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Making the Web Work for You
Quality Web Site with Right Message Can Generate Sales
By Chaille Brindley
Date Posted: 10/5/2004
While at a recent trade show, I met a man who told me that over the last couple of years his Web site had become a major source of
Whether you are in the pallet, lumber or specialized wood products business, potential customers are increasingly using the Internet to research products and identify possible vendors.
In the past, pallet and lumber companies tended to spend very little on marketing. They might buy a phone book ad. But in today’s business climate, a quality Web site with the right message at the right time can help make your phone ring.
Looking through nearly 90 forest product industry Web sites, I saw some real winners and plenty of losers. The lessons that I learned from visiting these sites are helpful if you want to revamp your Web site and make it work for you.
Start with the Message
The best industry sites have a main message which is clearly visible on the homepage. One company focused on the message, "We’re selling a service not just product." The
Web site describes in detail how the company offers top-notch service. Remmey’s Web site (www.remmey.com) presents the company as a provider of total pallet management solutions. It has a page of details on various services including customer examples and the benefits for each service.
Lima Pallet (www.limapallet.com) focuses on the benefits of wood pallets as the primary marketing message for its Web site. Toward the top of the homepage,
Some of my favorite sites are those published by larger pallet or lumber companies. IFCO Systems (www.ifco-us.com), the nation’s largest pallet recycler, has a very professional looking site describing the company as a "Leader in supply chain solutions." Access to tracking software off the homepage helps visitors see the enhanced data management tools offered by IFCO. IFCO’s homepage uses a rotating marketing banner at the top. Many major household brands use this approach now to expose visitors to a number of messages and images all on the homepage. Most visitors will judge by the homepage whether or not to keep on surfing a site. By rotating new messages through, the site appears to be constantly refreshed, which tends to catch the eye of a visitor better than just one static message.
Buckeye Diamond Logistics, (www.buckeyediamondlogistics.com) a large
Ongweoweh Corp. (www.ongweoweh.com), a major pallet broker and recycler, sells itself as a provider of "Full Circle Pallet Solutions." Ongweoweh touts its ability to setup a national service network and provide effective pallet retrieval programs. From consolidated billing to computer based pallet tracking and reporting, Ongweoweh’s site focuses on the company’s ability to answer the needs of major corporations.
Some other sites focused on timely delivery and expanded hours. Others showcased a company’s facilities, especially automated pallet manufacturing, heat treatment and sawing systems. Some sites promoted the amount of indoor storage that a company has to ensure quality and reduce the likelihood of moisture problems in lumber or pallets. Still others focus on saving money and finding ways to reduce costs by offering free consultations.
The key is to think like your customer. What are they looking for? What can you realistically deliver? Be careful making marketing promises that your company cannot keep. Avoid marketing language that seems gimmicky or too generic. Statements like, "We are the World Leader" or "Our staff is the most highly trained in the industry" or "We offer the best service in the business" seem disingenuous when you don’t have the reputation or size to back it up. Honesty should not be sacrificed for marketing flair.
Make sure that your Web site presents a message that will be appealing to prospective customers.
Image Can Be Everything
If you have a hokey looking site with poor quality graphics and broken links, expect for your Web site to be more of a hindrance than an asset. Simple maintenance and upkeep can payoff when prospective customers visit your site.
If your Web site screams low cost and low quality, expect for prospective customers to smirk when you talk about service and market price increases. If you present yourself as a small, family-owned enterprise, do not be surprised when prospective customers laugh at the thought of you providing total pallet management on a regional or national basis. Your image, including what your Web site says about you and the impression it gives, will go a long way in framing customer expectations.
Avoid templates and form-based sites offered as free extras by hosting companies. These will not make your company appear professional or progressive. You don’t have to spend thousands on a site either. You should be able to get a professional looking site for less than $2,000. Make sure that all of the graphics on your site are high quality. Avoid using low resolution images that appear fuzzy or have a washed out look. All links should work on a site. Broken links tend to frustrate site visitors and leave them with a negative attitude toward your site.
If your site needs work, don’t make excuses by putting under construction announcements or icons all over it. Generally, it is best to not mention or post links to unfinished pages on your site. Nobody likes to see under construction signs everywhere. Why advertise the fact that your site is not finished? A better strategy is to bring pages online as they are finished.
Keep the content on your site current unless it is dated content and is reasonable to leave it up even though it may not be brand new.
Don’t use annoying gimmicks like sounds or cheesy animated graphics. Animation is fine as long as the graphic fits with the entire message and enhances the site’s overall look. Clinch-Tite’s site (www.clinchtite.com) greets visitors with a nice animated graphic showcasing all the packaging elements the company offers. From pallets to corrugated boxes to stretch wrap, the graphic gets the main point across that Clinch-Tite sells much more than just pallets. If you do offer video or animated graphics, make sure to include a link that allows visitors to bypass these things if they want.
