Detail Management - March 2010

Websites — Six Tips for an Effective Design
By Jordache Perozzo

Having some experience in Internet sales for auto dealerships as well as an educational background in computers, I thought it might be a good start to write an article on the importance of a website for your business. Today, a website is a critical part of business success, and you need to know what is good and what is bad about yours.

Determining that your detail business needs a website is the easy part. The difficult things to avoid are the mistakes that make many websites ineffective.

In the early days, computer experts developed commercial websites. While competent with computers, they did not have expertise in design and marketing. As a result, these early websites were not good marketing tools.

But, things have changed. Today, web design has developed into a sophisticated science; and a good website is a powerful marketing and communications tool for any business — especially a detail business where the motorist is not familiar with the service.

That said, there are still a lot of bad sites around. Even worse, more are appearing online daily.

AIM TO BE THE BEST

If you want to ensure that your current website is up-to-date, or your first one is the best for your detail business, here are some suggestions to consider:

1. Ensure You Have a Clear Purpose for Your Site
That might sound obvious, but many sites fail to define a clear purpose. Ask yourself what you want the website to do? To establish an Internet presence, with a single page providing basic information such as phone numbers and a general description of your detail business? Or, do you want a multiple-page site with photos of what you sell, your best work, and background on your experience? Or, do you want something in between?

Ask yourself why you want a website. What do you think it should accomplish? If you cannot answer these questions, you have some work to do.

2. Make Certain You Communicate the Purpose Clearly to the Site Designer
If you hire a professional to create your site, realize that you will pay additional charges if you keep changing your mind. Changes in basic design after the project is underway will result in wasted creative hours. Unless your designer has agreed to a flat rate, you will be paying more than you planned.

This can be avoided by taking time to meet with your designer to discuss your purpose and ideas. Sketch out layouts and text with paper and pencil, which will save hours of design time.

Most importantly, do not become an obstacle to completion of the site by over-managing. On the other hand, do not sit back and not involve yourself at all in the process. Either approach is a mistake.

3. Understand the Most Important Element of a Website Is Contact
People who come to your site are looking for information about your detail business and the services you offer. Things like site design and colors must always be transparent to the viewer. Too much “design” in a website can be compared with too much makeup on a woman. If it calls attention to itself, it has defeated its purpose.

A site cluttered with annoying gimmicks such as animations and graphics that do nothing to enhance your message will be a sure turn-off for most viewers.

Be sure your designer understands how you feel about the site and its look. Graphics that are primarily decorative in purpose should be kept to a minimum. In website design, less is more.

4. Provide a Simple Navigation System
People using the Internet are impatient. Those who log on to your site want to see at a glance what services you offer, and what they have to do to get more information. If your home page and your navigation system do not provide quick answers, they will move on quickly.

Every page on your site should provide an easy way to reach any other page. Internet viewers simply will not invest the time and effort needed to plow their way through a confusing site.

The best navigation systems are made up of bars laid out vertically on the left side or horizontally across the top of each page. Whichever system you choose, make it consistent. Every page on your site must contain a “return to home page” link.

Have you ever visited sites made up of nothing but menus? You keep clicking and clicking and never get the information you want.

Remember: If your viewer gets confused, you have lost a potential customer. Your navigation system must provide your visitors with enough information to make easy and effective choices — no more, no less.

5. Provide an Easy Way for Interested Viewers to Contact You
If your site contains only basic information such as phone numbers and a description of your services, you might overlook the need to provide a feedback link.

Prospective customers will have questions you may not have anticipated, or there may be problems with the site such as broken links. In either case, a quick-and-easy e-mail link will allow the viewer to reach you with the click of a mouse.

Important: Once a feedback link is set up, it is important to arrange to have your e-mail checked every day, and you must respond to every message right away. Many people regard unanswered e-mail messages as a personal affront. That is not a good way to build your business.

6. Test Loading Time on an Average Computer
The short attention span of internet browsers will cause them to move away quickly if your site takes more than a few seconds to appear on the screen.

Excessive use of large graphics, animations, and other devices that increase the file size of the pages on your site will increase the time it takes for the page to appear on the viewer’s screen. Many sites are elaborate creations with the potential to win design prizes from fellow professionals, but they accomplish little or nothing for the people who are paying the bills.

As has often been said, “The ads that win the awards, don’t sell the products.”

If you own a high-powered computer with a lightning speed processor and a ton of memory, or if you have high-speed Internet access, do not use your own system to test your site’s loading time. Find someone with an average setup and try it there.

If your site takes more than eight or ten seconds to load, you need to get with the designer and decide what needs to be eliminated.

KNOW SEO

The above are only some suggestions and will not guarantee that you will have a fabulous site, but they will help you to have a more powerful website, setting it above the majority of your competitors. Search engine optimization (SEO) can also lift your site, by helping search engines find your site. Search engines on the Internet allow users to type in key words such as “detailers,” “detail services,” a company name, or any thing else. In the blink of an eye, the search engine scans the millions of sites on the web and lists those that have meta-tags identical to the typed-in search term.

Meta-tags are simply words and phrases that describe the contents of your website and the nature of your business, making it easier for the search engines and interested viewers to find you.

Meta-tags are not a magic key to site effectiveness; but they do increase the chances that your site will be included in the list that pops up when a web surfer types in a key word or phrase.

The use of meta-tags is a technical subject you should discuss with your web designer to make certain that they include a full measure of appropriate tags in your home page.

I hope that this basic information will help you take a critical look at your current website, or build your first site.

Jordache Perozzo is aftermarket sales manager for Detail Plus Car Appearance Systems Inc. His automotive experience was initially acquired in his father’s detail business and later expanded through a position in Internet marketing and sales for auto dealerships in the Northwest. You can contact Jordache at Jordache@detailplus.com.

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