure.

A traditional static paper brochure.

A traditional static paper brochure.

So right there, you can see that a brochure isn’t a website and vice-versa.

But, it goes much further than that. A website isn’t a brochure for other reasons as well – and these reasons have to do with the web itself.

1. We read differently online.

When I first started my business in 1998, I religiously read the Starch Tested Copy newsletter – a for-fee print newsletter worth its weight in gold. This newsletter tested ad copy effectiveness. One thing I learned from their tests is that if an ad or other piece of printed material wasn’t designed correctly, reader comprehension plummeted.

With printed material, our eyes start at the top left corner and move to the right and down. Anything that violated this movement lowered the ad’s effectiveness.

Ha! Those days are gone. Thanks to the Internet and all the online clutter, we’ve become a nation of ADD readers – as you can see in the following eye tracking video. (You only need to watch the first 47 seconds.)

And what’s the first thing this BBC News reader clicks on? “Octopus snatches coconut and runs.” Never underestimate the power of a good headline. 🙂

As you can see, we no longer read in a linear fashion. Which means that when you create your web content, less is definitely more.

If you want higher conversions – or even to simply get your message across – you need to minimize distractions – a point borne out by the research study KoMarketing Associates and I published in March 2014.

Distractions really, really, really annoy B2B buyers – so much so, they’ll leave a website.

website annoyances

2. Content has to cross devices

One thing I’ve had to train myself to do, when developing websites for my clients, is think beyond the desktop.

Yes, desktop usage is still key for business-to-business companies. This makes total sense as Google’s research has shown that we use our desktops when in serious work mode. [Source: The New Multi-screen World, Google]

But! Content also has to be “mobile” because we’re using our smartphones to help us do our work.

In fact, according to Google, 98% of survey respondents move between devices each day.

Recently I did a tour of metal shredding facility. Think industrial. Think dirt and noise. Think hard hats, steel-toed boots, and earplugs (the noise was deafening).

Yet, the yard manager giving us the tour constantly referred to his smartphone. He wasn’t anywhere near a desktop – and probably wouldn’t be anytime soon.

Think about this guy . . . he may need a part or he may need to contact your company but he doesn’t have you in his contacts list.

He quickly does a search for your company but because your website is so poorly designed – and delivers such a poor user experience on a smartphone – he gives up and moves on to your competitor (who was smart enough to have a custom responsive website developed).

A “brochure” website isn’t going to cut it in this type of always connected, “I need it now” environment.

As an aside, I had to laugh while at ICON14 last month. Hootsuite gave a good presentation about social media and at the end offered a free e-book. The majority of people in the room were on tablets. Here’s the screenshot of what I encountered when I accessed the URL using my iPad. D’oh!


3. Websites have a “back end” – and its name is Google.

On May 20, 2014, Matt Cutts announced Google was rolling out Panda 4.0. Panda is a series of updates targeted at websites with “spam” content. You can find hundreds of articles about Panda (and Penguin and Hummingbird), so I won’t repeat what’s already been said.


What I find interesting about all these updates is that Google is becoming smarter and smarter . . . and smarter.

As I tell my clients and those business owners who call me inquiring about a website overhaul, Google’s search results are now based on a multitude of factors:

  • Whether you’re logged in or out of a Google property when you do your search
  • If you use Google+
  • Your location
  • Time of day and day of week
  • Past search history
  • Recent online purchases
  • Device
  • Who you are (age, gender)
  • Browser

Google’s algorithm is less like a machine . . . and more like your friend. The more it knows and understands you, the more it returns search results based on what it thinks you’re looking for.

*****High quality search results, I might add. The kind of content other people like you have found useful, authoritative and credible.***** 

In other words, Google has become very attuned to you . . . and knows, based on the factors above (plus others) that when you’re searching for “afternoon tea” while standing in front of Buckingham Palace at 4:00 in the afternoon, you’re most likely looking for a place that serves afternoon tea – not teapots.

A brochure website, with its vastly limited content, poor user experience and out-dated print-based paradigm, simply cannot compete in this new world.

And, if you’re still relying on a brochure website to drive online business, it’s most likely why it isn’t getting found in Google or generating inquiries for you.

What do you think? Have additional ideas to share? Please do so in the comments section.

  • Fantastic article Dianna.

    A nice benefit of a website over a brochure is that there’s the ability to research how people are using your site – what they’re looking at/for versus a brochure where you don’t know that. It means you can work on making it more effective iteratively and regularly, rather than a once-a-year print run of a new brochure.

    • Rachel — excellent point. I have more reasons why a website isn’t a brochure but wanted to keep this article to a shorter length. 🙂

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  • Mary Cullen

    Thanks so much for this clarification.

    The challenge for me in shifting away from the brochure mentality is eliminating clutter. I was so tempted to use sliding banners on our latest website design because they can present multiple solutions, but your BtoB Website Report alerted me that viewers strongly dislike sliders. (You saved me on that one!) Having to distill the message cleanly is actually much harder, but so essential.

    Rather than fill the pages of a brochure, I’m continually trying to whittle down the message on our website to tightly reflect our core company value that helps our ideal client.

    Your articles continually help me keep focus on our site’s real business function. Thanks!

    • Mary — Thanks for the feedback (and the compliment as well). I’ve found that it is difficult to shift away from the brochure and the 8 1/2″ x 11″ mindset — but once you do, it frees you up to think much differently.

    • That’s so interesting Mary – I never thought about the “must-fill-the-space-up” mentality coming from a print background. I hear that a lot and it just doesn’t make sense on the web (especially when web designs adapt depending on your screen size so there’s not a consistent amount of available space.)

      PS Glad you didn’t use the slider!

  • edgandia

    The Holy Grail of search. I knew it would come to this, eventually! 😉

    Thanks for such an insightful post, Dianna!

    • You’re welcome, Ed. And thanks for stopping by.