Carwash Websites - A Brochure or Storefront?
If you are looking to establishing an Internet presence, the title of this article is the question you need to ask yourself before you lay down any of your hard-earned money.
Why? Because understanding the different approaches to how a website might work will define the level of commitment and effort you will apply towards the success of your Internet marketing campaigns.
Make no mistake about it; there is definitely a certain level of time and financial commitment when establishing a “successful” Internet presence. I’m not saying that you have to take out a second mortgage and hire dedicated staff to manage your website but you do need to ensure that it’s professionally built and well maintained. A half-hearted Internet campaign could actually be more of a detriment than a benefit to your business. In many cases, your website will be the first impression a customer will have of you. This valuable first impression is not something that should be left to “Phil…that computer guy” to define.
The purpose of this article is not to convince you that you have to get your carwashing business online. It’s focused on changing your perception regarding how your website should function. It looks to help you make an informed decision on the path you will take in establishing your Internet marketing presence.
The Digital BrochureThe most common perception that I’ve come across is that a website can only act as an online brochure. Its function is to give visitors fundamental information about the business, details about its commitment to high levels of service, hours of operation and where it can be found. Oh yes…and a “Contact Us” link. In its simplest form, a website can act as an online brochure but with just some extra commitment, a website can act as a virtual extension of your brick and mortar business. This gives you a real opportunity to get in front of those consumers who are online and surfing the Internet.
The Operational StorefrontI’m going to ask you to change your perception on how a website should function by having you envision it as an “Operational Storefront”. Don’t think of it simply as an online brochure but treat it as full fledged business with roads that lead to it, traffic with car counts and customers with a need and who are willing to spend money to fulfill that need!
Why? Because a website has all the same attributes as that of a business based on brick and mortar:
Roads, Streets and HighwaysLike the streets and highways that lead to your brick and mortar business, a website also has this infrastructure in the form of links from other websites that lead to your own. The “highways” would be the search engines or online-yellow pages. Streets and avenues would be incoming links from other smaller sites. Traffic and CustomersWhether physical or virtual, these highways, streets and avenues bring consumers who have needs to be met. You look to meet these needs by offering services which sell to a “percentage” of that traffic. If all things are equal that percentage will generally remain static. How do you increase sales? You either add new services to attract new customers and increase your percentages (conversion ratio) or you build and redirect new roads to your business to increase the car counts in that traffic.
This process works exactly the same way in the virtual world. By making your website interactive and providing services through your site, you look to satisfy the needs of your visitors. The more services that are available on your website, the greater the chance you will capture that visitor and convert them into a customer.
The big advantage in the virtual world is that through creative marketing, you can build new roads that lead into your website and increase your traffic count…something that is nearly impossible in the physical world.
I would like to make a quick comment about the creative marketing process and how it ties in with the type developer you choose to design your website. There are two types of design “houses”:
Graphics & Design Centric Developers Internet Marketing Centric Developers For the carwashing industry, choose the latter. The former’s main priority is the look and feel of your website and will allocate most of your resources to design. The latter’s focus is to ensure your website is marketable and will fulfill the needs of your target audience. They will also have the skill sets to customize an Internet marketing campaign based on the needs and goals of your business.
A Storefront to Sell One of the most powerful ways you attract customers is to take advantage of the precious real estate on the front of your building. Through your storefront, you show them how you can fulfill their needs by “displaying” your products and services, provide price leaders, implement discount programs and anything else that pulls that consumer off the road and into your facilities.
On the Internet, your website’s homepage is the “storefront” to your virtual business! When a visitor travels a road to your website and looks into its window, does it invite them in by “displaying” the products and services you offer? Does your homepage make them look twice by showing them the great discounts that are available? Does it allow them to quickly navigate to the products and services they are looking for? Does it let them know that they can immediately satisfy their needs by making it easy to purchase online? Visitors That Have Needs That’s right! Just like a consumer walking through the door, a visitor comes to your website with a “need”. Has your homepage defined that need and addressed it by giving visitors what they want or do they have to go through “barriers” such as animated “splash” pages or “About Us” type homepages (please read my cautionary note at the end of this article regarding splash pages).
More cases than not, I find that when interviewing a client for a new website, their primary focus is to put out a great design without any consideration for the needs of the visitor. Remember…a website is a marketing and sales tool for your business and not a canvas to express your artistic creativity. I’m not saying that it shouldn’t have a clean and professional look but I do stress that it should first and foremost address the needs of your target audience. I know that I might sound a little critical in this area but there are so many websites that miss this mark. Satisfying the needs of your target audience is one of the most fundamental principles in establishing not only a successful Internet marketing campaign but any type of marketing campaign. From the traffic being generated to the marketing concepts involved, the parallels that can be drawn between a physical and virtual storefront are endless. Just as vast are the opportunities that could be had when a creative Internet marketing campaign is implemented. Part of this understanding is to know that a website can go far beyond that of an online brochure. It can become a virtual extension of your physical business; enabling you to capture the new generation of online consumers.
A cautionary note regarding “Splash Pages”Splash pages are graphical or animated introductory pages designed to set the mood for your website and invite the visitor in. The truth is that up to 71% of visitors leave a splash page before they set foot inside a website and in most cases, are not search engine friendly. I can’t say enough on how I’m against these things. There’s a huge list of reasons for this but don’t take my word for it. Just visit these sites and they’ll give you the gory details:
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jeffrey V. Lemire is president and CEO of CITADELNETWORKS, Inc. A web applications developer specializing in E-Commerce web sites for the car wash Industry.