Your Website: Is it the hard worker or slacker in your marketing department?

October 30, 2014

If your website were an employee, would you fire it?

By Laurie Hileman

Is your website working hard to deliver your brand experience, engage your customers with information they want to see, and drive your marketing and business goals? Or, is it hardly working: sitting out there on the Internet, gathering cyberdust, and resisting any improvement efforts, claiming they take too much money or too much time?

Sadly, for too many companies, the reality is their websites, to put it in HR-friendly terms, are not living up to their potential. In other words, they’re slackers.

And it could cost you. According to a recent survey*, 78 percent of Internet users conduct product research online, and 40 percent of U.S. smartphone owners compare prices on their mobile device while in a store, shopping for an item.

Even if your organization doesn’t rely on e-commerce, in today’s world, Google is the new business card.

Consider these startling statistics: 60 percent of small business websites don’t have a phone number listed on the home page, 75 percent are lacking an email link on their home page, and 66 percent don’t have a contact form to enable consumers to request information**.

Shocking, right? Fortunately, with a good website development team, turning an underachieving website into a superstar is within easy reach. Read on to see how two vastly different companies are using their new and redesigned websites to attract guests and build a better customer experience.

Getting a hand up on customer service

Magline, Inc.’s current corporate website, www.magliner.com, works as hard as the heavy-duty, light-weight hand trucks the company designs and manufactures.

Like so many early business websites, the original version of the Magline site did not sell the company’s products. Rather, it served as an online information portal that included basic company and product details.

“Material handling products aren’t complicated, but there are a lot of factors that go into what product is best suited for a customer’s specific application,” says Andrea Horner, marketing manager for Magline, Inc., the Standish, Mich.-based market leader in aluminum material handling equipment with a focus on route distribution.

In 2008 the company ramped up the site with the addition of an e-commerce function that allowed customers to purchase Magliner products at their convenience. Additional tools such as assembly instructions and product manuals were also added over time as means of extending customer support services.

Because of a very strong network of channel partners managing customers at the local level, less than 3 percent of Magline’s business revenue is generated through its website.  “While 3 percent is small from a strategic standpoint, that’s business and customers we may have lost without offering the ability to purchase online,” notes Horner.

Although the website is not intended to drive large amounts of revenue, the same commitment to quality and innovation that Magline brings to making hand trucks is brought to all aspects of their customer experience, including the online experience.

In the spring of 2012, following the successful launch of a new full-line catalog, the company opted to carry over many of the same successful elements to its website.

“We wanted a more intuitive, user-friendly site,” says Horner. “Our past site was good, but we navigated customers through multiple pages to get information on a single product.” For instance, visitors to the old site could review product info on one page, but would have to navigate to a separate section of the site to place an order.

The company reached out to Impress Horak Creative Group, which also designed and produced the catalog, for ideas on how to upgrade Magline’s look and customer experience. After Horner shared her objectives and project scope, the partners agreed to timing and budget, and began building the backbone of the new site.

Prior to the site upgrade, Magline had a fair amount of return requests based on customers ordering the wrong size or incorrect part number. Reducing the amount of returns was key to improving the site’s effectiveness, so they added more practical information to help aid the purchasing process—a task that required many hours of proofing and re-proofing for grammar, pricing, and technical errors, recalls Horner.

Additional upgrades included consolidating static information with the shopping cart, reorganizing product pages, adding an organized tab format within each product, enhancing Magline’s dealer locator, and adding an “Innovation Center.” “Our customers are a main pillar of our success. Helping them be more productive and efficient keeps them using our products and sharing their positive experiences with others,” says Horner of the newly added Innovation Center. Customers with an idea or route distribution obstacle can contact the company through the new online center to discuss how Magline can help make their job easier and more productive.

Now, that’s quality innovation.

Making a big splash

In an increasingly tech-savvy world, folks turn to the web to research their next vacation destination. So, when Soaring Eagle Waterpark and Hotel opened in the spring of 2012, management knew it needed a strong web presence to market the hospitality and entertainment complex to potential customers—and to compete for hard-earned, yet limited recreational spending dollars.

And, they needed it quickly.

The 45,000-square-foot indoor waterpark facility located in Mount Pleasant, Mich., was weeks away from completing construction when Jennifer Jones, marketing manager for Soaring Eagle Waterpark and Hotel, teamed up with Impress Horak Creative Group to organize, build, and launch a fully functioning site.
“Selecting the right creative design group was crucial to the success of the project due to our very tight two-month deadline. Out of the initial meeting came a decisive plan that included website organization, content building and management, and much more,” says Jones, who describes the process of building a site from scratch as “a very intense and time-consuming process that had to be executed in a very methodical way.”

From design concepts, copy creation, and photography to organizational structure, mobile capabilities, and back-end database functions, many decisions needed to be made promptly—yet always with an eye on the future. Some functions, such as a mobile site (included with the initial launch) and an e-commerce platform (built, but reserved for future launch), were more cost-effective to create at the onset, rather than trying to add on later.

“It’s kind of like finding a good real estate agent that’s going to tell you all you need to know when you’re a first-time homebuyer,” says Jones. “You need to find a website designer that you’re very comfortable with, that you feel like you can have that frank conversation about how much it’s really going to cost, or the potential cost. There is always going to be a few unexpected expenses, but you almost need to plan for that when you budget your website design.”

According to Jones, the overall goal for the site (www.soaringeaglewaterpark.com) was to create a personal connection with the customer through photographs and relevant messages.

“I believe that as a visual and fast-paced society, a personal connection with the customer needs to be created. The photos, legibility, information, and functionality of the website need to be reflective of the relevant messages we want to send to the customer,” says Jones. This included honoring the organization’s tribal history as part of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan. Like the property itself, the tribal influence is woven seamlessly into the design of the website and other marketing materials.

Once a personal connection is made with a prospective customer, Jones and her team hope to drive traffic through the site’s reservations portal or to the hotel’s 1-800 number. Reservations made through the site are easily tracked, but it is too early in the process to determine how much the site delivers customers through the phone lines. The site also links to the organization’s Facebook, Twitter, and Google + accounts to tie into the waterpark’s social media marketing efforts.

As with every hard-working website, the Soaring Eagle Waterpark and Hotel site is a continually evolving marketing tool with new things being added regularly. Jones plans on adding more special promotions to the homepage and a database-driven link to let customers know how many day passes are available on that given day. The e-commerce element will also soon be available for gift shop and gift certificate purchases.

Whether your organization’s site needs a complete overhaul or simply minor adjustments to take advantage of emerging social and mobile media applications, consider giving your website a thorough performance evaluation to make sure it is working hard for you.

* From HubSpotBlog.com, 12 Mind-Blowing Statistics Every Marketer Should Know by Marta Kagan
** From smallbusinesssem.com, Are Small Business Websites Really This Bad? by Matt McGee