Several lighting-savvy Web experts reveal their secrets for putting together a good plan.
By now it is common knowledge that every business is expected to have a Web site, however, the quality of the site is important. “One of the biggest mistakes a lighting showroom can make is to assume ‘If you build it, they will come.’ It’s not enough to have a Web site, you have to drive people to it,” explains Jason Petersen, CEO of Web site service provider XO Lights™. “This is a whole different business than bricks and mortar in that your customer base is looking for different things online than they do in your store. The psychology is different,” he adds. Not to mention that consumers are using their phones and tablets to access lighting information on the go.
Consumers are looking for information and a Web site is the perfect vehicle for establishing your store as an expert. Offering tips is one way to stand out from the competition, and a variety of content – such as a blog or video – is better yet.
Therese Rushing, CLC, national sales manager at online marketing solutions provider Lights America, has seen many lighting showrooms go about launching a Web site the wrong way, such as by hiring a friend, trying to do the Web site by themselves, or hiring an outside firm without checking credentials. She explains that while the first route may be less expensive, it often takes a long time; having a good sense of aesthetics in lighting design does not automatically mean one is equally talented in graphic design; and using a company without vetting can lead to the store paying way too much. “Even worse than each of those scenarios is doing nothing,” Rushing states. “A Web site cannot be put on the back burner. Without it, showrooms are at a huge disadvantage, and if they have one that has not been updated in a couple of years, the damage could be even worse,” she cautions.
When deciding on content for the Web site, promote your strengths. “Lighting stores have experts on staff and products that can be seen in person,” Rushing says. Showrooms need to use their Web sites not only to show product and as an extension of their store, but as a way to reach customers and draw them in the door. “Telling their story of what makes them unique and giving consumers a reason to visit the store in person is different from just trying to ‘sell’ online. Once they get consumers inside their store, that’s where they shine and where they can build relationships,” she says.
Petersen and Rushing agree that when it comes to achieving a high search ranking on Google and other search engines, there’s no substitute for hiring a pro. That said, not all experts are equal. “You have to be careful when hiring a Web developer or SEO specialist,” Rushing states. “If people make promises that seem too good to be true, they probably are. If they say you have to increase your rank with Google, they are right – but remember that every store out there (and there are thousands of sites that sell lighting) want that top ranking, too.”
When it comes to conquering the Web, it is an ever-changing process as developments are happening constantly. Both Petersen and Rushing stress the importance of monitoring the results. “You get out what you put in, and there is no magic,” Rushing notes. “You must decide what you are willing to do to reach the desired return on investment.”
One angle that Petersen believes many lighting stores overlook when considering an Internet presence is that the Web can be a strong ally locally. “The Web is a powerful tool for local business, if you’re smart about it,” he advises, adding, “Make it easy for customers to find you.” To do that, make sure that you fill out your store’s information on Switchboard, Google Maps, online directories, and other Web-based business searches. “There are more than 300 mapping tools out there,” Petersen comments. He is a big believer in using the Web to generate local traffic to your showroom, and two of the most effective ways to do that are through geo-tagging and offering content on your site, which will get picked up by the search engines.
Web site design can run the gamut from $400 to $5,000 or higher. “Stores should sit down and decide who they are and what they want from their site,” Rushing says. Evaluate how big of a role do they want the Internet to play in their business model. Only then will they be able to come up with a realistic budget. “Extra pages cost extra dollars,” she cautions. “What do they need to say and will having lots of pages help with that goal?” There should be a Web budget just as there is one for marketing and advertising.
One thing to keep in mind: an ultra-sophisticated site might not translate into more sales, according to these experts. Lighting showrooms can create an informative and well-thought-out Web site without breaking the bank. With some careful planning, creativity, and discipline, every lighting store can make a measurable impact on their local community online.
? Information provided by Lights America