Creating A Great Web Site With Great SEO

photo of a construction crane lowering a letter w to the groundHere's a stat to chew on: The average attention span on the Internet is between four and 10 seconds. "It's really frightening," says Jon Gelberg, chief content officer at Blue Fountain Media in New York, N.Y. "When people come to your home page, if they don't immediately get what makes you better than the competition, they're gone and they'll go to the back button, and they'll be at your competitor's site in 10 seconds."

This is why it's so important to be clear about what differentiates you. "Maybe it's a great video or photograph of the work you've done," says Mr. Gelberg. "If it's spectacular, easily seen and the first thing people see, that will get their attention. This is very visceral. People see a beautiful pool or spa and say to themselves, 'This is perfect.' However, having huge blocks of content at the top of your homepage will make people's eyes glaze over. They'll leave your site and go to your competitors."

A top-notch, well designed home page is just the beginning, but if you're thinking a quality website is not in your marketing budget, think again. "If you're putting out a website equivalent to a brochure, you can do that for $3,000 to $5,000, and it will be an attractive site," says Mr. Gelberg. "In terms of one that is really going to drive business, that's often more of an investment."

While many pool and spa businesses do not rely on their websites alone to generate leads, these days the majority of consumers first go online to research luxury items. "If your competition is out there and you're not, you're damaged," says Mr. Gelberg. "Also, if there's a customer complaint on another website out there about your business, when you have your own website, your site shows up higher in search results, so you can control your message more, especially if you have a blog on your site, talking about how great portable spa and pool ownership is, and pool safety, etc. All of that gets picked up by the search engines and it'll be under your name, showing your expertise, so you really get to control your message more."

Prominently displaying testimonials from happy clients is highly recommended, as well. Says Mr. Gelberg, "Buying a pool is such a big investment for people, and if you have a list of positive testimonials, that's going to reassure people because you're looking to build trust."

You're also looking to see people come to your site and stay there a bit. "With Google Analytics, which is free, you can learn where people are coming to your site from, how long they stay, what pages they visit and where they leave," says Mr. Gelberg.

If people spend an average of five seconds on your services page, it tells you they're either finding the information they need and leaving or just leaving because it's confusing. You find out by asking your clients about their experience with your site. This is also ultimately how you find out if the site is generating leads. Google Analytics provides a lot of useful information and some people will fill out quote-requesting forms online, but you must also ask clients where they heard about you to find out if the website is really leading people to call or visit your store.

Sierra Timberline, a dealership in Grass Valley, Calif., uses Google Analytics and has found that the average amount of time spent on its testimonials page is seven to nine seconds. "That to me is perfect," says Steve Barlow, the sales associate who tends to the company website. "That means someone looks at it, they read one or two, and say, 'Wow, they've got a lot of clients and a lot of positive feedback.' So the impression we want is made and we don't need long [to make it]."

One of the most useful pieces of information you can get from Google Analytics is your bounce rate, which indicates the number of people who come to your site, look at your home page and don't do anything else. They leave after seeing your home page. "If your bounce rate is over 60 percent, it's a sign there's something not right with your home page and you should make changes," says Mr. Gelberg. "You find this by following your analytics. These help you figure out when and how to change and reinforce what's working."

Increasing Visibility: SEO

The most beautiful, well designed site doesn't do much good, though, if search engines (and therefore clients) can't find it. You'll want to be sure your site has been search engine optimized. If that sounds like a foreign language, fear not, there are businesses that can do this for you, but it's important to understand what you want done. First off, search engine optimization is the process of improving the visibility of a Website in search engines via the natural or unpaid (often called the "organic") search results. In short: it gets your site to show up early in the unpaid listings.

This process starts with embedding in your site key words that accurately reflect your products and services. But you can't just load up pages with certain words. "Search engines caught up with that and they see it as spam and mark it as spam and you can get penalized for it," says Gelberg. "But it's important to get the terms in there where it's appropriate."

To learn a lot more about how to appropriately place key words and choose title pages to ultimately improve your search-engine ranking, go to www.aquamagazine.com and search for the "Search Engine Ranking Factors Guide," provided by Blue Fountain Media.

Principles In Action

As you consider how your website can be improved, it's helpful to find out what the experts say about a few industry sites. The following dealers were generous enough to let AQUA put their sites under a microscope for closer examination. In addition to a critique of each website by Blue Fountain Media's Jon Gelberg, there's some information from each company about the sites. If you have Internet access nearby, please key in these sites and follow the commentary.

B&B Pools & Spas

www.bbpoolandspa.com

Bruce Bagin, president of B&B Pools & Spas, in Chestnut Ridge, N.Y., says his marketing firm, Marketing Works Now, has a lot to do with the recently redesigned B&B website looking as good as it does. "We're very pleased with the results. They keep poking and prodding us to move it along," says Mr. Bagin.

