As the Internet’s influence over consumers’ purchasing behavior continues to grow, marine dealerships that design their websites to maximize this opportunity have a distinct competitive advantage.
With this in mind, Boating Industry magazine asked three of the marine market’s leading Internet experts to share the most important steps dealers can take to improve their websites.
One of the most difficult elements of a website is determining where and when to place a “call to action.” Placed too soon, you could turn off the prospective consumer. Placed too late or not visible, you could lose a potential lead.
Generally, on a website, the “call to action” should be prominent on the page and should clearly state the next action item. This may mean that you have several “calls to action” on a page (i.e. Send me more information about this boat, trade-in evaluation request, have a sales member contact me).
Finally, the “call to action” should link to a Web form instead of opening the viewer’s e-mail client. The form should be simple and only request the most critical information. If the form is too complicated or requires too much information, it is unlikely the consumer will fill it out.
All Web leads are not created equal. Online prospects range from hot leads to long-term buyers who are just starting their research – and everything in-between. So your website should have something for everyone. Every page should include a relevant “call to action” that encourages prospects to raise their hand and find out more. Offer opportunities for further inquiry via online forms, such as “Request a Quote,” “Trade-in Evaluation,” “Buyer’s Shortcut,” and “Request Service/Parts.”
In addition, optimize your forms for leads and sales. Keep them simple and short. “Requiring” contact information is quite different than “requesting” it because requiring answers to too many qualifying questions could annoy and scare off prospects. For example, phone numbers should be optional. When requesting a phone number, buyers may provide it 50 percent of the time, but if you require it, you will likely generate fewer leads as buyers may feel pressured.
That’s why it is important to have multiple forms to incite prospects to move to the next level. Short “Get more info” forms are designed to answer quick questions and should require the name, e-mail and zip code (for territory assignment purposes), but always ask for a phone number. They have proven to convert to sales at higher rates than when additional information is required in this instance. Detailed contact forms with more required fields are expected for ordering brochures and trade-in evaluations.
Remember to prominently display your phone number. To boost the number of inquiries you receive, include it in every page of your website and encourage prospects to call you. There is no better time for you to be speaking with prospects because you can use your website as a presentation tool.
A solid “call to action” strategy should mirror the various stages of the buying cycle – Awareness, Consideration, Preference, Action and Loyalty. Hand-hold prospects while they do their homework and drive them from the Web to the showroom faster by consistently fulfilling their needs at every stage of the buying cycle.
Keep navigation simple
With advancements in search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo, users expect to find information with few clicks and minimal typing. Therefore, simple navigation is key. Consumers don’t want to search for information; they want information to be easily apparent and logical to follow.
Research shows that the more a user is required to click, the greater likelihood they will get lost or fail to execute a “call to action.” At Allen Roche Marine, we strive to use a “three click rule” – get the consumer from their initial search to the information of choice and through a “call to action” in three clicks.
That being said, it is critical not to overly segment website navigation, making it difficult to navigate. The “KISS” method works well as an ongoing “gut check” as to the simplicity of navigation and the effectiveness of the “call to action.” Once the site map is laid out, ask these questions:
1. From the home page, how many clicks does it take to complete a “call to action” form?
2. From the home page, is there a clear and apparent route to reach the company’s primary profit streams (i.e. New Boat Sales Product, Pre-Owned Boat Sales Product, Service, Dockage/Storage, Parts and Accessories, Financing)?
3. Does the consumer have to search for the items they are seeking? Think in broad terms: subjects, services and brand names (i.e. New Boats, Used Boats, Tiara, Boston Whaler, Eastern, Outboard Motors, Yamaha, Evinrude, etc.)
Don’t get too creative with navigation titles – they should be clear, concise and easy to understand. The purpose of the navigation on your website is to direct users to the information they need. Make sure they can easily identify your navigation and understand in which area they’ll find what they’re after. If you provide users with a clear path, they’ll be more likely to spend time looking around (and more likely to convert to a lead!).
Keep your navigation structure consistent across all pages of your website – you should have the same navigational layout on your home page as you have on your interior pages. Users should not have to figure out how your navigation scheme changed in order to find the next page they want to view.
When writing your navigation titles, it may be helpful to think in terms of the reasons people come to your site. For example: Find a Boat, Sell a Boat, Contact Dealer, Search Inventory, etc. Making it simple for users and keeping your navigation consistent also helps users become familiar with the menus, so they can effectively navigate throughout your website.
Optimize your website for maximum search engine visibility
Higher rankings on search engines drive more traffic to your website. Search engine “spiders” crawl through your website and scan the content, which is then matched with search terms to determine your site’s ranking. Your keywords should be relevant to your business and geographical location, for example, “boats for sale St. Petersburg FL.” The more a given keyword is repeated within the body text of your website, the greater the likelihood of a higher ranking in search results. So embed target phrases throughout your website, including them in the headline, high up in the copy, and at the bottom of each page.
