Watch wording on your Website

NASHVILLE, TENN. David Squires thought that contractorsexchange. com would make a great name for a Website where his fellow trade professionals could swap ideas. Web surfers outside the trades, however, might find that domain name even more interesting and perhaps disappointing if they misread "Contractors Exchange" as "Contractor Sex Change." "The No. 1 mistake contractors make is not knowing how

NASHVILLE, TENN. — David Squires thought that contractorsexchange. com would make a great name for a Website where his fellow trade professionals could swap ideas. Web surfers outside the trades, however, might find that domain name even more interesting — and perhaps disappointing — if they misread "Contractors Exchange" as "Contractor Sex Change."

"The No. 1 mistake contractors make is not knowing how to separate your name or display it on the Web," Squires told contractors Sept. 15 during HVAC Comfortech here. "Make sure you know what you're communicating."

As another example, Squires pointed to the owner of Joe's Air Conditioning & Heating, who thought that joesacheat.com would make a fine name for his Website.

Again, however, that Website name could just as easily be read as "Joe's A Cheat" as it could "Joe's AC Heat."

Always use capital letters to separate words in a Web address, Squires suggested. When choosing a domain name, try to use ".com" whenever possible.

" It's what everyone tries first," he said. "If you use '.net' you'll be giving half your business away to someone who has the '.com.'"

With the similarity of names of some contracting firms, owners should purchase alternative spellings that would bring visitors to their Website.

"If your name is easily misspelled, buy the misspelling — it's cheap," Squires said.

The length of the Website name isn't as important as whether it is memorable, he said. It should be a phrase or name that makes sense and is easy to remember. Customers can bookmark the Website rather than typing in the name every time.

Squires is one of the owners of his family's HVAC contracting business in Port Huron, Mich. He also is president of Contractor's Online-Access, which helps contractors utilize communication technologies. He strongly urged contractors to get professional help for their Websites.

"Use a Web provider that offers customer support and also understands the business," he said. "This is essential since you're not an expert. Understanding what it takes to be online is a learning cliff, not a curve."

The only two groups of people who will visit a contractor's Website are its competitors and its customers, Squires said. Contractors should design their Website's content around what their customers want, not their own ego.

The contractor's home page must be organized and clean because first impressions are important. It should have an easy-to-follow menu so that customers can get anywhere from anywhere on the site. A search function is a necessity because customers don't know all the terms that contractors use.

"Remember, your site needs to be a resource for your customers, and they will come back," Squires said. "If they just wanted lists of what you do, they can go to the Yellow Pages. It's easier."

What the home page shouldn't have is too many "bells and whistles" — graphics that might detract from the contractor's image as a professional. More effective are photos of a company truck and the owner's family.

"A picture of one of your trucks on your home page is a must to create familiarity," he said. "People deal with the familiar. It makes them feel comfortable and gives you legitimacy.

"A picture of the owner with his family is more powerful than the owner alone because your customer will identify with you more. People buy from people they perceive to be like them."

Another essential graphic is the company logo. Other photos should represent what the company does, not just the products it sells. An action photo of a tech installing a humidifier is better than a photo of the humidifier alone.

An online directory of a contractor's employees should use first names only or else it becomes a recruiting service for competitors, Squires said. Similarly, testimonials from customers should not mention their last name.

"People don't stalk on the Internet, but it's better to be careful," he said. "Use 'Bill and Alice from Marine City,' just so other customers know they're local."

Putting dates on customer testimonials and coupon offers will give customers confidence in the Website — providing that it is maintained. An expired coupon on a Website sends the wrong message, and visitors won't stay there long.

Squires offered other practical tips to contractors that want to use their Website to increase their profits: c Mention your Website in everything you do;

  • Use it to reduce the need for expensive ad space as well as mailing and printing costs;
  • Educate consumers where the world can see;
  • Build your image to promote more confidence and trust;
  • Use it as a public showcase for the awards your company has won;
  • Introduce your team as real people with families and hobbies; and c Let local groups use it for posting their events.