How to build a marine website

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Andrew Hawkins outlines what goes into building an effective marine business website.

Think about the first thing you do when you need information on something. Are you annoyed if the website you land on is not up-to-date, not easy to use?

As I started to write this article I realised very quickly that anyone in business appreciates the need for a presence on the web. But there are two sides to a website – user-facing front end and the back end. To get the most from your site both need your attention so I thought it best to bring in some technical help.

My first port of call was the team from BoatDeck.com.au. Ben Gaze and Rebecca Jones have been the face of BoatDeck for nearly seven years now and are known for not only their technical expertise but also their enthusiasm for all things marine.

They began ten years ago with their own website, YachtandBoat.com.au, designed as a boat sales and information website.

“YachtandBoat.com.au was really the first of its kind in the market,” Rebecca said. “Whilst there were other classified sites around, Yacht and Boat was more contemporary and included so much more information about the boats for sale, and also acted as an educational portal with information about everything from getting your licence to recipes.”

Examples of websites produced by BoatDeck.com.au.
Examples of websites produced by BoatDeck.com.au.

“So a destination?” I asked. Rebecca agreed. “Yes, it is about trust. A website needs to be somewhere a customer goes, enjoys the experience, and trusts the information.”

They began to get more and more of the marine industry approaching them for advice and help in setting up sites specific to individual businesses and BoatDeck was born. Collaborating with a network of dealers, a ‘brains trust’, they started to produce a range of websites that has at their core an ability to specifically serve the marine market and its customers.

Again, said Rebecca, it’s back to giving the consumers what they need. “Websites need to not only sell your products and your business, but need to provide the information in a way that the consumer actually wants to see it, not the way you want to present it.”

“But they also have to make your life easier,” added Ben.

A good point. Appreciating what goes on behind the scenes is a very important aspect. What you see when you land on a website is the face of the company. More on that later…

Enter once, list many

A website, especially one in the marine industry designed to educate customers and generate sales, should be the ‘source of truth’ for all information. It is the public face of your database of product information so it is very important that this information is up-to-date and carried across to your sales tools.

The modern marine website also interacts with a lot more than just your in-house or immediate sales tools though. The websites produced by BoatDeck now ‘talk’ to over 13 third party websites. That’s right, you punch the product information into your website just once, tick the right box, and your product can be listed on other sales websites both here and overseas. Boat brokerages in NSW will be pleased; they also have a police portal plugin for their sites.

So if your business is selling individual products, in one hit you can save money, save time, save data conflicts and make more sales.

“Your website is a live, organic, marketing tool” said Ben. “Something simple but important is pricing. Change it once and it updates everything, easy.”

A clear message comes out of all of this though. Make sure you have a strategy. One for the actual website design and one for incorporating it fully into your business and your marketing campaigns.

Carolyn Crowther agrees. As an expert consultant in the digital content market, her job is to bring web designers, content producers and end users all together for a successful result.

“Why would you not have a website?” Carolyn was quick to comment. “Convenience, credibility, accessible to all, marketing aid - all equals sales.”

But she continued: “Always remember that your site is the face of your company and the users are the owners of the site. Test your website, and act on the feedback. Over-design or a confusing interface will lose you traffic very, very quickly.”

What’s your website strategy?

First up think of your revenue streams. Where does your money come from? What makes you the most profit? What facets of your business could really benefit from being exposed online in a more comprehensive, educational or even entertaining way?

“We also ask what the pain points are,” Ben told me. “There are many horror stories about existing websites and how they’ve been handled.”

“Surely it is not all bad news?” I countered.

“No, most of the time it is because technology has changed and the business just has not had the time to move with it,” he explained.

Cost, access, ease of editing, communication with website developer, transparency… these are the main issues raised. Sound familiar?

Luckily, things have changed. You can get a standard marine website for $3-4k these days. With a local support desk, good simple editorial control and training, you can be off and running.

But remember that strategy? In order for your website to work, do not cut corners. Sit down and work out what you need and get the right site for you.

Your website is not only an information portal, it can also be the generator of content for many more marketing channels. We mentioned how BoatDeck sites could load all your product information onto other sales portal sites. Well, your website can also be the generator of content for other marketing tools.

Your website should generate social media content. Add a new product, it can appear on Facebook. Write a news item and load it onto your next electronic newsletter. And back the other way; pop a photo up on Twitter, it should appear on the feed on your website. Everything can be connected, and it all saves you time and money.

How to be found

The world wide web is a mighty big place. In 1994 there were less than 3,000 websites online. Now there are over 1 billion. That’s a lot, though a sobering statistic is that the average lifespan of a webpage is about 100 days. Don’t become a statistic!

Maintenance and marketing are the big issues. Launching a website and then just leaving it is a bit like building a showroom in an out of the way place and hoping someone might come by. Very soon you will be having a closing down sale.

Your website is an important marketing tool, so tell people about it. Integrate your website address into all your marketing and if you keep it up-to-date, you can be confident of directing people to it as a reliable source of information.

SEO (search engine optimisation) is a whole article in itself but I asked Rebecca, Ben and Carolyn to give me a few things to keep in mind.

Keep your website up-to-date. Fresh content is needed all the time to keep your site active, keep it in the search results, and make your customers want to come back time and time again.

There are a lot of good ways to develop good content, but make sure one of the ways is not just cutting and pasting from the manufacturer’s site. Search engines are onto this and unfortunately for you, they like the original more than the copy.

Size is good. Longer articles rank a lot better which is interesting as quite often the consumer will click through very quickly. So make sure you get a good message across quickly.

Original content is not just text. Video, images, reviews all work to keep the SEO gremlins happy. If you make it appealing so people share it or link to it, all the better.

Develop a file naming protocol. Do not just name your images IMG_124. Put the name of your business and the product in there.

Then after you get a new website, what next to make your business better?

“We have developed a CRM (customer relationship management) system specifically for the marine industry.” Rebecca told me. Linked to your database, linked to your website, it automates lead management, builds contracts, build inventories… empowers your marketing.

A lot to think about but the answers are available. Technology is something that has been readily adopted by the marine market. Have a close look at your own business, your customers, your staff. Are you making connections across everything and making the most of your website?

About the author

Andrew Hawkins can be contacted via andrew@mainsheetmedia.com, tel 0422 953 928. www.mainsheetmedia.com

This article was first published in the October-November 2016 issue of Marine Business magazine.

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