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Under the skin of health and beauty websites: what’s the analysis?

It’s a well-known fact that the most powerful form of endorsement for any brand is word-of-mouth. In simple terms: if a friend tells you a product is good, the chances of you trying it out are significantly higher. After all, they’re not being paid by said company to say nice things, so we trust what they say.

When I told my wife I was going to write a blog about hair and beauty websites, I was curious to find out back in the day (before the www – yes – regrettably we can just about remember it!) how women shared their beauty secrets. If a product was great, how did the word spread?

Her reply was: “If a celebrity was using it and it was all over the magazines, you knew it was good. I remember when Maybelline’s Great Lash Mascara came out in the early seventies. All the make-up artists were reportedly using it back stage on models and actresses. There was a buzz around the product. It was aspirational to be seen using it. And what woman doesn’t want a piece of that? If your friend was wearing it, you had to have it.”

Although times have changed and the way we spread news (both good and bad) has evolved, the principles remain the same. Word of mouth and reviews still remain the most powerful way of ‘telling and selling’ your product. According to Marketing Donut, 92% of people trust recommendations from friends and family above all other forms of advertising when making a purchase decision.

And undoubtedly social media has played a huge role in how this word of mouth spreads. Not only is it key that customers talk about your brand, but how and where they talk about it is just as critical. Brand consistency across all channels is vital. We must be talking the same language back to our customers. But is the health and beauty industry really embracing it fully?

My analysis began by looking at over 80 health, beauty, skincare and haircare websites and making a series of ‘health checks’. Namely: is the site responsive; is it mobile-ready; does it engage via social media (and if so, how many platforms?): does it have a blog; does it allow reviews; and does it have any demo/ ‘how to’ videos.

Nearly two years ago I wrote an article for The Red Tree Beauty Consultancy on whether the health and beauty industries really were embracing the age of the mobile. And, to my surprise, I discovered that – in general – they were lagging behind in terms of website best practices. From 37 skincare and 32 haircare brands examined, 59% of skincare were neither responsive nor mobile-ready; and in haircare, 41%.

Two years later, and on a mission to revisit this project to see if anything has changed, it’s still a surprise to see that some key players are yet to catch on (despite both the recent Google developments and ‘Mobileageddon’). I’m not one to name and shame (well, maybe a little..!) but it’s incredible to see global brands like Redken, Bourjois, Lancome and Phyto still having neither a mobile-ready nor a responsive site.

I won’t dwell on all the negatives, as things have improved. Nearly 77% of haircare websites are now responsive and mobile; and in skincare, 78%. Interestingly, in make-up, the overall picture was pretty similar with 76% of sites being ready. But it seems around 20% to 25% of major hair and beauty players are still not keeping up. And the fact is: if you want to get noticed, you must have a mobile-ready and responsive site.

Google rankings are have improved for sites that are optimised for mobile and tablet. Since April earlier this year, when the new analytics came in, 77% of the top ten rankings are mobile-optimised sites. Having a mobile and tablet-ready site not only leads to a better user experience, but not having one pretty much guarantees that you’ll never make it on to the first results search page. Sobering stuff, hey.

It was also an eye-opener to take stock of how things are coming along on the social front too. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Facebook and Twitter are still the most popular platforms; with 92% having Facebook and 76% Twitter. However, given how ‘visual’ the skin, hair and make-up industries are (think constant new styles, shades and seasonal looks and how they easily lend themselves to ‘visual’ social platforms) it does seem that brands are missing a trick by not utilising Instagram and YouTube: only 60% of the sites looked at had these platforms. Pinterest stats were even worse, with only 42% of sites using this platform. This is somewhat strange given that 70% of Pinterest users are women.

Something I didn’t look at last time in my 2013 blog was the impact of new content on websites. This was an emerging trend a couple of years ago, but with the changes in search engine spiders, the need for unique content has never been greater. This means user reviews, demo content and blogs have never been more important.

Bazaarvoice claims that no matter what the industry, the volume of product reviews directly correlates to an increase in sales and is powerful in persuading customers to try new products. Although many online retailers err on the side of caution when it comes to allowing reviews (because of the possibility of receiving negative ones), recent figures from Reevoo suggest that the presence of bad reviews actually improves conversion by 67%. Recent figures also show that 61% of prospective customers read online reviews before making a purchase decision.

Although there were some heroes, again overall I feel that the hair and beauty industries are still not quite with it. GHD, Nars and Aveda were all doing a good job; with Daniel Sandler deserving of an honourable mention. Not only did they have a wealth of customer reviews (good and bad), they were actually engaging one-on-one with customers and replying directly to any comments. This doesn’t just make them seem more real and in-touch, it demonstrates that they’re actually listening to their customers and valuing them on a personal level. Which, if you haven’t figured it out yet, is good news for sales.

However, just over half of hair brands I looked at had reviews. Skincare performed the best, with 76% of sites having them; and in make-up, 64%. The irony of this is that some brands, whose web platform had review functionality built in, were actually not usingit!

So this brings me nicely back to where I started: how do people ‘talk’ about brands and products they like (or more importantly, dislike?) Well…the answer is simple. They tell you. And they tell others – transparently via your own website, channels, platforms and tools. And if they don’t tell you, they’ll tell others via the same mediums. They say good news travels fast. The only thing that travels faster, is bad news.

Is this slightly scary? Maybe. Do we know how to deal with these changes? We’re getting better. But is it going away? Definitely not.

And now I can only think of US president Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous words: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”.

I’m still searching for an understanding of why many brands are not embracing the ages of the social, mobile and customer engagement.

Is it fear? Is it apathy? Or is it something else? Who knows. But perhaps in another two years, the picture might be different.

Watch this space.

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