Copywriting for search engines is an art- a perfect balance between keeping your copy both readable for visitors and keyword-rich for search engines. Take the time to determine the most frequently searched keywords related to your products and services. The simplest approach is to put yourself in the shoes of boat buyers and write down the most likely terms that would lead them to you, including brands, model names, model years, boat segment, geographical location, lifestyle, etc.
Another way to increase your ranking is to renew your URL registration for longer than the standard one year that most dealerships tend to commit to. Make it 10. The longer a URL is registered, the higher your quality score with search engines and the better placement you’ll get.
Last but not least, remember to leverage high-traffic, social networking sites, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Creating a presence on these sites is as simple as filling out a template or uploading a video, then linking back the page to your site.
There is no way to “buy” your way into a higher organic ranking. So by not optimizing your website for search engines, you allow your competitors’ websites to appear higher than yours in search results, and they may ultimately receive more traffic.
SEO should involve more than just the basic “metadata” (keywords, page titles, image tags, etc.). Your strategy should consider elements like the accessibility of your website, the quality of your content, the overall user experience and site structure. Your strategy should also involve a way to track and monitor the results of your SEO efforts, so you can modify your tactics throughout the process to get the most out of your SEO strategy.
One of the elements of “optimizing” a website is reviewing and editing the text on the website. Originally, if a Web page contained at least one well-constructed paragraph with targeted keywords, terms and phrases and the site had good meta-data (shorthand copy that spiders and search engines use to browse a site’s content), the page would be ranked well. However, search engine algorithms are getting “smarter”, and they now use a much more complex evaluation system, which is fundamentally based on identifying quality content. Therefore, this means that a website (more than ever) needs to contain high quality content.
That being said, the website copy no longer has to sound like a 1980s talking robot. The copy can be fluid and written for the average consumer. However, here are some important elements to include as you build your on-site copy:
Write well-constructed copy that is easy for a human to read but utilizes keywords that relate to the content within your site.
Be careful not to include subjects/keywords/key terms that are not on your site.
Include well-known location information (i.e. address, state, region, county and other -familiar geographic identifiers) within the first paragraph.
Include key terms, services and/or brands within the first paragraph.
Link important keywords to relevant content within your site.
Create fresh, meaningful content on a consistent basis to give users a reason to come back to your website. Don’t fill your site with a bunch of “fluff,” thinking that search engines will recognize you for having a lot of content. They will recognize what you’re doing, and it won’t benefit you or increase your ranking. If it isn’t meaningful and valuable to the user visiting your website, don’t include it.
This goes hand-in-hand with simplifying your content – most websites could easily slim back their content by 30 percent (and that’s a generously low estimate) and convey the same information more effectively. Take a read through your content and see if there’s a better way to communicate those thoughts and messages – I bet if you said the same thing to a customer out loud, you’d use far fewer words.
An effective website executes the following attributes: it entertains or it educates a consumer and it then sells a product or service. At Allen Roche Marine, we coach our clients to ensure their website and/or social media contains elements that keep consumers coming back for more.
Ideally, we all want our websites to be as well received as Facebook or YouTube. The reason these sites are so popular is because they provide a valuable resource to people in the areas of entertainment and education. Consumers return to these sites regularly, which makes them good platforms for selling products. If you build a site that provides consumers with important boating resources or is fun and entertaining, people will return time and time again; the more they return to the site, the better your chances are of selling them a product.
Ideas for how to do this, which is known as in-bound marketing, come in all forms. As an example, Boats Inc. in Rhode Island used to get regular phone calls asking what the weather was, or how choppy the waves were on the bay. The owner decided to put a webcam on their site. This provided all customers with a bird’s eye view of the bay and a real-time weather update. It has become a resource in the company’s boating community as well as a form of entertainment to many. Because of this, the site received increased activity, which in turn put more eyes onto this virtual storefront.
Great ideas like this drive a successful website. Figure out a unique in-bound marketing concept that entertains or educates, and you are sure to increase traffic and the potential for sales.
First, be sure to provide complete product information on your site rather than refer visitors to OEMs’ sites, which would take the attention away from you. Keep prospective buyers engaged and entice them to go deeper into your site.
Take the time to educate and inform visitors to position your dealership as a true boating resource and reliable partner rather than just another business that wants their money. Include Q&As, DYI Tips, Boat Buying 101, how-to videos and any other topics that would help potential buyers with their homework. You can also recommend the top five spots in your area for a day on the water with the whole family or a couple of top fishing spots, depending on location.
Current announcements on your site will encourage prospective buyers and existing customers to come back and keep themselves up-to-date. Be sure to feed your “News” section and organize content starting with the most recent information to keep returning visitors engaged. Share your latest accomplishments, including industry awards, sales milestones and company expansion, as well as new boat arrivals and upcoming events – and always include lifestyle pictures that sell the dream.
Use images that add value
Make sure images are relevant, enticing and valuable to the user experience. Images take up a lot of real estate, so be sure you’re using that space wisely. If the image doesn’t communicate the message as well as text could, and/or it doesn’t enhance the surrounding content, perhaps you don’t need it.
