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Mark Johnston is responsible for an array of Microsoft UK websites and blogs aimed at both businesses and consumers.

Below, he talks about the complexity of meeting the needs of numerous stakeholders and personas, and how his team has developed a framework of responsive web templates partly as a result of exponential mobile traffic. 

What sites are you responsible for?

I am responsible for the UK sites on www.microsoft.com and a bunch of other campaign microsites, social channels and blogs. There are in the region of 60 sites to be managed. That’s quite a total. But Microsoft is a complex business, serving many audiences through a broad portfolio of offerings.

In fact, one of my first jobs in the role 10 months ago was to rationalise the smaller, less frequented sites. That took the portfolio from around 90 down to 40 sites (but we’ve grown it back up slightly as new products like Surface come online).

To what extent is your web strategy locally decided versus being overseen from Redmond? 

The team in Redmond delivers the big pieces of the infrastructure such as technology platforms, template structure and the generic corporate product / customer sites (e.g. the homepage). Our local team then takes those sites and develops local content, experiences and programs to drive our UK business goals. 

The tensions between Corp and subsidiary will be familiar to anyone in a multi-national business. It’s a constant juggling act to ensure we get the balance right. The goal is to provide a consistent approach to websites across geographies, while also delivering the best customer experience to achieve local business goals with fresh, interesting and relevant content. 

Inside the business Microsoft UK has a good profile as a digital marketing innovator. We do a great job at being the first to leverage corporate investments to help us build uniquely UK experiences for our customers.

One example is that the Microsoft.com homepage adopted a responsive template late last year. We were one of the first markets outside the US to apply a responsive modern web framework. Now all our local subsidiary sites are now adopting the framework. 

What are the main objectives for the site?

As it’s a pretty big portfolio of sites – traffic exceeds the tens of millions most months – we have many goals. Generally, I talk to my business stakeholders about the site doing three things really well: 

  1. Outside of retail, it’s one of the first experiences customers have with our products so it has to do a great job at telling the products' story
  2. It’s an acquisition engine for our commercial business and helps direct traffic to key purchase points with consumers.
  3. It’s one of our most cherished customer engagement tools for existing customers, helping them to get the most from the products they use. 

How does the website help you deliver against these objectives? 

First and foremost, it’s a place to share content so we lead with that as the starting point for any brief. I don’t own the content but I ensure that my team does what we do best: 

  • Provide a fantastic content experience that succeeds across all devices, platforms and browsers.
  • Ensure each customer journey is fully optimised and achieves the customer’s desired result. We invest heavily in analytics and optimisation processes to do this.
  • Convert customers at the right stage of their journey to a purchase or action defined by the business. This could be a trial, a referral to a partner or just a download of a valuable bit of content like a product guide. 

One of our biggest highlights this year has been the Modern Web Framework we have developed. It’s a set of responsive templates and components that automates much of the development and production process in deploying content to the main site.

In simple terms our digital agency teams no longer need to invest in building unique templates for every campaign or new site. They can simply take and use our production-ready code. As a result, our creative agencies now focus more upon content creation and less on development.

The two biggest benefits have been the growth in mobile traffic (over 100% growth on our key customer sites) and the dramatic reduction in costs to produce a site. This is now almost zero from a production perspective. 

How do you manage skills and resources within the team?

We operate a hybrid in-house / agency model that works well for us. My UK Online team is a mix of full-time employees and also agency staff embedded in our offices and working seamlessly within the business. We are lucky to have a partner agency in Metia that has worked with Microsoft for over 15 years in the UK and at Corp. They know the landscape and our tools, so operate efficiently inside the firewall. 

This flexibility helps us to refresh the team’s skillset as new priorities emerge each year. Sometimes the balance of the team changes, as sometimes we need new skills. For example, in recent years analytics experts have joined the team. Metia also provides extra capacity when needed.

What are the key types of audience you are trying to cater for, and how do you keep them all happy?

We have a number of key audiences in the UK: 

  • Small businesses
  • Enterprise businesses 
  • Consumers
  • Developers
  • Partners 

We try to keep them all happy by ensuring there are clear destinations on the site when they want to look at products but also ensure there is content that is specifically targeted at them and their specific needs.

It isn’t perfect. As boundaries blur between work and home roles, there are situations when individuals may swap personas mid-journey and their use case objectives contradict.

Having said that, I think we do a good job. One of our biggest successes this year has been the increase in traffic to our Small Business site which has grown by over 200%. The SMB site works hard at delivering on the promise of being customer-centric but product focused. We’re using that as our blueprint for the UK web strategy going forward. 

To what extent is it possible to measure success?

We measure everything. We measure success. We measure failure. We measure relentlessly. (We test a lot too, but that’s another question).

We have great visibility on all aspects of customers engaging on the site so it’s easy to demonstrate our value back to business stakeholders for any business goal up to the point of purchase. 

And where we have a transactional stage in the customer journey which we own (such as Microsoft Store, Office.com, Dynamics CRM), we are able to confirm the revenue contribution made to the business. 

One of our most exciting opportunities is that as more of our products are delivered and sold online, we have the opportunity to apply more rigour around analysing customer behaviour, and then to use that data to optimise their journey and apply predictive techniques to better satisfy, surprise and delight them.

Additionally, if we are able to contribute to a fantastic customer experience, then we improve their return on investment, reduce churn, help sustain the relationship and increase profitability.

What are the main challenges you encounter in running the site?

Keeping the site up-to-date and relevant; and ensuring the content that goes onto the site is valuable to the customer. Our team have to act as the customer champion in questioning the true value of different types of content. Again, we will use data to back up these assertions about what customers actually consume or download. That usually proves our point more effectively than opinions.

To what extent do you personalise the web experience for different types of stakeholder?  

Locally we don’t do as much personalisation as we would like. We focus very heavily on ensuring each destination is as targeted at a particular customer type as possible but currently don’t ask for full authentication which would get us to that next level. 

One of our best sites that is fully personalised is the Microsoft Partner Network which is the main relationship interface that partners have with Microsoft. Partners are offered content choices that align to their specialist interests to help them sell and deploy better. It works well. 

And it is definitely something you’ll see more of in the future. There’s always something more to be done for the future with Microsoft.com. 

Linus Gregoriadis

Published 20 May, 2013 by Linus Gregoriadis

Linus Gregoriadis is Research Director at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn or Google+.

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