Do a Google search for any random company and you’ll likely find that about, well, all of them have a web presence.The sites usually take the form of MyCompanyName.com, and are packed with information about the businesses — from stats about the products or services they sell to pictures of the employees and the owner’s dog.
The best websites show up on the first page of a Google search and single-handedly draw more sales. However, a great many pool-industry websites are due for an upgrade … perhaps even a complete overhaul. If you’re wondering whether it’s time to make some serious online modifications, David Carleton, CEO of Spa Pool Marketing Success in Portland, Ore., has provided a few ways to tell if changes may be on the horizon for your site:
1) You’re not ranking high enough in a Google search
If someone’s looking to purchase a new hot tub in Chicago, she may have a pre-existing relationship with one or two retailers in town. But the average customer wants to get the best deal possible, which will involve doing a Google search for all stores in the area. Googling the terms “hot tub” and “Chicago” is the obvious first step, and you want your store to pop up as the No. 1 entry on page one. Why is being on page one so important? Well, when’s the last time you searched for something on Google and bothered clicking onto page two?
Carleton notes that Google is in the business of making it easy for site users to find exactly what they’re looking for. So when users put in their search terms and hit that “Enter” button Google begins searching its databases and files for results that best match their query. And those results are based on Google’s algorithms, which change hundreds of times a year. The algorithms shift in order to keep up with the number of webpages that are created and updated all over the internet every second of every day. This means that whatever techniques you were using once upon a time to make sure your business came up higher in a search result, may not really apply anymore.
To rank higher in those search-engine results, you must remember three very important letters: S-E-O. That stands for Search Engine Optimization, or making it easy for the Google search engine to find your site and pass it along to its users. And the best way to do that is to update your site on a regular basis.
Such activity doesn’t have to be daunting or take place daily. Something as simple as putting a blog on your site and making updates at least every two weeks can make a difference, says Scott Reynolds, CEO of The Get Smart Group, a marketing and web design firm based in Angels Camp, Calif. He notes that this frequency level is fairly manageable and won’t bring on the stress and strain that daily updates can cause.
And don’t think that you have to spend hours coming up with clever, lengthy blog posts. Reynolds suggests even just uploading hot-tub installation photos every so often. Take a few pictures of the work being done, and write a few captions or a paragraph to go along with the photo. And include the brand name of the hot tub they’re installing — this will help your store come up higher in search engine rankings if someone’s Googling that specific brand name. Other simple blog topics can include announcements about special store events, seasonal store hour changes, or even a short profile on the employee of the month.
If you don’t have time to update a blog, you can always hire someone to do it. “It’s cheaper than you think and provides an amazing long-term benefit,” says Reynolds.
2) Your site was built more than five years ago and looks outdated
Five years may not seem like a very long time, but in terms of technology it might as well be a millennium. Laptops, iPads and cell phones typically get tossed aside after about two years in favor of newer models — and with good reason. The next generation of any technological gadget is always going to be more user-friendly, secure and, oftentimes, just a lot prettier than its earlier counterpart.
Websites are no different. “If a site is more than five years old, in 95 percent of the cases it [needs] a total teardown,” says Reynolds.
He said that many of the web development rules of yesteryear have changed so much in such a short amount of time that, when sites are this old, businesspeople are better off completely revamping them as opposed to making small changes here and there.
Joe Stone, CEO of Swim Fitness, a swim spa and hot tub dealer based in Sacramento, Calif., launched his website in 2010 when the business first opened, but then took it through a large transformation five years later. He made the upgrades because his site kept crashing and it took a while to load. Besides fixing these problems, the upgrade left the site looking much sleeker. Instead of static photos, it has scrolling high-resolution images on the home page that give it a more modern feel.
3) Your website isn’t mobile friendly
Cell phones aren’t just for calling, texting and playing Angry Birds when you get bored. They also are used to do research on pool and spa products and services.
“Across the board we’re now seeing about 65 percent of all website traffic in the industry is from mobile devices,” Reynolds says. “And that’s not a tablet, that’s actually a phone.”