Don’t get me wrong – images are an extremely important and effective tool on websites when used appropriately. Users are drawn to images, especially when they enhance the information they’re seeking. Sometimes a “glamour shot” adds interest to a content-heavy page, but does the image add to the experience? Or is it detracting from what you’re trying to convey? If the latter, I’d say kick it to the curb.
A well thought-out collection of eye-catching pictures helps build a crucial emotional connection between buyers and their intended purchase. It gives prospects a feel for that boat, makes them “see” themselves in it and hopefully come in for a closer look, kicking off the sales process.
Today’s boat buyers expect to examine every inch of a model from the comfort of their homes, so you should strive to answer as many questions as possible upfront through a variety of pictures, including running, lifestyle and detail shots. Remember to organize detail shots from stern to bow, as if a salesperson was doing a walk-through with a prospect to highlight distinctive features. Powerful, to-the-point captions serve as storytellers and information providers.
In a nutshell, the less work prospects have to do while browsing your inventory or some of its listings on classified sites, the better chance they’ll stick around and take action rather than move on to a competitor’s offerings.
Jump on the video bandwagon
Today, consumers expect to see fluid and graphically stimulating websites that employ a variety of media content, including copy (text descriptions), images, video, audio when applicable, and virtual tours and brochures. In fact, one of the fastest growing segments of online marketing is online video. eMarketer recently reported “85 percent of the ad agencies surveyed (in 2011) said spending was most commonly shifting from other types of display advertising to online video.” One of the primary reasons for this shift is that online video can be easily targeted to a finite group of consumers.
Once you determine if you are going to include video on your website, here are some basics about producing and hosting video online:
1. Quality matters: record in High Definition (HD) and upload accordingly.
2. If a manufacturer doesn’t have video, shoot your own. Hire a videographer and editor to ensure quality.
3. If you don’t have the budget for a videographer and editor, shoot your own with a HD home camera and tripod. Pay attention to a shaky camera, audio and lighting, three things that are often overlooked by amateur video creators.
4. Online video should be 15 to 60 seconds in length: We live in a sound-byte world and consumers don’t want to watch a three-minute video.
5. Buy or rent music that is copyright free: Don’t use your favorite Jimmy Buffet song because copyright penalties often start in the thousands of dollars.
6. Hosting: Before you begin creating or gathering video, explore the different video hosting solutions out there. Some of the free ones are customizable and may just suit your needs without any hosting costs.
Videos add depth that pictures can’t provide. For example, you can show how a boat’s deep V-hull creates a smoother ride by slicing more deeply into a wave, rather than slapping against it. That just can’t be done in pictures.
Two categories of boats should get priority: new models, so you can introduce them as soon as possible, and aged units that you need to move pronto. Have a list of your inventory organized from oldest to newest units and set your planning accordingly. As new units arrive, change the schedule to fit them in right away.
Develop a checklist, starting with the exterior, followed by the interior. Combine a general overview with an emphasis on special features and benefits. Videos should be no longer than 10 to 15 minutes, including a wrap-up section where salespeople state their name and contact information, which also appears as a scrolling caption. In addition to presenting the boat, videos often have the added benefit of creating a bond between the prospect and the salesperson before they meet in person.
Attention-grabbing pictures and storytelling videos give prospects more of the information they’re looking for up front, so by the time they call or e-mail you, they are closer to actually buying that boat. They also facilitate the buyer’s often overwhelming research process and create a positive first impression, which often marks the beginning of the sale.
Too many boat dealers still think that receiving prospects’ requests for additional pictures on a given model is a positive sign of interest, based on the belief that holding back information will raise more hands. In reality, they’ve most likely alienated the vast majority of potential buyers. High-quality pictures and great videos give prospects more of the information they’re looking for up front, so by the time they call or e-mail you, they are closer to actually buying that boat. These leads convert at a higher rate, compared to online inquiries requesting more pictures.
Measure your site’s performance
Your website traffic should be constantly monitored, so you can make ongoing adjustments designed to drive more qualified traffic, increase your sales conversion rate and achieve the greatest return on your investment.
Easy-to-use, reliable and free, a Google Analytics account provides you with detailed insights into your website traffic. It allows you to gain more in-depth knowledge of your prospects, so you can better engage and convert them into customers.
We live in a brave new world where every click and every page is traceable. It is important that dealers utilize this information and adjust their sales and promotions in-step with consumer behavior. Every website should have some basic analytics attached to it that are reviewed at least quarterly.
Dealers should also find and identify CRM software that can “talk” with the website and provide the dealer with real-time information about leads’ search and browsing behavior.
Finally, many industries are already using this technology, and some buy leads from third party websites within seconds of a lead being generated, allowing them to respond within minutes. Because of this breakneck pace, consumers are being trained to expect immediate response times. Therefore, think about how you manage and respond to your online leads.