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Website Clutter

Written by Gary Pace, President and CEO   

Do you put Crap on Your Website?

My Dad, bless his heart, has been saying for the past 20 years that he really needs to learn how to use the computer.  To this day, I don’t think he really knows how to use email very well, but he has learned how to use the Reply button.  Then early this summer, I received a card from him. I opened it up and saw a graphic image of an easel that looked like the early days of clip art, and lo and behold, on the easel was a poor quality picture of my dad, embedded in the clip art.  Inside the card, it said, Hope you have a good summer.   Considering that he doesn’t even remember to send me a birthday card (and that’s ok because I love him anyway), why in the world would he send this card?  

Stay with me here - I really am going to make a point about relevant content and marketing your campground or RV Park...

I called my sister and brother, and they received the same card.  A cousin called from out of state and said, “I received this really weird card from your dad”.  Suffice it to say, it created a lot of conversation and dialog, and we concluded that he printed the cards and mailed them out because he figured out how to embed a photo in the clip art, even though everybody else in the world has moved on from that old clip art technology 10 years ago.  So, we think he prepared the card because he was proud of the fact that he could….. and actually we are proud of him for learning …… although he still sent it regular mail instead of email, and he hasn’t figured out how to make his photo wink.  But hey, he’s learning to use the technology and he’s making progress. 

The sad news is that somewhere in all our dialog and phone calls and even the occasional giggle, the message was lost….nobody remembers “Hope you have a good Summer!”.  As I thought about this lost message, my attention turned to many industry websites with cute little dancing bears and music playing in the background.  My question is why?  Are you adding stuff to your website because you can, or are you adding content that helps you make the sale.  I see websites with cute animated graphics but really bad photos or poor marketing text.  I see promotional messages that create more confusion than they solve.  For example, I came across a website with a message similar to “my wife Martha and I want you to feel at home”, but the website contained no indication of what “feel at home” really means.  Does “feel at home” mean words like relaxing, fun, luxury, convenience, entertainment, or is the consumer's idea of home mean work, loud noise, annoying neighbors, or maybe even a shack in the middle of a snake infested swamp.  With no photos or additional content, who could tell.  And consider the SEO (Search Engine Optimization) value of the words “Martha and I want you to feel at home”……. There is not a single word in the message that will be picked up as a relevant keyword by the search engine spiders and elevate the webpage when consumers are searching for terms such as RV Parks near XXXX  or Campgrounds with Senior Activities.  But, if you search for "Marth and I want you to feel at home", you will probably find it in the number 1 spot.  The problem is that nobody is looking for campsites by searching for the phrases "Martha and I" or  "Martha and I want you" or "feel at home".

As our staff talked about why some websites don’t produce results very well and how some websites can actually drive guests away, Ron Medenwald, our VP of Consulting and Support told me a story that made me laugh.  He said, one of the top online booking periods is over the lunch hour, but people also book throughout the day and the traffic really picks up in the evening.  Now consider an employee working in a cubicle at 2:00 in the afternoon who thinks she can quickly book a reservation for next weekend in her favorite mountains because she won't be able to go online during the evening.  So she secretly searches for a campground and opens the website.  The bears start dancing and the music blares out, grabbing the attention of her supervisor who now knows she is not working on company business.  Have you ever seen somebody scramble to quickly close the browser window, turn off the speaker volume, and hide their face at the same time?   Not only has the website immediately driven her away (losing the reservation), but the experience has also ticked off her boss (“ticked off” is not really the word Ron used, but I already used the word Crap and I want to maintain my blog’s PG rating). 

So what do I mean when I refer to something as "Crap" on your website? ..... basically, anything that takes attention away from your products, services, and experience you provide, and prevents your prospective guest from making the immediate purchase.  In the early days of the internet, web pages were primarily marketing tools to give you exposure or build name recognition.  They were a cost effective alternative to print of media advertising, but like print or media advertising, the consumer had to do something else or go somewhere else to buy.  Like media and print advertising, consumers often got distracted, and a large percentage of interested guests get side-tracked once they leave your site, and never get to the phone or location page needed to make the purchase. 

Today, websites are a combination of marketing exposure, online brochures, interactive guestbooks, and places to share experiences, and most important, they are your sales agents.  It is no longer enough to simply get a potential guest interested in your property.  You want to secure the sale at the moment they decide to buy, or risk the opportunity for them to get distracted by someone or something else.  The benefit of your website being both your marketing agent and your sales agent is that they work for you 24 hours a day, 365 days a week, and secure the sale at the moment the guest is ready to buy, eliminating the risk of distraction.  The problem is that the distraction you want to avoid can also be generated by your own website, thereby producting the same results of having the guest leave your website and be sidetracked elsewhere.  In other words, if you have a guest who is ready to buy, the smart website will not throw a lot of distraction at them that potentially delays or changes their decision and keeps them from buying now.  This distraction is what I call "Crap".

Here are some examples of "Crap" on your website? .....

