Designing B2B and B2C Websites: A Breakdown of the Differences
General best practices for web design are all over the web, but applying those rules to real WordPress sites you’re building is something else entirely. That’s why I tend to write about how to design WordPress sites for different audiences–like designing for global versus local customers, or designing for users based on age. The one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work in web design.
Of course, best practices are established as the “best” for a reason, so I’m not saying we should stop adhering to them. Instead, I think that, with best practices laid down as a baseline, we should then customize our web design approach based on the audience. One way to do this is by industry segmentation. Another is to break it down by business-to-business (B2B) or business-to-consumer (B2C) sales and marketing.
In the following roundup, I’ve compiled a number of comparisons between B2B and B2C websites and established the key factors that influence those differences. Even if you choose not to specialize in designing for one or the other, this guide will be helpful in defining rules you can abide by when building sites for any buyer type.
7 Key Differences Between B2B and B2C Websites
Before we dig into the differences between B2B and B2C websites, let’s first acknowledge what the two have in common:
- Responsive design
- Clear language
- Intuitive and simplified navigation
- Performance optimization
- Web security
Obviously, your process isn’t going to differ too much in terms of project phases, milestones, wireframing and prototyping, QA, and so on. The framework of your process shouldn’t need to change. The differences then are more in how you approach designing various elements for a B2B or B2C website. So, if you’re nervous that this was going to call for a total revamp of your workflow, don’t be. We’re more talking about mindset and design application than anything else.
With that, let’s get down to it: the 7 key differences between B2B and B2C websites.
1. The Buyer
These are the people responsible for both the decision-making and the purchase.
With B2B websites, you’ll most likely have to wait on a number of individuals to assess the product or service and come to a decision. Studies done by the Nielsen Norman Group break these decision makers down into two types, which, as you might expect, greatly complicates things.
As NNG explains:
“Our studies revealed that there was typically a lot of dialogue and discussion between decision makers (known as ‘choosers’) and key staff that actually use the products (‘users’) during the purchase process. Frequently, a potential ‘user’ would become the main researcher, and would later present options to decision makers. Once this ‘user’ decided on a favorite product, he often became a proxy or surrogate for that product, seeking ways to justify it to his boss (the ‘chooser’).”
Make note of the word “researcher” in that description. Their decision-making process can realistically take days, weeks, or even months to come to fruition. As a result, B2B websites typically aren’t superficial hubs that quickly sell merchandise or services. Instead, they need to be robust portals full of descriptions, specifications, and research to help the buyer come to a decision.
There’s a huge difference between the CEO mulling the decision to purchase a new and very expensive CRM for a team of 20 and a mom-of-four looking for a quick replacement for an appliance that broke in her home. One is going to have an entire team behind them that needs to weigh in and, the other… well, they are going to pull the trigger on their own (most of the time).
B2C buyers will still want to research the product or service, but the turnaround is significantly quicker. They’re probably on your website because they have an urgent need to fill and want an instant solution, so, when designing these websites, there’s really no time to waste.
Understanding the motive behind the purchase will help you craft a website that appeals to those needs or goals:
B2B websites aim to solve real (and usually costly) problems for businesses. In order to sell decision-makers on the validity of the solution and the promise of an ROI, these websites need to thoroughly explain:
- What the solution is
- How exactly it works
- What it does in respect to the buyer’s pain
There’s no point in trying to rush anyone into making a gut decision either. Focus on the benefits and drill it home from every angle possible.
Zoom, for instance, doesn’t just say, “We make business communications better!”
Instead, it focuses on the practical applications of its video and web conferencing platform. Each part of its solution also receives a dedicated page and informational video that explains what businesses stand to gain from it.
Consumers are much easier to appeal to in terms of emotions. Because many of them have arrived at this decision in order to fulfill an urgent need or to find a great deal, emotional branding is much more effective.
This is why you’ll see more done to increase the sense of urgency and appeal to a need to fill a void on these websites.
Here’s an example from Travelzoo:
As you can see, super attractive images are used to appeal to consumers’ senses. There is also a strong focus on the need to get away and to do so now while there are great rates on it.
Design is a pretty broad term, but, for the purposes of this point, I’m using it to explain the general aesthetic and vibe of a website.
As a WordPress writer, most of the B2B companies I engage with are SaaS companies with solutions that help me run my business better. I’m going to guess your experience is similar. As such, we’re well aware of the style used to design these kinds of websites:
- Minimal design
- Safe choices when it comes to typography and imagery
- Bold swatches of color, though usually color choice isn’t too outlandish
Overall, B2B websites present a mostly buttoned-up image. And you can often tell what kinds of businesses they target based on the design. For example, look at a web hosting company like GreenGeeks.
Its website is, for the most part, conservatively designed. However, the top banner with the black background and use of bright green text stands out. They’re clearly trying to attract a very specific type of eco-conscious (and perhaps intense?) buyer.
