Building your business on the web

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ConstructionMagNet.comLove it, hate it, embrace it or condemn it, whatever your feelings are about the Internet, it is here to stay for the foreseeable future. And while you may feel more comfortable building structures than websites, you’ve probably come to realize you need to do both.

Ryan Katz, a web-marketing professional with the marketing agency, Euro RSCG Discovery, is experienced in working with businesses in the trade on developing websites. High attendance at his seminar on the final day of the Frame Building Expo was proof that builders know they need to have a website presence, but many aren’t sure how to accomplish that. Later, we interviewed Katz on the common mistakes and simple solutions for businesses to consider.

What the consumer wants
According to Katz, consumers today want to shop and consume information on their own time.

“A lot of times before a consumer comes to a website to fill out a ‘contact us’ form or request an estimate, they’ve researched you and your competitors and have probably made up their mind that, as long as that sales process goes smoothly, they’re going to move forward with you,” he says.

Gone are the days when people shopped using the Yellow Pages in a phone book.

“Nobody uses the phone book anymore,” Katz says. “Everyone is doing their research online. I believe the statistic is 95 percent of people use search engines.” As someone immersed in the web world he jokingly wonders: “who’s the other 1 percent?”

So, if people are using the Internet to do their research, where are they going? In the building industry it still comes down to business sites. “That’s where the consumer is going first,” Katz says. “That’s where they’re going to do a lot of their research to narrow down their scope of who they’re going to choose to work with for the project they have.”

As a result, businesses need to pay close attention to the proper development and maintenance of an effective website.

Minimum requirements for your website

Background information: “Include who you are, some background, if you’re affiliated with any kind of associations or won any kind of awards that give you a little credibility,” Katz explains.

Photo galleries: Katz says photo galleries rank as the number one most looked at pages on his clients’ websites. “First and foremost, photos of the projects you do and how they end up looking,” he says.

Case studies: “Take a particular project: what was this project, what were some of the challenges, how you overcame them,” Katz says. “It doesn’t always have to be the smoothest project, either. Maybe when you got under a roof you noticed an obstacle and this is what you did to work with the customer to overcome it. Those kinds of stories make it real and when a consumer goes to a website and reads those things it adds a lot of credibility and trust.”

Testimonials. Having a happy customer who took the time to write a letter commending you also ranks high on the list of things potential customers look for on a website.

An easy way to contact you: especially a ‘contact us’ form on your website and a phone number. “A ‘contact us’ form is always great for lead generation in case someone doesn’t want to pick up the phone,” Katz says, adding, “but particularly in this business you should have a phone number readily available so if the consumer has a few questions, and is ready to talk to someone, they can find you.”

An explanation of your products and services.

“Those are the bare minimum,” Katz continues. “There’s so much more you can do with a website but if you’re just getting started and just looking to get a web brochure on the website for some minor lead generation, this is what you should have.”

Common mistakes
An unorganized website. “I see way too many websites where the structure and content is too disorganized and you can tell they have all this information and just want to get it up on the website,” Katz says. “I think a lot of people rush and don’t give the website the love it deserves. They feel like, because it’s on the web it’s a good thing.”

The solution is easy enough. When you design your website, “It has to be well thought out and structured,” Katz instructs. “Put yourself in the consumer’s shoes. If you were the consumer, how would you want to find this information? If you take that into account, you will get your website structured the way it should be.”

Not enough information. Equally ineffective as an unorganized website with too much information is a website that provides very little information at all. “Some may have a URL and a page up there and they will call it a website, but it’s not a website they’re happy with or something they’ve been willing to spend a lot of time working to move forward,” Katz observes. Typically, these business owners realize they need something better, they just don’t know what to do or where to go for help. “They get it, they know they need to be there,” he says. “But they’re scared to ask for help and they’re scared to put the money behind it. What they fail to recognize is that the money you put into it, you’re going to get back if you do it right and you work with the right people to get a well structured website up there.”

Again, the solution really isn’t that far away and it doesn’t have to be expensive. There are freelancers and small web companies in big and small communities throughout the country who can do the work. For a little more sophistication, with sharper designs and flashier images, there are many larger, cutting-edge companies like Euro.

If you have a little time and web savvy, you might even be able to do it yourself. “There are some resources out there to make it relatively inexpensive,” Katz says. He notes one particular web program called Word Press that allows for a blog style website. Web templates are available inexpensively, and in some cases, free.

“There are actually bigger companies using Word Press for micro sites,” Katz says, “because it’s easy for them to maintain. Just about anybody can log in and maintain information.”

No matter what path you choose, do your research. “Get some recommendations and referrals before you go out and hire an expert,” Katz cautions. “Make sure the firm you partner up with are making sure they’re educating you to the process throughout the way and you are asking questions about the process so you can learn. And you begin to understand what they are doing for you, and what you’re paying for.”

Sites that stagnate.
Even if you have a well-designed website, it’s important to keep your website fresh with new content. “There’s certainly going to be pages on your website where the information isn’t going to change, but when building a website you need to consider pages that are going to change: photo galleries, news items, press releases, forums and blogs,” Katz says. “If you can, definitely target certain pages that can be updated easily.”

Social Media: Do it or fuggeddaboutit
It’s easy in the fast-paced world of the web to get overwhelmed by buzzwords: i.e.: Facebook, Twitter. Katz says a lot of people are asking him if they need Facebook or Twitter accounts. His answer: “I tell people ‘you live and die by the social media sword.’ If you can’t assign someone or assign yourself ‘X’ number of hours in the week to consistently be on top of it … if you can’t consistently manage it and stay on top of how people are reacting with your brand, you’re better off not getting into social media than saying you have a Facebook page.”

What he does favor is blogs. “I’m a big fan of blogs in regards to being able to change the language of your company a little bit and be a bit more personable than the language you use on the website,” he says. “And that also works as great search engine food. But importantly, it positions you as an expert in the industry and someone who is able to stay on top of news items and industry trends.”

He continues: “Blogs are easy and quick to update without necessarily having to update your website. A blog can range from a featured product to information about your company’s holiday party. Just something to give you a little more personality than the typical corporate language you use on the website. It can be your opinion, that’s perfectly fine. Or it may feature an article you read relating to your industry. It can just serve as another outlet for information that’s already out there.”

On a final note about buzzwords, Katz says: “If you’re not doing anything in the search engine space and in the social media space, then let’s not even talk about iPhone or iPad apps.”

Take it one step at a time. Although it is easy to ignore things that are out of your comfort zone, Katz says not to get discouraged when it comes to giving your business a website presence or moving it forward if it is already there.

“It’s a fast changing industry,” he admits. “It’s certainly overwhelming with all the things you can do, all the techniques that are out there. Don’t feel like you need to get into everything at once to be successful, do one project right first and then move on.” RB

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