That’s why making your site mobile friendly is very important. If people don’t see what they need to see right away on a mobile device, they will click away and go elsewhere, Reynolds says.
He recommends checking how the site looks on your phone as well as those of coworkers, employees, and anyone else with a device different from yours. The images and copy should be easy to read, and viewers should be able to gather information with minimal scrolling. You also can go to MobileTest.Me to enter in your website and get an idea of how it looks on a variety of mobile devices, including tablets.
There is a design trick that should pre-emptively help your site translate well on any device: Make sure any hyperlinks in the copy are spaced out and that the text is large enough to read on the go, suggests Luke Bastin, SEO specialist and CEO of TinderPoint, a marketing and design firm based in Dublin, Ireland.
4) Your site isn’t positioned as an educational tool
Hot-tub installation photos and pictures of adorable children splashing around in a pool are all well and good, but the main purpose of a website is to turn site visitors into sales leads. And the best way to perform that conversion is to offer customers the one thing they’re really looking for on your site — information.
Hot tubs, patio furniture sets and inground pools are relatively large financial investments, so consumers want to learn as much as they can before they set foot into a store to speak to a salesperson, Reynolds says. Therefore, your site should provide answers to questions that will help turn website visitors into customers: How much do your hot tubs cost? What warranties do you offer? How long does installation take?
“These are questions that normal buyers will have about your products and services,” Carleton says.
Providing this information can be as simple as adding a “Frequently Asked Questions” and/or an “About Us” page outlining the makes and models you sell and providing some background information on your services.
Carleton also cautions against expecting a “Click Here to Join Our Newsletter” button to convert visitors into leads.
“Nobody cares about your newsletter,” says Carleton. “Nobody wants more emails. They want information [about your products]— so information about a sale in a newsletter is of no value.”
Your efforts are better spent on providing concrete facts about the products and services you offer, which will help customers make an informed buying decision.
5) Your site lacks social media links
Social media may seem like a very annoying aspect of modern living, but taking part in the conversations floating around on Twitter and Facebook can help promote your business.
Besides, adding Twitter or Facebook links to your site can provide a quick way for consumers to communicate with your company. Many customers take to a store’s Facebook page, for example, to ask questions about a product or praise an experience they had with someone in the company. Yelp links also make it easier for people to read and leave reviews about your business. And if you’re savvy enough to post videos on YouTube, you should put that link up as well. For instance, one video could feature your staff teaching viewers how to care for their pools and spas in the winter.
Social media links also can help maneuver Google’s algorithms and bump your site up in its search-engine ranking.
“One of many things Google looks at when ranking a website is how many inbound and outbound links a site has,” Carleton says. “So adding your social media links can help with the outbound portion.”
Social media links are typically a standard part of website design, says Peris Meeks, CEO and web designer of Los Angeles-based Micro Skeems. But if you don’t have any on your site, then it’s time to call your webmaster and remedy the situation.
6) You can't add content without a webmaster
Website updates need to take place more frequently than ever, so it’s imperative that business owners have the power to make those updates themselves rather than calling on a webmaster, who will likely charge by the hour for his or her services, anyway.
So, once your webmaster is finished revamping the site, make sure the two of you have a little how-to-make-updates tutorial.
7) Your photos aren't working for you
If you visit TLC Outdoor Living’s website and click on “Galleries,” you’ll find a collection of postcard-worthy backyard projects that the company has completed within the past few years. These photos alone are responsible for a fair bit of the traffic that walks through the doors of the retail store in Katy, Texas. “They’ll come into the store and say, ‘We saw this picture on your website, and we want something like that,’” says Jessica Harkins, partner at TLC Outdoor Living. Whenever the retailer finishes a project, staffers upload high-quality images to the site within a few weeks.
TLC relies on professional photographers to shoot their finished projects, and Meeks recommends that you do the same. Your team worked long and hard to make every aspect of that backyard look perfect, and there’s no reason to lose that to an out-of-focus shot or bad lighting.
“You can sell more with a photo than you can with words,” Meeks says.