While B&B does promote its services on the radio, in four-color magazines and, of course, on the B&B website, which Mr. Bagin says is the company's No. 1 means of promotion and definitely drives leads and sales, all these advertising efforts are closely tracked by Marketing Works Now.

"We use that information to fine- tune where we're spending our advertising dollars because obviously with the economy the way it is, we're extremely conscious of where we spend those ad dollars and we need the most bang for the buck," says Mr. Bagin.

As far as what changed on the B&B site in the 2011 redesign, the photo gallery and safety section were expanded, and Marketing Works Now focused on making the site easy for search engines to find and easy to navigate with a layout that's pleasing to both eyes and ears.

Creating effective copy for a pool and spa website is not as difficult as it might seem. "You want copy that clearly indicates what you do, so that when people arrive at your site, they find what they're looking for," says Marc Sabin, co-owner of Marketing Works Now. "The copy needs to talk about what you do while reflecting the search terms people may use to look for your products."

In addition to well written copy, more can be done to improve your site's organic listing in search engine results. "Be sure to have all your metatags and search terms built into the back end of the Website, and also be sure your photos are searchable," says Mr. Sabin. "Ideally, whoever creates your site has a sense of both what your business does and also how the Internet search engines work."

Marketing Works Now manages B&B's Facebook and Twitter accounts, which exist, says Sabin, to drive people to the B&B website, where they can really get a better sense of the high-quality pools and spa B&B offers. "Another advantage of Facebook and Twitter is these things are being updated on a weekly basis right now, and as those updates go out, anybody who is a friend of B&B will get a message about whatever is going on, whether that's a sale or another promotion."

Critique

PRESENTATION: Terrific presentation. The design is clean, the navigation is simple and you lead visitors to the appropriate landing pages with clear sectioning of your home page. Great imaging on your internal pages, especially the pools page.

CALLS TO ACTION: Probably the weakest part of the site. You need a phone number large and prominent on the home page. The "Request Estimate" is tiny and buried in the bottom navigation.

MESSAGING: Biggest issue with the messaging is that the messages are in tiny fonts and almost impossible to read. Online visitors don't have the patience for that.

BEST PART: Clear presentation and ease of navigation.

Sierra Timberline

www.sierratimberline.com

Sierra Timberline in Grass Valley, Calif., offers portable spas as well as outdoor living items like patio furniture and firepits. The retailer hasn't done a major revamp of its website since 2006, but Steve Barlow, the sales associate at Sierra Timberline who administrates the website, says he does monthly updates. "It needs to be fresh, it needs to be active," says Mr. Barlow.

Mr. Barlow, who uses Google Analytics, knows that search engines will find the site with greater ease when the content is updated frequently. "So all the more reason to keep it fresh and alive," says Barlow. In particular, Barlow updates the site's Testimonials page and Specials page at least once a month.

While the Google Analytics tell Mr. Barlow how long people stay on the site and which pages they visit, he believes in many cases, it's hard to know whether just the website itself led to a sale. "When a sale is closed, there's not a single source where they've heard of us," says Mr. Barlow. "We go to home shows and the county fair, participate in other local events, and we've also been around for 34 years. So we see that just about everybody is touched in multiple ways."

That said, Sierra Timberline does not discount the value of its site. "The site is yet another asset, another way for clients to feel comfortable with their decision. If your store is big and impressive, your website should be, too. It's necessary," says Barlow.

The retailer's next step is getting more involved in Facebook, but Barlow says before he makes a big push to get people to "like" the page, he wants to get it built up and then run a promotion. "Some companies have an "ugliest spa cover" contest where people submit pictures of their ugly spa cover and in order to do that, you have to like the page, so that's going to get people on it," says Mr. Barlow. "And even if you don't have an ugly cover, you invite people to vote on the covers, and they have to like your page to vote. Then, of course, you give the winner a new spa cover, and what a great time to also announce a cover sale. You have to give people a reason to like your page β€” it needs to be interactive, incentivized and fun."

Critique

PRESENTATION: The top offerings (stoves, fireplaces, spas, etc.) look like they should be part of the navigation, but are not clickable. This is frustrating for the user.

CALLS TO ACTION: While trying to highlight the elegance of the site, Sierra Timberline overly downplays the calls to action. "I'd like a quote Please" should be far more prominent as should the telephone number (add a "Please Call").

MESSAGING: Like the calls to action, the overall messaging is way too subtle. What you are selling are great products for the home, both inside and out. It takes too much work to get to the actual products.

BEST PART: Multiple, enthusiastic testimonials. These create trust in the products you sell and the services your offer. Maybe feature the most emphatic ones on the home page.