Flash Introductions ..... they may look cool, but many consumers will consider them a waste of time and click away rather than sitting through the intro.  This can especially be a critical mistake if you make your repeat customers sit through the same intro over and over without the ability to skip it ..... Do you really want to drive away your repeat customers because they get tired of sitting through the same introduction?   So many websites outside the industry have abused the flash introduction concept so much that there is even a parody site dedicated to meaningless flash introductions ..... take a look at ..... www.skipintros.com ..... and be sure to turn up your speakers.  I'm not completely opposed to flash introductions but I am one of the impatient surfers who clicks away when I experience one that is a wast of time .... So if you have to have one, make sure it is brief and sell your experience rather than meaningless movement and techno gimicks.

Dancing Animation with Background Music ….. I’m not against the use of animation, but you need to make sure it is contributing to your intended message and supports the level of professionalism you may or may not be trying to achieve.  Music on the other hand is problematic for the working professionals who want to quietly make a reservation while at work.  Also, there are lots of different music styles and tastes.  What might be attractive to you, may turn off some prospective guests.  To prove my point, try putting the latest rap song on your website ..... some of the kids will think it's cool but you will drive away their parents in masses.

Bad Videos ..... Make sure any video you place on your website is exciting and presents the experience your guests will actually have.  The worst thing you can do is insert a video with the excitement or enthusiasm of Ben Stein reading his class attendance roll call on Ferris Buhler’s Day Off ..... ”Buhler, Buhler, Buhler, Buhler, Buhler ......”  While everybody and their cousin recommends adding video to your web site, very few can create "good" video.  A bad video can be worse than no video.

360 degree Photo Tours ..... this was quite the rage a few years ago and is still being added to a lot of websites.  Like Flash and Video, it can be effective or can drive people away.  Some of the organizations producing the media are not very good at creating excitement, and others place the large media file on undersized servers, causing really long load times.  You could end up spending a lot of money and then drive away your visitors because they become impatient waiting for the 360 Show to load.   Beware when someone says they have a nephew or a cousin who can save you money ..... you'll probably get "crap".

Aged Content….. In other words, old content becomes "crap" ..... People are now used to, up-to-the-minute changes in content, and some visitors will be so turned of by old content that they will simply leave the website. ..... “Hey honey, let’s go stay at this park because it would have only cost us $26 per night, THREE YEARS AGO.”

Using the Wrong Photos ..... Use the best photos you can find or create, and make sure the photos demonstrate the fun and experience your guests will receive at your park.   While the photo of your frontage sign might be useful in helping your guests spot your park from the road, don’t use that photo of your sign as the primary photo representing your park…...“Hey honey, let’s go visit this sign.”

Not Matching Your Written Text to Keywords .....Plan your content carefully and use Keywords in your text that matches keywords in the metadata section of each page.  Search engine spiders read the keyword metadata, and then read the content on your page to makes sure the page is relevant to the keywords indicated.  If you do a poor job of planning, and the text and metadata are not relevant, the page may be penalized as spam ..... which means the search engines consider your page ..... "crap". 

Reciprocal Links that are Not Relevant ..... A lot of websites have figured out that more inbound links elevate search engine ranking.  So a whole bunch of businesses make a living by contacting you and asking if you want to trade links.  The problem is, that when you devise a scheme to trick the search engines, pretty soon the search engines figure it out and make you pay for the trickery.  Search engine spiders now consider the relevance of websites links and if they find a lot of non-relevant links to or from your website, they consider you a participant of a spamming scheme and you get penalized.  So the lessen here is stop trying to trick the spiders because they will eventually catch-on to the latest schemes.  Focus on good content, use a balanced and relevant mix of keywords in your text, attract inbound links that are relevant to your content and create reasons for loyal customers to visit your website frequently.  The best search engine optimization scheme is good old fashion hard work.

Over the years we have seen that some of the most productive websites are sometimes the least flashy;  And some of the most flashy websites are often the least productive.  The trick is to continually work at it, track your results, seek honest feedback, and try to achieve a decent look while you focus on visitor conversion.  If you need professional help with your website design or search engine optimization, some of our customers have been happy with the services from these organizations:
On the east coast – www.pelland.com - Peter Pelland
On the west coast - www.bigrigmedia.com – Jeff Beyer 

So, my challenge to you is to ask someone you trust to give you honest feedback about what is good about your website and what is not good or possibly “really bad”.  Nobody wants to tell somebody that their baby is “Ugly”, so you may have to work hard to remove the risk and allow someone to be brutally honest ..... but that is what we all need from time to time .  Then ask yourself these questions:  Are you putting things on your website that you think is cute but may be a distraction from your message or drives people away? ..... or ..... Are you putting cute technical crap on the website just because you can? ..... or ..... Are you letting your content age and become crap?   Loading up your website with non-productive content might make you feel good about your technical achievement skills, but like my dad, your well intended message could get lost in all the commotion and the unnecessary clutter.

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