Engaging, effective websites require more than good looks

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July 20/27; Retailer’s Guide to Digital Marketing

By Nadia Ramlakhan

While other industries have quickly adapted to digital marketing, the flooring world still has much to learn, according to some experts. When it comes to having a professional online presence, it is important that a floor covering business be represented with an inspiring, concise and informational website.

“If you don’t have a digital presence at all, that immediately knocks you out of the competition,” said Misty Hodge, director of digital platforms for Shaw Industries. “[Your website] is an opportunity for consumers to find you 24/7 even when your doors are closed; it’s an opportunity to speak to who you are as a business and what you offer.”

Consumers today are trained to qualify a product or business online before ever going into a store, so it is vital that a retailer’s website is an extension of his brand put together in a clear, easy-to-navigate, visually appealing and educational format. FCNews gathered some tips from industry executives for creating an attractive yet engaging retail website.

It’s all about SEO

With Google as the leading search engine, SEO (search engine optimization) practices are critical to creating an effective website. Any retailer can design an appealing, interesting and inspiring site, but it’s no use if consumers can’t find it on Google.

“The first thing retailers have to do is make sure the site is optimized in a way that it can be found when people in their local markets are searching for flooring stores,” said Kent Clauson, vice president, brand and digital, Mohawk Industries.

He recommends having a strong social media presence because Google rewards websites that connect to other digital platforms. Use of everyday language (used in testimonials, for example) is another way to be found on Google as shoppers tend to search using basic terms like “carpet for dogs.” Dealers should also register their websites with primary search engines and be sure to only include unique, original content.

User friendliness is key

Once potential customers have found the website, the next step should focus equally on appearance and functionality. When a consumer goes to a website, she needs to be able to quickly and easily find exactly what she is looking for. “Consumers don’t spend a lot of time on your website,” said Charity Stewart, account manager for Move Digital, a company that specializes in social media and digital marketing programs for retailers. “You only have a few seconds to make an impression.”

Move Digital serves as the marketing arm for Kemp’s Flooring in Huntsville, Ala. Stewart explained how Kemp’s website is broken down into categories people typically search for like hardwood, carpet, services, promotions, etc. Simple and easy-to-understand headers help users navigate the website without running into aggressive, overly creative text that can sometimes be confusing.

A.J. Rose Carpets & Flooring, with three Massachusetts locations, has a live-chat box on its website that greets the user, engaging potential customers while also serving as a lead-generation tool. “It’s 24 hours, so if someone is browsing when she gets home from work or after putting the kids to bed, she can get the information she needs and get live feedback at her convenience,” said A.J. Boyajian, co-owner.

Give it a personal touch

Rather than simply providing contact information, retailers should make sure their websites truly depict the unique qualities that make their businesses successful. “Most retailers look at a website as a business card and believe with it they are handing out their phone numbers and addresses,” said John Weller, vice president of FloorForce. “Today’s consumer has far more expectations.”

Weller explained if a company was built on values of quality customer service or installation, it should build that message into the website. “A ‘cookie cutter’ website without any personalization will not do anything to help grow your business.”

Whether it is through a project gallery or customer service awards, retailers should demonstrate they have competence and a value proposition. “When a customer finds the website, she should see what the company has done in the community and know it has been in business for many years,” Clauson said. “That will help create confidence for her.”

What you see is what you get

Visuals are a paramount component of an effective website. Shopping for flooring can be daunting, so dealers must remember that imagery typically resonates best with consumers, especially when they are able to play around with colors and visualization tools.

“Major retailers and big boxes have tools that allow the consumer to visualize products in her home,” said Jay Flynn, vice president of sales and marketing, Creating Your Space. “Car dealer sites allow you to design your own car—it’s what the customer is used to.”

He noted that photos of room scenes are essential to simplifying the shopping experience. Hodge added that before-and-after photos also inspire customers and attest to the expertise and craftsmanship of the dealer.

Customers value transparency

Online testimonials, ratings and reviews are major qualifiers for consumers who are serious about purchasing flooring. Studies show that today’s web-savvy shopper is more influenced by what her peers say about a business vs. any ads a company distributes, so dealers should use the opportunity to shine.

“The key thing consumers want to know is what other customers have to say about you,” Hodge said. “Some retailers are concerned these platforms are opening up an avenue for consumers to write negative reviews; they’re going to talk about you regardless but how you react, how you make it right, how you turn that unhappy customer into a happy one, speaks volumes of your business.”

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