Sonoma Valley Pool & Spa

www.sonomavalleypool.com

When Sonoma Valley Pool & Spa re-vamped its website, which went live in early 2010, Jolie Rozema, who co-owns the business with her husband, Saul Rozema, says, "I wanted to market upscale luxury pool and spa service because we're in Sonoma, California, in the wine country, and that appeals to people here. It was a challenge because I wanted to get the luxuriousness across while still seeming affordable."

The html-based site was reasonably priced, says Ms. Rozema. "A new site can cost upwards of $5,000 or more, but we paid a fraction of that."

Even if the investment is substantial within the scope of your marketing budget, Ms. Rozema believes it's absolutely worth it. "When I looked at how much we were spending on phone book ads, I started polling our clients, asking, 'Where did you find us?' I found most people are looking on the Web. They're not even opening the phone book anymore."

Sonoma Valley's website serves as a brochure where prospective clients can find out more about the services it offers, but it also has some features that make administrating the business easier. For instance, the site has a Payment link clients can click on, and they're then taken to company's Quickbooks online payment site. "About 35 percent of our client base pays online, so it was just a natural fit to have this link on the site. I love that. I send them their bill, it gets paid, and then we get a notification that we've got money, and two days later, it's in our bank account."

There's also a "Request Service" button on Sonoma Valley's site, and when a request is submitted, it's automatically text messaged and emailed to everyone who needs to know about it. Because this expedites the communication process, clients end up getting their problems solved faster.

Yet another feature for the site, which is in the works but not yet live, is an online customer portal where customers can view a digital service tag. "This will eliminate paper service tags, which are an added office expense and can take a bit of time to write out," says Ms. Rozema. "Oftentimes, people don't even look at them, and then call us saying, 'My pool is really cloudy.' With the online portal, we can send them an email notification, indicating when the service tech was there and what he did, and that if the water is cloudy right after the service, it's because the tech shocked the pool with cal hypo. This will be a really great feature."

In addition to the site, which includes a video of Mr. Rozema introducing himself and explaining the services he offers, Sonoma Valley has banner ads in the online version of its local newspaper. "Interestingly enough, a lot of referrals come from these online ads. The ads link to our site, we run them from May through August and it's only about $2,000 for six months of ads."

Critique

PRESENTATION: The first thing that should catch your visitor's eye on the home page is something that shows what you do. A photo of an individual or team servicing a pool would let your visitors know what you do.

CALLS TO ACTION: The most important call to action, your telephone number, is buried at the bottom of the page. The other call to action, "Request Service," gets lost below the video. In fact, it looks as if it is part of the video.

MESSAGING: When you are a service provider, people want a clear presentation of what services you provide. To get to that key information, I had to go from the home page to the "services" page and then to a PDF. That's way too much work on the web.

BEST PART: The "Tech Tips." Here you provide information that is truly useful to your visitors. This kind of information sends the message that you know what you are doing.

Family Pools and Spas

www.familypoolsandspas.com

This Ohio retailer with two locations wanted a website that better represented how the company sells family fun, and so in July of 2010, Family Pools & Spas launched a more colorful and vibrant site, which Mary Pheneger, a store manager, says is still a work in progress. "We keep adding things and updating, and while we don't have it exactly where we want it, we feel like it's directing people to us and the store."

Ms. Pheneger says they receive quite a few leads from the Website β€” five to six a week β€” though she's not sure how many of those leads turn into big-ticket sales. When it comes to smaller items, Ms. Pheneger has noticed a more-direct connection. "On regular retail things, I would say in the last month, we had maybe 10 customers that have come to us for the very first time and quite a few of them, about eight, were from our website. The others had noticed the store while driving by."

Lead generation is a primary goal for most pool and spa websites, and such is the case with Family's site. To encourage people to contact the dealer, familypoolsandspa.com has a "Get Started Now!" email form in the upper right of every page on the site.

A couple of things Ms. Pheneger is still working on are a page that shows the building process in photos or perhaps a video, and the company's Facebook presence. "We're in the process of integrating a new software system from RB Controls and have noticed that RB posts to its Facebook page every day, so we're realizing we need to be a little more active there. We think it can be a really inexpensive way to advertise."

Critique

PRESENTATION: Instead of showing people having fun in a pool, show examples of your work (people interested in pools know it's fun already).

CALLS TO ACTION: Need much stronger calls to action. Phone numbers are small and buried at the bottom of the page. The "Get Started Now" section is stronger, but the "Service" section is fairly jarring.

MESSAGING: When you go to the pool page, it's confusing. They show three pools, but each seems to be done by a different company.

BEST PART: Contact page is filled with strong calls to action, but, as mentioned earlier, much of that should be on the home page.

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