Creating a Useful Website Has Never Been Easier

January 22, 2007
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Dave Squires of Online-Access discusses the features and benefits of PagePilot at one of several seminars he hosts each year.

There was a time when having a Website was enough to keep up with the competition - but that time came and went a long time ago. Many HVAC contractors are learning that the only way to stay competitive is to have information about their businesses at the fingertips of Internet surfers and in particular, their regular customer base.

And not only that, the information must be easy to decipher, easy to navigate, and answer every HVAC question that a customer seeks. If that seems like a lot to expect from a Website, it really isn’t. Thanks to a new Website development and maintenance program - PagePilot™ - HVAC contractors can now go where they previously dared not: developing their own Website.

PagePilot was developed by Dave Squires, a Michigan HVAC contractor who saw the potential for Website development and formed his own company, Online-Access, to bring a tool to contractors that will compete with conventional marketing-advertising mediums to keep customers informed and to attract new business.

Squires said that in order to develop the most useful and informative Website, contractors should know the reasons why a Website is a vital business tool for them.

“The Website is the only thing that is available 24/7 when the customer is really focused on you,” he said. “Historically customers get information from newsletters, and they don’t have time to read the newsletters. The key is to grab customers when they are the most focused. When a customer is focused he or she will learn and read more.”

Squires also believes that business owners may have the wrong priority when designing their Websites. “Contractors want more business,” he said. “But the biggest mistake we see with contractors is they only want to get high up on search engines, wanting to get as many eyes on their site as possible. However, the No. 1 purpose of a Website is to communicate with your customer base - focus first on what you can control and make money at. If you do this right, the search engines will find you naturally.

“An existing customer base is the best way to attract more customers. The only people that can recommend you are your customers. Unfortunately, your customer base does not know what you do - they only know what they use you for; e.g., how many of your customers would think of referring you for IAQ to friends with allergies if they only know you as the company that fixes their furnace? When used right, your Website can educate them on everything you do.”

Bryan Lee of Lee’s Accu-Tech Service Inc., Fresno, Calif., believes that having all of the bells and whistles is not necessarily the key to keeping his customer base informed. “Website content, continuing maintenance and usability are primary factors that search engines [Google, Yahoo!, etc.] use to rank sites,” he said. “If your company’s Website is packed full of pictures without real information that directly corresponds to the search terms that are being used by the public, or, is posted once and never changes in content, or, is not compatible with ever-changing technology, Web engines will not rank your site so that customers can find you.

“Consequently, your Web exposure will always be limited.”

Kurt Peterson of Home Experts Heating, Cooling, Electric, and Plumbing, Ionia, Mich., enjoys tinkering with his PagePilot program.

THE PAGEPILOT

Some of the key features of PagePilot enable contractors with no experience in Website development to substantially reduce their learning curve.

“I chose PagePilot for my Website because of the ease and flexibility of using it,” said Todd Burton of Burton & Sons Inc., Garden City, Mich. “The template format makes it very easy to choose relevant information to build my site. It also offers the flexibility to add things that are not pre-templated.

“I am not a great writer and this is another reason it helps to use PagePilot to provide the templates and information to build my own site.”

One of the key advantages of PagePilot is the ease in which a Website can be developed - and in such a short period of time. What once took weeks and months can now be compacted into hours and days.

“PagePilot gave me a fully functional Website almost instantly,” said Kurt Peterson of Home Experts Heating, Cooling, Electric, and Plumbing, Ionia, Mich.

“I could pay monthly, and I could edit it myself without having to pony up hundreds or thousand of dollars for software. And I could edit as time permitted. The base content gave us a very professional Website right away. It has met all my needs so far, and the constant improvements have been great.”

Ease of use and cost effectiveness are also reasons why contractor Rick Schisser of Albert Plumbing Heating Air, San Marcos, Calif., uses PagePilot. “The templates are really easy to use; you do not have to know programming code to design what you want,” he said. “You literally save time and thousands of dollars by placing your own words and pictures into your Website, plus you can put them in the way you want to have them displayed.

