Who are the people you are trying to attract as the audience for your website?
Cleaning contractors and other JanSan professionals should always keep this question in mind when evaluating their current website — if they have one — as well as when they begin to consider any future Internet presence.
Unfortunately, this question is asked quite rarely, but is one that must be addressed by anyone who wants their website to serve as an effective marketing tool.
To learn how to create a website that actually reaches the intended audience and helps to create new business, cleaning professionals must look back to when the Internet first began to bloom some 12 to 15 years ago.
In those early days, many marketing professionals simply did not know what to put on their company website or how to make it useful and appealing to prospective customers.
Many turned to a simple — albeit unsophisticated — solution: Placing their company brochures online.
Although this seemed like a good idea at the time, it simply did not work. Here are some of the reasons why:
Brochures are usually designed to be flattering to a company and its products or services. However, such self-serving material only goes so far online, where people tend to be more skeptical.
Brochures tend to be produced with color and design as their key elements. Although these factors are also important in an online context, they are often not the primary concern. In fact, some of the most effective and successful websites are quite simple.
Online visitors like quick and easy access to information. If a website is styled like a brochure, visitors may have to work through several pages before they can find what they are looking for — an inconvenience many Internet users will not tolerate.
The Internet tends to be an interactive tool, but brochures are generally linear and static, leaving the visitor cold about both the company and its website.
Know Your Audience
You may think you know who your intended audience — and prospective customer — is, but have you ever actually verified this information?
Truly knowing your customer is essential in any industry, and this is especially true when designing a website.
If a company specializes in a certain market or industry segment, this information should be highlighted.
For instance, one cleaning contractor in Northern California that focuses on cleaning medical facilities and doctor''s offices uses their company website to discuss some of the unique concerns regarding their work, including the use of disinfectants, the essential role of strict hygiene measures and even hazardous waste disposal.
Similarly, some companies specialize in commercial accounts with restaurants and other public facilities.
Such a business should be sure that their website features information regarding the cleaning issues specific to such work.
For instance, grease buildup in carpets directly outside of kitchens can be a major problem in a food service facility — and a prospective client may be curious to know how this is handled.
Use Of New Technologies
About 10 years ago, web designers began creating animated graphics that display like an online slideshow.
These graphics, often created with the Adobe Flash program, are frequently displayed on the front page of a website.
In time, this became known as the "splash page."
Flash was great for designers who wanted to show off their talents and expertise — and yes, it did warrant a few "oohs" and "aahs" the first couple of times a visitor experienced it.
The problem with Flash, however, is that repeat visitors tend to become bored with it, often feeling as if they have to sit through a commercial every time they visit a site.
As a result, Flash is now used much more sparingly.
However, some technologies are now proving very effective and warrant consideration by cleaning professionals developing a website.
One of these is video. Placing a video on your website lets visitors see the people who work for or own the company and allows for a firsthand look at the services you offer, the type of equipment you use and your overall appearance and professionalism.
Videos can also be used as educational tools, showing visitors how to remove a carpet spot or why disinfectants must "dwell" on a restroom fixture before cleaning.
Educational videos communicate the idea that your company knows what you are doing and, more importantly, will be able to use your expertise to help that particular visitor.
Some cleaning professionals are also taking advantage of social media sites and tools such as blogging, Twitter, Facebook, etc.
The jury is still out as to how effective they will be in the long run, but the companies that have had the most success with these tools are all end customer-focused.
Because cleaning professionals are also end customer-focused, the use of social networking as a marketing tool should be explored.
Where To Start?
For those who want to analyze their current company website or are in the process of building a new one, there is a very easy way to start: Surf the Internet and look for sites that appeal to you.
Pay attention to what seems to work — as well as what doesn''t — and what you like and dislike about various sites.
Then, ask others what they think. If someone selected your company via your website, ask them what attracted them to the site and what appealed to them about it once they visited.
Ask other customers what they like or dislike about your site as well.
The answers can be surprising, and the more information you get, the more you can focus your website design on what works for you.
Finally, make sure that you are fully aware of the audience you are trying to attract, and try to pretend that you are one of these customers.
What would you like to see on a cleaning company''s website?
Nick Wiebe is marketing manager for U.S. Products and HydraMaster Corporation, both manufacturers of professional cleaning tools and equipment. He has also been involved in the development of several websites, electronic newsletters and other online services and products. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.