Delisa Pallet (www.delisapallet.com) features on its site the company logo as an animated graphic. While memorable, additional marketing language could add even more punch to the site. Similarly, United Wood Products (www.unitedwoodproducts) animates its logo on its homepage. WNC Pallet (www.wncpallet.com) greets visitors with a forest theme animated image. It offers a visibly stimulating image and does not take long to load. Check out Nazareth Pallet (www.nazpallet.com) to see an example of a good use of videos to highlight a company’s operations. Generally, video or virtual tours are a nice bonus. But these are not necessary and tend to add unwanted cost to building a quality site.
Avoid using all capital letters too much in site design. Readability is very important. Too much reversed out type can be hard to read. Never make finding your phone number a game for visitors. Your phone number and address should be on the homepage and easily detectable. Consider putting contact info on a navigation bar running on every page of your site.
Innovative Ways to Make Your Site Appealing to Customers
If you can offer some type of interactive tool or informative resource, you may find that visitors will come back to your site more often or tell others about it. One idea is to have a very detailed section on the latest developments in the phytosanitary standard for solid wood packaging. Pallet One (www.palletone.com), Larson Pallet (www.larsonpallet.com) and Neosho Box & Wood Products (www.neoshobox.com) all have good sections on the phytosanitary regulations and heat treatment options. Anything like this should be updated as frequently as possible.
Pallet One offers a very nice looking pallet basics section to help educate prospective customers on sizes and benefits of each design type.
Offering online ordering or a form to request a quote gives customers direct access to you 24/7. It doesn’t necessarily cost you much or require a lot of technology. But it makes you seem like a technological savvy company for a minimal investment. If you can provide customers online access to their accounts and customer invoices, that is even better. But these data services require more money and effort than many typical pallet companies are willing to spend.
Consider putting a pallet purchasing guide on your Web site. This would include basic sizes, things to consider when evaluating pallet vendors, glossary of industry terms, pallet design basics, pallet rental versus buying new or used pallets, overview of pallet price basics, etc. Many times pallets fall into someone’s lap at a company by default. They may not know anything about how to buy a pallet. If you are the one educating them, you will be in the driver’s seat when it comes time for them to buy.
Nice Touches to Sell One More Thing
Make sure to include a full detail of every service you offer. If you make block pallets on occasion, include info on block pallets on your site. If you stencil or color code pallets, mention this on your site. Always include your coverage area on your Web site. This will help ensure you are considered for accounts you would want but are not wasting time with possible customers that are too far away for you to service.
Companies with a vibrant mulch business may want to promote mulch on their site. Pictures of various colors and information on mulch can be helpful to attract new customers. This part of your site would need to be more marketed to consumers and landscaping contractors. You might want to have the ability to order online. Pallet World (www.palletworldinc.com) and AAA Pallet (www.aaa-pallet.com) have a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) on mulch, which covers basic questions about using mulch. AAA Pallet, under the Urban Forest Mulch section on its site, explains how pallets get turned into mulch, reducing waste and saving landfill space. On your Web site take whatever opportunities that are available to you to explain the environmental or community benefits of what you do. A catalog of mulch products and application ideas might be a good way to market mulch online.
If you have surplus equipment that you want to sell, consider listing it on a page on your Web site. Nelsons & Sons (www.palletdepot.com) does this with surplus equipment.
Presenting a list of satisfied customers, testimonials or displaying customer recognition awards is a good way to illustrate the kind of quality work your company does. If you are worried about competitors stealing your customers simply by looking at your Web site, you can always post the logos or names of customers without having to give specific contact names or customer locations. Delisa Pallet and IFCO both do a good job of showcasing on their sites the kind of quality customers they serve. If a Fortune 500 company sees that you serve other Fortune 500 companies, you are more likely to be considered as a legitimate option when the business looks for a new vendor.
The Nelson Company (www.nelsoncompany.com) features on its Web site the Supplier Recognition Award that it received last year from Dupont. There is a whole page dedicated to the award, including a full press release. Highlighting recognition from customers is always a good idea. It can help prospective customers feel better about choosing you as a vendor.
Adding personal information about employees, company philanthropy or things that make your company unique will help to make your company seem more personable and can develop goodwill with customers. Berry Industrial (www.berryindustrial.com) features on its News section information about its participation with radio host Don Imus to raise money for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome research. One company featured its involvement in balloon races. Consider posting pictures from any customer appreciation efforts your company does.
Make it easy for visitors to find the primary contact for new customer inquiries and existing customer service concerns. Some companies provide a list of personnel on their Web site. You never want your customer to have to go hunting to find the contact information for the person he or she needs to reach.
If your company has been featured in a local newspaper, magazine or trade publication (like the Pallet Enterprise), consider putting links to these stories on your Web site. Make sure to respect any copyright or link restrictions on the content. If you would like to use Pallet Enterprise content on your Web site, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 804-550-0323 for more information.
Finally, your domain name can help attract customers. One of the domain names that I like the best is www.palletpricing.com. The domain is generic enough to be of interest to many prospective customers. Sure, you will probably want a primary domain name that reflects your company name. However, if you can get a domain name that someone might type into a browser when blindly looking for vendors, there is no harm in obtaining it as a secondary domain to point to your Web site.
All it takes is a little forethought and effort to turn your Web site into a power component of your marketing strategy. Is your Web site an afterthought or a proactive tool to bring in business? Maybe now is a good time to take a look at what others are doing on the Web.