A quality, focused website is an essential marketing tool for every HVAC contractor. Your website needs to work just as hard as you do, representing your company 24/7 online. You need to carefully plan and design your website to get maximum value out of it. Then you need to apply the best practices of search engine optimization (SEO) to make sure people find your site.

When developing a website, where do you start? Tom Mirabella, president of Wingman Planning, a small business consulting company specializing in website design and development, said, “Your website should be aligned with your marketing strategy and geared to your target market. Keep your customer in mind when you think about how you want your website to look and how you want your visitors to navigate the site. You will need to consider the information that customers will be looking for and which products or services you want to showcase on the site. If you are going to be selling products directly from the website, then you will need secure e-commerce capabilities. Photo galleries are a nice addition to the website for any company that has visual work to display, and they will not only showcase your company’s work, but will also keep visitors to the site engaged. All of these elements will impact how you organize and set up the basic navigation of the website.”

Edgardo (Eddie) Vélez is a 20-year marketing and PR professional, Web and graphic designer, and blogger. Vélez said, “Each client’s website is unique, and design and content are driven by the message. So I always start with what is the message — product or service? Often I interview my client, looking for unique points that would provide a differentiator to the competition. It could be something so small, but when done properly, it becomes a game changer.”

Key Components of Good Web Design

Mirabella said, “A good website has the right balance of content and photos and/or videos. Don’t crowd the site with too much content or too many pages to navigate through. There are some key components that make up a solid Web design:

• Don’t overwhelm visitors with too much text. Keep your paragraphs short. Use text that is at least a font size of 14. Be sure to select fonts that work on all browsers.

• Keep the top navigation bar streamlined; don’t crowd it with too much information or too many options. If necessary, make use of drop-down menus for additional information.

• If you are using photos, make sure they are of good quality. Invest in professional photography or purchase quality stock photos online.

• Be sure visitors to your site can easily contact you for additional information. Each page should have your contact information clearly displayed and hyperlinked to automatically generate an email back to you.

• For maximum return, build your website in responsive Web design. This means that your site will automatically adjust to whatever screen size the visitor is using, whether it be a computer, laptop, or tablet/smartphone. Not only does it adjust to the proper screen size, but it will also adjust for whether tablets or smartphones are held horizontally or vertically, ensuring every visitor to your site has a good experience regardless of what device they are using.”

Good Web design, according to Vélez, includes several key points:

• Good Aesthetics — “Now, I say this with caution, because too many people overdo it with eye candy. A website has to pop; it must be a pleasing and friendly experience or you will lose your visitor. It can’t be cluttered. Images need to be selected for impact — the wow factor. If there are two images you can use and one says what you want to say, but the other says it with impact, avoid the first and use the second.”

• Proper Use of Space — “Negative space (the unused space) is just as important as positive space. The visitor has to feel like he or she can breathe on this site. Plus, balance is key. How you distribute the weight will determine the natural flow of reading and viewing, as well as navigation.”

• Quality Content — “The most important part is your message. However, I don’t list it first because if the visitor doesn’t get past what I affectionately call ‘the smell test’ (whether the user experience will attract them and pull them in or not), they will never read your message. The message is where you inform and, more importantly, persuade. Too many think that just providing information is sufficient; it’s not. It must inform and persuade all the way through, just like a good sales pitch; otherwise, all you really have is an online brochure.”

• A Blog — “The blog is not to be confused with the previous point of quality content; however, it too must be quality content. The difference is that your blog is more to inform, help, and entertain your public (the three reasons people use social media) so as to attract them to your website. It becomes the traffic generator and SEO tool. Since Google is all about quality and original content, this will meet that criterion to help you move up the search rankings. It will shorten the sales cycle because visitors will know what you do, and it will help you build credibility and trust. It will become a referral mechanism, because readers will share it with others who may be in need of your services. Plus, it will be the No. 1 traffic generator, if you’re consistent.”

• Capture the Identity of Your Visitors — “The No. 1 goal of any website I design is to capture the identity of a visitor. You see, no one can quantify when someone buys; only the usual 80/20 stats. So the goal is to keep your brand in front of your visitor, so when they are ready to buy, they remember where they got all that great information and give you a chance to compete. Every website I design has at least three ways to capture the identity of the person: blog, social media, and a ‘Have a Question?’ conversion form on every page.”

• The Bribe — “While we would all like to believe that our site is so good that everyone recognizes it, the reality is, we are the worst judges of our own content. Therefore, tip the scales in your favor with a free offering. It could be a whitepaper with tips on how to maintain a system to avoid costly repairs. Maybe a video showing how to do a certain tip, or maybe a software calculator that assesses something helpful pertaining to your product or service. This way the visitor will see value (your free offer), give his or her value (an email address), leaving everyone happy.”

• Social Media Functionality — “Finally, use social media so people not only follow you, but also share your content through their own social media networks. This will not only help you to capture an identity, but also to grow your reach and awareness to networks you don’t access.”

Making SEO Work for You

Stefanie Makar, SEO analyst for BNP Media, parent company of The NEWS, said, “SEO helps a company’s website become more visible to its audience with techniques that improve its ranking on the search engines. When your site is more visible to your customers, by sheer number of eyeballs, you’ll get more business.”

Makar added, “Good site architecture is fundamental for good searchability. If it’s not easy for search engines to crawl your site or users to navigate your site, you will not be successful. Make sure you have clear navigation through your site, starting at the homepage.

“After that, think about developing and writing your content for clarity. Clear, specific, objective headlines and titles, not subjective ones, mixed with use of your keywords, will give you the most benefit. Your keywords must be in the title, first paragraph, and meta description of the article or static page. Make sure you choose and use keywords on your site that represent your business.

“Alt text for images can give you an extra boost if you have images of jobs, products, or diagrams of use to your audience,” Makar said. “To optimize images, place keywords that relate to the image in the file name and alt text.”

Simon Alexander, owner of Furnace Rental, a heating and cooling company serving residential customers in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, is very focused on SEO, and also provides SEO services to other business owners. “If done correctly, SEO can help attract potential customers to your website, generating leads and business. A good SEO strategy can mean ranking your website at the top of the search results for lucrative keywords.”

Alexander explained, “SEO is generally comprised of two elements: on-site and off-site tactics. On-site tactics ensure that your website is targeting the right keywords, and ensures that you’re doing everything you can to convince search engines that your site’s content is focused on those keywords. Off-site tactics refers to building links to your website, which is an important ranking factor in search engine algorithms.”

Makar also said that an HVAC contractor should target the local market. “Optimizing for local SEO involves adding your business name, address, phone, and website in local directories such as Yahoo’s directory, Bing, or Yelp. Another way to optimize for local search is having a Google Places page offering a place for people to access your company information through Google search and reviews about your business.”

Alexander added that links “should be a part of most SEO strategies. Links can come from many different places: local business directories, getting featured in local news websites for some newsworthy action, business partners’ websites, and more.”

Publication date: 1/27/2014 

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