“You also avoid having to call your Internet guy and explaining what you want changed, then having him charge you an hourly rate for consulting and design. It is literally putting in text with simple cut-and-paste technology.”

The PagePilot program is easy to use with onscreen instructions, backed up by technical support from Online-Access.

PagePilot has developed several industry-specific Web and fax forms customers can use to ask questions, request service, provide feedback on service, and more. Some of the features of PagePilot include:

• Dynamic and easy real-time updating with exclusive nontechnical site administration and editing controls;

• Customizable and searchable HVAC content pages;

• Pre-built manufacturer product pages available for many equipment manufacturers;

• Complete e-mail account controls;

• Appointment request form with e-mail-fax-logging ability;

• Easy image uploading for personal image and graphic files;

• A separate Ad Manager system that allows a contractor to insert advertisements and coupons anywhere in the site. The ads and coupons can be scheduled to display when a promotion starts and disappear when it ends. The promotions can contain any text or pictures. All ads and coupons can be set to open in a printer-friendly version.

These features are very important to a contractor like Kathy Everett of Colony Air Conditioning & Heating, The Colony, Texas. “I like being able to customize our Website with what I want, when I want, and how I want,” she said. “PagePilot also captures Website visitor stats, Web hits as well as count of unique visitors monthly/yearly. It allows me to include nearly every attribute or characteristic of a good Website.

“We consistently receive many Website compliments from our customers. These comments indicate that the PagePilot product is a good one, especially if it is fully utilized.”

The HVAC trade is both weather-driven and time-driven. Those two factors alone are why Deb Quinn of Jones Service, Goshen, N.Y., chose PagePilot.

“What makes this product really unique is that it is very easy to update with new information,” she said. “This is especially useful being our industry is often weather-driven. For instance, last week all of our marketing centered on heating. Today, because of the record-breaking high temperatures this week, I was able to change my offers to “early bird” central air specials.

“If I were using a Website designed in Internet programming language, I would not have this flexibility. Instead, I would have to call a Web programmer to make the changes. Who needs these additional costs when I can do it myself? Besides, the warm spell might be over by the time the programmer posts the changes. I like knowing that I have this marketing tool at my fingertips when I need it.”

Squires noted that the Internet is not familiar territory to most contractors, so working with a program that is easy to use, and with people who are knowledgeable not only about their own product, but regarding the Internet and related technology, are both a plus.

“Online-Access not only provides an easily accessible Help Guide, but any time a user has a problem or needs additional support, they can get it via e-mail or phone,” he said. “Support is always geared to providing the customer with how-to instruction while satisfying their need.”

For more information, visit www.online-access.com

SIDEBAR:12 REASONS TO HAVE ONE

Kathy Everett of Colony Air Conditioning & Heating, The Colony, Texas, lists 12 reasons why an HVAC contractor should have a Website.

1. A professional-looking Website will make the company look more professional.

2. You can structure the Website to give the customer a warm and fuzzy feeling that prompts them to want to do business with you.

3. You can present reasons why the customer should choose your company.

4. You can create contests and other fun ways to capture an e-mail address database.

5. A Website can build a company’s value.

6. A Website can display testimonials, even audio testimonials.

7. By including strong HVAC content pages, a Website can help customers become educated about HVAC, and we like educated consumers because they understand the value of quality, costs, energy efficiency, etc.

8. You can use the Website to enhance “relationship selling” by setting up auto e-mail reminders and e-mail newsletters, or display pictures of contest winners, etc.

9. You can use a Website for online scheduling, online bill paying, online questions about service, etc.

10. A Website can help position the company as the local expert.

11. A Website can keep consumers aware of industry issues as they occur.

12. Callers can be directed to go to a Website to learn about accessories or energy-saving products that can increase sales.

Publication date: 01/22/2007

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