Companies pump money, creativity into site redesign to attract and hold boating prospects
More than 70 percent of U.S. adults use the Internet, and those with higher incomes and more education are the most likely to explore the Web — figures that are not lost on the marine industry.
Based on that finding from www.Infoplease.com, it’s no surprise marine-related companies and organizations are rushing to spiff up their Web sites. More than 40 have undertaken redesigns since 2004, all intended to entice consumers to come in, browse, purchase a product or somehow take part in the boating lifestyle.
“Developing a solid Web site is one area where a company should not skimp,” says Wanda Kenton Smith, president of the Marine Marketers of America. “It is perhaps the single most important marketing venue out there, with a door open to the world.”
Some key components to consider when designing a site, whether in-house or through an outside contractor, include: interactivity, text-based navigation so visitors can easily find their way around the site, easily accessible contact information and an opt-in mechanism that allows the site host to capture visitors’ information.
Also, the site should be designed to maximize search engine optimization. For example, during a Google search, it should come up on the first one or two pages.
“You should invest in producing a solid Web site that reflects your brand and provides content that is important to your customers and prospects,” Kenton Smith says.
Companies and organizations that have retooled sites have, in many cases, seen an almost immediate impact.
The Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation redesigned its site in mid-April for the relaunch of the “Take Me Fishing” campaign. The new campaign strongly encourages participation in boating and fishing and focuses on the excitement associated with these activities, and the new site reflects this.
Before the site was redesigned, it averaged about 88,000 unique visitors a month. Since the April 11 relaunch, it has more than doubled — averaging about 204,694 unique hits a month, says Frank Peterson Jr., RBFF president and CEO.
“You can see it’s had a dramatic impact in the first couple of months,” he says. Time spent on the site also is up about 30 seconds, he said, and repeat visitors are up about 2 percent.
Skeeter Products, maker of Skeeter boats, updated its site in January, and the response has been “significant,” says Darin Coats, creative services manager for Texas-based Skeeter.
The site now averages between 37,000 and 40,000 unique hits a month — up from about 19,000 before the retooling.
Earlier this year, Washington-based Walker Bay Boats redesigned its main Web site and launched a new site dedicated to the Airis Inflatable kayak line. In March and April, the main site experienced a 9 percent spike in traffic, compared with the same months in 2007, according to company spokeswoman Brigitta Shore.
The Airis site, launched in January, has seen traffic increase steadily. Between March and April, traffic rose 100 percent, reaching 7,193 visits and 13,581 page views per month.
“We have been swamped with customer inquiries from the Airis launch — so much so that we had to double our customer service department,” Shore says.
And despite a slow economy, Americans continue to flock to the Internet to do their shopping. According to The State of Retailing Online 2008, online retail will continue to be a bright spot in the industry, with retail sales rising 17 percent this year to $204 billion.
“The fact that online sales will increase substantially this year demonstrates the resilience of the channel and is a testament to the value and convenience most customers find when shopping online,” says Scott Silverman, executive director of Shop.org, a division of the National Retail Federation.
Even if a consumer doesn’t purchase a product on his or her first visit to a site, educating that person about a product or service can be just as valuable, says Kurt Neller, who works in business development for Dr. Shrink, the Michigan-based supplier of shrink wrap for boats.
“We educate them, so when they are ready to buy they will come back to us,” he said. “Your Web site is your brand online. We wanted to make it easy for someone who’s never done shrink-wrapping to find how-to instructions, tips … and be comfortable with that information.”
Increased Web site traffic can potentially mean more sales, but it doesn’t always.
Red Oak Marketing Group views a Web site as the first step toward getting customers into the fold, converting them into potential clients.
“Web sites should focus not just on the attraction or attrition of a consumer, but bring them relevant pieces to guide them through the sales process,” says John Trkla, president of Red Oak Marketing Group.
“The Internet offers capricious users many options to choose from. To keep the users coming back, you have to keep improving their Web experience. A successful Web site is not about the amount of visitors, it’s about the visitors being converted into returning clients.”
When the National Marine Manufacturers Association updated its Discover Boating site, the intent was to keep it fresh, appealing and interesting.
“We’d had about 6 million visitors, so we felt it was time to freshen it up,” explains Carl Blackwell, NMMA vice president of marketing and communications. “We also felt we could make the site a little easier to navigate for the consumer, so we added some sections based on boating activities.”
The changes also included new sections for baby boomers and a “spousal conversion kit” to help wanna-be boaters convince their significant other to buy a boat.
Blackwell said the changes have paid off, pointing out many of the new pages have risen to the top 10 most visited pages of the site.
“The Web site is the crown jewel of the whole initiative, because that’s the gateway between the consumer and the referral to the boat manufacturers and dealers,” he said. “Our advertising reaches consumers on more of an emotional level, and we get them to the Web site where there’s more rational information that will help them when it comes time for shopping.”
Kelly Flory of the Martin Flory Group in Illinois, said the Web site must include a method to allow the customer to purchase — either through the site directly, or provide a list of retail outlets or an e-mail sales lead program for follow-up.
“A company’s Web site can be the customer’s first impression of, or the longest interaction with, your company, especially in the accessories market,” says Flory.
An easy-to-use site, which quickly delivers needed information, is key, she said.
“A Web site should contain plenty of company and product information and photography, as well as a logical way to navigate through content in a simple structure,” Flory says. “It does not need to contain an overabundance of glitz and slow-loading content. You need to understand your customer base and build content according to their interests.”
Peterson said RBFF’s old Web site contained good information, but it was sometimes difficult to find it. That was one reason for the redesign.
“I think of the old site as a nice seven-layer dip — a lot of good stuff in it, but you had to really dig to the bottom to get to the cream cheese,” he says. “We always knew we had good content, but it wasn’t always coming to the surface.”
Constant updating of information is one of the most important elements of maintaining a successful site, Kenton Smith says.
“I’ve seen companies spend fortunes on developing really strong Web sites, and then they just seem to sit there and grow weeds,” she says, adding this reflects poorly on the company. “Using your online Web presence is the least expensive way to keep your message fresh, timely and relevant.”
TakeMeFishing.org, for example, has information on thousands of bodies of water across the country, and that data is constantly being updated, Peterson says.
“We are committed to keeping it growing, keeping the information fresh and new,” he said. Also, RBFF plans to introduce a social network to the site this summer so people can register and post their own information about a body of water, what type of fish they caught there, marinas in the area and more.
“That’s going to help us add even more content,” Peterson says.
Neller said he plans to do continuous upgrades and updates to his Dr. Shrink site, such as adding new products, tips and an e-newsletter.
“Making it easier for the end user is the ultimate goal,” he says.
Walker Bay’s Shore says keeping the site updated is the best way to serve customers, as well as distributors, dealers and the media.
“The Web site is a live resource where people can find out what they need to know at anytime, anywhere in the world,” she says. “Walker Bay sells to more than 50 countries, and such a tool is vital.”
This article originally appeared in the July 2008 issue.