Today we begin the first installment of a weekly site clinic column, where small businesses are invited to submit their websites for review. Can't beat a little free advice, right? I'll be looking at the design, copy, usability, SEO, marketing, and any technical issues that may prevent websites from drawing loyal, active visitors and meeting goals. Each week, I'll give the top five issues the website owner/manager can address to significantly improve performance.

south-jersey-caterer.jpgThis week I'm looking at the website for First Class Affairs, a banquet facility and caterer in Southern New Jersey. With a very limited budget and not a lot of technical experience, the owner created this site in Yahoo Site Builder and has recently been learning all about search marketing. I promised to keep the technical limitations in mind, and I'm convinced there are some basic improvements that will make a world of difference for the website without setting her head to spinning.

To get started, I asked a few questions that give necessary background for the marketing goals of the website:

  1. Target market? Anyone planning a wedding, event, or party in South Jersey who needs catering
  2. Unique selling proposition? Ability to create an elegant affair on any budget with a little creativity.
  3. Website goal? Contact.

1. Content: Does it address all of your potential customer's needs?
The first vital step for this site is to expand the content and organize it into multiple pages.

I can't tell you how many times I've worked on a web development project where the sole focus was the design, and no one was paying any attention to the content. Sometimes it's like pulling teeth just to get the basic information, let alone turn it into compelling copy. And while a professional look is necessary in today's web savvy world, giving visitors all the information they want is even more important.

The First Class Affairs website has a good start in providing the necessary information. But it needs much more content--and needs to move it off the homepage. At the recent Small Business Marketing Unleashed conference, Heather Lloyd-Martin said that "your homepage is like the back cover of a book." In other words, it should only give the highlights of your company and website.

It's only been a few years since I was planning my own wedding. I did most of my catering research online initially, so I've had a good look at what brides and other party planners are looking for that isn't currently found on your website:

  • Menu. Even if it isn't comprehensive, give as many examples as you can of what you offer. I'd even include a list of the most highly recommended or popular items.
  • Services. What do you provide besides food? Do you serve on china or paper? If china, does it cost extra? What about linens, drinks, appetizers, set up, clean up, and cartons for leftovers? Be comprehensive, and tell visitors everything you can do.
  • Cost. In your unique selling proposition, you say that you can create an elegant affair on any budget. On the site, you give a price range of $59-99 per person, which leaves out a large section of the market. Let visitors know that you are willing to negotiate and be creative to come up with a menu that will fit in their budget.
  • About Us. Let your personality shine through here. Show why you're an expert, why you are different, and why a bride (or other planner) should trust you with her special day.
  • Banquet Facilities. Talk about the size, the special features, the space, and what all they get if they use your banquet facility and your catering service. Give ideas of price. Is the room rental included in the per person catering fee, or is it separate?
  • Off-site Catering. Tell visitors what you can provide off-site, locations you've worked previously, what you require in the location (electric, refrigerator, etc). Do you provide linens, china, and set up off-site?

If you need more ideas for content to consider including on your site, spy on your competition! Look at websites selling a similar product or service, see what you like and don't like, and use their good ideas (but not their copy, of course!).

2. Design: Don't alienate subsections of your primary or secondary audiences.
The First Class Affairs website design screams "wedding." In a way, that's good as this is a primary target audience. Unfortunately, it still alienates a large section of the market looking for a more modern wedding. With the old-fashioned female portrait on every page, the scrolls, and the curly writing (script fonts are a big no-no on the web, by the way) the site implies a very frilly, Victorian feel.

But then, what about all those other party and event planners who need a caterer or banquet hall? You don't want your design to be so focused on weddings that you completely leave out this huge market.

Ditch the script font, ditch the Victorian portrait, use more neutral colors. You have a beautiful facility and great pictures; sprinkle those throughout the site. Look at bridal magazines or websites to see what kinds of colors and invitations are in-style, and use those as your guide. Make sure it's obvious that weddings are your primary target without excluding other events.

3. Marketing: Give a call to action on every page.
Nearly every time I audit a website, I find a lack of a call to action. Telling visitors what you want them to do on your website is so important that we tell our clients to put it on every single page! We've often found that using a three column format (navigation, content, right sidebar) and putting a call to action in the right hand column is very effective in driving visitors to your conversion point.