There will be cases where a conservative brand appeals to a consumer audience and will design its website much like a B2B company would. But I’d say, in general, B2C websites tend to have a lot more fun with design, so long as it aligns with the brand’s overall look.
- Large, eye-catching imagery is almost always present (with minimal text laid atop or around it).
- Typography, spacing, and layout can break rules so long as readability isn’t compromised.
- Color and movement play a huge role in directing visitors to where they should go (that whole sense of urgency thing again).
One of my favorite examples of this is the YOTEL website.
The website is littered with shades of purple while all-capped headers tell visitors exactly what they need to know.
The way the content is written for the website will greatly differ between B2B and B2C websites, too.
When writing content for a B2B website, you have to be careful as you’re speaking to a mixed audience. And it’s not just the differences between user and chooser either.
If the website caters to different industries, you need to write content that is generic enough and free of jargon that it could speak to any decision-maker (which is tough). Conversely, you could write content that speaks to users in different segments; however, this requires building out dedicated pages for each.
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Take G Suite, for example.
Rather than talk to all business owners about their communication pains and vaguely explain how G Suite can relieve them, it has anticipated who its audience is and created pages that explain the benefits for each.
On the other hand, B2C websites can make content be as simple as possible. Really, it depends on what the solution is and how easy it is to explain and sell to a customer.
With something as simple as Grammarly, there isn’t much to it:
In fact, the top header does a pretty good job explaining and showing how the tool works.
Without the call-to-action button, it’ll be difficult to guide your visitors to conversion. But conversion looks different on these two kinds of websites.
Because the decision to buy doesn’t happen instantaneously with B2B customers, these kinds of websites should use a variety of CTAs. This way, you can reach prospects at different points in their journey, whether they’re first learning about the product, conducting deeper research, exploring pricing options, reaching out to schedule a demo, and so on.
B2B websites need to give a variety of options to educate and make contact, and you can do this by using a robust system of CTAs as Sysco does:
Aside from the home page, it’s okay if CTAs are placed lower on the page. That is, so long as they appear directly after a relevant and educational section that helps educate the visitor.
On B2C websites, there’s no time to waste. Consumers know what they need, they’ve located it, they’ve confirmed that they can trust it, and they’re ready to buy. Don’t give them a maze of CTAs and pages to work their way through.
Let them take action immediately as premiere retailers like Zappos do:
Then, continue to use strongly-colored and above-the-fold-placed CTAs to direct the visitor through checkout and to the sale:
6. Contact Forms
On a related note, the way in which you design contact forms depends on how quickly the end user anticipates getting through the conversion process.
In general, there is a lot more information to collect in B2B communications. There are also different reasons why you would want to collect information, which means you need to build a variety of contact forms to fulfill those purposes.
Whereas the rule “only include fields you need” still applies, there is a lot more you have to ask from them. And you know what? These users will be okay with it. They want you to take the time to understand their needs and properly evaluate their queries.
Here is an example from Ironpaper.
Because their agency handles different kinds of marketing and design, it makes sense that they’d ask prospects to explain their needs and send over a link to their website for pre-assessment.
On B2C websites, there are different opportunities to collect information from visitors, but your goal should always be to ask the bare minimum as Ulta does here:
While it would be nice to ask what kinds of cosmetics or skincare the subscriber is interested in (for personalization purposes), now is not the time to pester them. Allow users to manage their own subscriber account, set their communication preferences, and choose how they want it personalized, so you can keep contact form intake quick.
7. Social Proof
There’s no doubt about it: social proof goes a long way in building trust and sealing the deal with conversions. It’s just handled differently between the two.
Because the lifecycle of the decision-making process is so much longer, a B2B website should include as much social proof as possible. For instance:
- Client testimonials (for services)
- Customer reviews and ratings (for products)
- High-profile company logos (of previous clients or current partners)
- Case studies
- Comparison tables pitting your product against the competition’s
- Awards and other recognition
- Blog and press
- White papers and other original research you’ve penned
- Social media links
- Pricing table callouts that indicate popularity of products or services
Dropbox Business uses logos from extremely well-known companies as proof of the power of its solution.
Find your unique and impressive social proof and capitalize on it.
With consumers, this is simple: include real customer ratings and reviews. Collect your own. Pull them in from Google. Allow another third-party (like ThemeForest or Amazon) to aggregate them. Do whatever you have to do to get real feedback from customers and let prospects use their words to sway them as See’s Candies does:
Not only that, they also include social share links, so current customers can share the love.
While you may encounter other ways in which B2B and B2C websites differ (like in how they deliver support or handle content marketing), those aren’t things to concern yourself with now. Get yourself into the B2B or B2C mindset and, then, focus on the essential elements influenced by the needs of your target audience so you can more effectively plan your WordPress website projects.