Most IT vendors have come to realize that their websites should be more than gloried product brochures.
Yet, the transition has been more evolutionary than revolutionary.
Blogs that initially highlighted breakthrough vegan dishes for the cafeteria gave way to communicating perspectives on industry issues. These same blogs transitioned to thought leadership platforms that begot a rethinking of the corporate website. The exercise saw product information take on secondary importance as companies figured out the more they could deliver insights, education and information that helped the target audience do their jobs, the stronger the connection. And if a sizable chunk of this content wasn’t in the public domain or easily accessible, the value multiplied.
Salesforce deserves credit as one of the IT vendors leading this charge. When it hired Ziff Davis veteran Peter Coffee over 10 years ago, it signaled a belief that if you build it — journalistic-like content that serves the needs of the audience, albeit, framed by the vendor’s purview — prospective customers will absolutely come. Now the journalist toiling for IT vendors has become de rigueur. Pete Lewis took his New York Times and Fortune pedigree to HP. Quentin Hardy left The New York Times last year for Google. Brian Fuller’s gift for translating complexity into cogent stories for EE Times now benefits ARM. And the list goes on.
It makes perfect sense for IT vendors to improve the quality of their content by hiring “pros from Dover.”
But has this gone too far? As the headline asks, are websites from IT vendors too good?
Here’s the quandary. The IT vendors taking a progressive approach with their websites tend to be the same IT vendors winning on the earned media front. They value the third-party validation both for brand-building and nudging prospects into the customer category.
But their websites are siphoning traffic from IT trade publications, which in turn hurts their already precarious financial position. The days of IT decision makers viewing trade publications as a daily destiny are gone.
We’re in the midst of surveying IT executives, and our survey includes the question: “When you need information on the data center, is your first step likely to be online publications or the Google search engine?” Early returns show over 80 percent turn to the search engine.
To get a sense of how this plays out in the real world, consider a search on [moving content from the cloud to on-premise]. Half of organic results point the person to a vendor’s website, in this case content from Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Box and Snaplogic.
The IT vendor sites and the IT trade publications are chasing the same attention, a zero sum game, but with one huge difference. The IT vendor sites don’t depend on monetizing that attention to keep the lights turned on and a never-ending supply of Odwalla juices.
Research from IDG got me thinking about this issue. The chart below from an IDG study in 2016 reveals a sizeable gap between technology content sites and IT vendor sites.
Which of the Following Information Sources Do You Use to Keep Up-to-date with New Technologies and to Enhance the Knowledge You Need to be Effective in Your Role?
Nearly 50 percent more IT decision makers view third-party content as key to their jobs over vendor sites.
Now, contrast this data with the IDG study in November 2017 that tweaked its approach to the same issue.
When searching for tech-related information, how do you measure the value of the following content sites?
If I’m interpreting the data correctly, IT decision makers aren’t as concerned about credibility for vendor sites (43 percent) as trade publication sites (55 percent). This equation flips when it comes to brand reputations which seems to say like the player in a poker game with all the chips, “If you’re an IT vendor with a strong brand, you’ve got an opportunity to exert your will.”
But if the IT vendors put too much editorial muscle into their websites, they stand to undermine the IT trade publications that play a valuable role in the overall ecosystem.
I don’t think the answer lies in IT vendors throttling their efforts.
Instead, it’s up to the IT trades to up their game.