For First Class Affairs, the call to action is to "contact us." You could even go more specific and say "contact us to discuss your event" or "contact us to schedule a visit." If you offer a taste testing session (if you don't, it's a good idea!) that could be your main hook. Whichever you decide to use, make sure it is prominent on every page and links to your contact page. Your call to action should always be "above the fold" where visitors don't have to scroll to see it.

Side note: Make sure all of your contact information is on the contact page. It's on every page already, but visitors will still expect to see an address and phone number in the content area alongside the contact form.

4. Search Engine Optimization: Use the terms searchers are using.
southjerseycaterer-keywords.jpgIt's great to see that you've already incorporated unique titles and descriptions on each of your pages. However, several of the key phrases you are targeting just aren't getting very many searches. This is a relatively common problem for new sites, or even old ones just starting SEO. What businesses call their services or location just isn't always what their customers call those things. That's why using keyword software like Keyword Discovery or Wordtracker is so helpful. Even if a certain phrase or term is in your business model or marketing materials, you always need to go with your visitors.

After some basic keyword research for this website, I found that more people are using the following terms for location:

  • New Jersey
  • NJ
  • Philadelphia
Very few are using South Jersey or Philly for catering/wedding related services.

For services, consider using

  • Wedding
  • Banquet
  • Banquet hall
  • Reception

So few people are searching for any versions of the term "cater" that it's not really worth optimizing your titles and descriptions for that term. However, that is an important explanation of what you provide so it is important to use it in content for after visitors get to your site.

5. Link Building: Get involved on related websites.
One major pitfall for search engine rankings and traffic is that the First Class Affairs website has incredibly few incoming links. And virtually every link it does have is from a blog or forum comment made on a legal website. Only a handful are wedding related comments.

It's great to see a site owner so active in blogs and social media and contributing thoughtful, relevant comments. However, to get the most out of your time and drive high quality links to your site, spend more time on wedding and event related sites. (Hint: having someone else to link to your site in a forum is an even better way to drive traffic.)

In addition, make sure your site is submitted to directories including your local chambers of commerce and niche sites like theknot.com.

Submit Your Site For a Free Review
Small business owners: if you'd like to submit your website for a free review in this weekly column, contact me at jackie@sitelogic.com. Be sure to include your URL and answer these three questions:

  1. who are your primary and secondary target audience?
  2. what is your unique selling proposition (what makes you stand out)?
  3. what is your main goal for your website (sales, leads, page views)?


May 2, 2008





Jackie Baker is an internet marketing analyst with SiteLogic Marketing (http://www.sitelogicmarketing.com) where she focuses on auditing websites as well as SEO, social media, usability, and information architecture consulting. She comes to the industry from a marketing/PR and website development background. Jackie maintains an active presence online through her blog RegardingHorses.com (http://www.regardinghorses.com) where she shares her love all things equine, particularly therapeutic riding.






Comments(10)

I recently met you at SBU and am glad to see your article. Your points are great and applicable to many websites. I look forward to more site reviews. Thanks!

Jackie, great first post on Search Engine Guide. I love your thorough explanations and examples. There's a lot packed into those five little steps. I look forward to the next one.

Welcome to the team! :)

great advice! to the point and seems extremely useful and you did realte to the the tech limitations!

Great article. How do I my site reviewed. Thanks.
Daniel
AspenLeafChristianBooks

Sorry, I re-read the article closely and answered my question.
Daniel

Great article. Yes, on the internet content is and always has been key. My favorite thing about posting quality content is that it's the easiest way to build links! Why bother begging others for link exchanges when all you need to do is post good stuff and people will link you the natural way?

Hey Jackie. What a fantastic idea for a series! I'm already eagerly looking forward to the next site analysis.

Our Website is our virtual shop and content is working as a voice of shopkeeper. Content is very useful for attract customers for buying our products or services. So we should to write our content in easy language so everyone can understand what we want to say.

Great post! Uality content = more traffic, ever!

Hi Jackie,
Greetings from India for a jubilant New Year 2009!

You powerfully demonstrated the
'Call to Action', 'Content', 'SEO Terms' with the irresistible 'USP'.

Actual examples, the necessary dissection to show what can be altered brings powerful impact. It makes even the naive understand things better demonstrating your step 1.

Free Review is the USP that made me pick your article over several others for detail viewing. It interests me to know how well your USP is working for you.

You are reading my comment after about 8 months of posting your article. Is 'Submit Your Site for Free Review' still active?

Best regards,
Dr. Ashok Koparday

January 10, 2009

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Search Engine Guide > Jackie Baker > Site Clinic: Content Is Key To Attracting Customers