Website Critique: Sierra Timberline

screen shot of Sierra Timberline websitewww.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 Sierrra 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.

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