Residential Lighting: How important is online advertising for lighting retailers?
Court Cunningham: Traditional advertising and marketing have their place, but more and more studies show the incredible impact of online efforts. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, over 50 percent of small businesses fail in the first year, and 95 percent fail within the first five years. Small businesses that advertise online fare better overall. What’s more, a recent Nielsen study shows that 74 percent of people now use major Internet search engines like Google and Yahoo! to find local businesses.
Residential Lighting: How can lighting retailers get more bang for their buck online?
Court Cunningham: Probably half of all Web sites don’t pass our editorial review. We have a 40-point checklist — navigation, colors, testimonials, pictures, having your phone number on every page, listing your areas of expertise. For example, it’s important to be clear with your landing pages. If you have outdoor lighting and chandeliers, you’ll want a landing page for each type of product. A good landing page can drive “conversions” — that is, shoppers who see your Web site [and follow up with a] phone call to your lighting showroom.
Residential Lighting: What are some common Web site blunders that lighting retailers make?
Court Cunningham: Common pitfalls include not making clear what you want the visitor to do (i.e. make an appointment), not using Web-friendly copy (i.e. too much information) and not satisfying a range of visitors.
[It’s critical to] build a site that will serve its intended purpose. Resist the urge to use ready-made templates or your tech-savvy [but amateur] nephew to build your company’s site. Use an online marketing pro to ensure you’re guiding as many people as possible toward calling your business.
Residential Lighting: What’s the next step for lighting retailers?
Court Cunningham: Generating interest in your business will get you close to success, but you and your employees need to take it that last mile and close the sale. Simply pick up the phone. Studies show that small businesses only answer 36 percent of their incoming phone calls. Remember: One missed call is a missed opportunity for you, and often a new opportunity for your competitor.
Residential Lighting: How does today’s tough housing market factor in to the importance of an online presence for lighting retailers?
Court Cunningham: Three percent of homes are vacant right now — 2.5 million homes; it’s an all-time high. Your building-spend is down five percent, driven down by the decline in housing prices and by mortgage equity withdrawals being less available to homeowners. This [scenario] is reducing demand for home improvement services.
The flip side is that 95 percent of what we spent last year will be spent this year. So, during this downturn, you want to invest your marketing dollars on a marketing channel that’s measurable. With online, you know exactly what is spent, where it is spent, what search terms drive traffic and whether phone calls came out of it.
Court Cunningham is CEO of Yodle Inc., a provider of local online advertising services. The company recently launched HousingDownturn.org, which provides business and marketing tips for small business owners tied directly to the housing industry.