When it comes to productivity, few places are as treacherous as the Internet. Between Facebook, celebrity gossip, and cat videos, it’s a wonder any work gets done at all. But for gathering information the web can’t be beat, and today most consumers begin their buying decisions online. For most dog trainers, sitters, and walkers, a website is the only storefront you have. Groomers and doggie daycares may have physical locations, but these days they too will make first impressions online.
And let’s face it: some websites are better than others. Just like in the real world, the details make a difference. Strobe lights and high-decibel Lady Gaga set the right tone for a teen girl’s clothing store, but would be less successful at the maternity shop down the street. When it comes to your own site, you’ll need to hit the right people with the right message. Here are some tips for making the most of your virtual presence.
Architects Get It Right
You wouldn’t build a brick-and-mortar store with your own two hands. And yet the Internet is littered with homemade sites poorly designed, written, and coded. For a dog owner wondering which local pro to trust with their beloved companion, a site designed and written by professionals implies a level of across-the-board competence, making the choice clear.
Graphic designers give your site the right look, pleasing to the eye and aligned with your brand. Writers craft messages with a big marketing punch, choosing words that all at once convey information, engage the viewer’s emotions, and push your site closer to the top of search engine results. And web designers bring it all together in one quick-loading, well-coded whole.
Hiring the pros does cost money. But in an increasingly web-savvy world, your site should be the last place you cut corners. Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you work with your website team.
Retire The Dancing Chihuahua
Blinking smiley faces, background music, and where’s-the-pause-button slide shows frustrate viewers, and detract from the capable, professional image you want to project. Good photos work better than animated gifs while still offering visual variety. If you insist on adding moving parts to your site, let your visitor control them with a click.
Less Really Is More
People don’t read websites like they read books. Your potential client will scan your page, then zero in on the relevant info. Nothing provokes the urge to click away and check one’s email like a long page of unbroken text. Hold your potential client’s attention with short paragraphs, bullet points, and lists.
Give Them What They Want
Shorter paragraphs = fewer words. Make every one count. Your homepage should provide:
- Business Name
- Location/Areas Served
Create a separate “About” page for staff bios; a page for each service describing them in greater (though not long-winded) detail; and a final “Contact” page. Use clear and consistent navigation links throughout.
Include contact information—a phone number and active email link—on every page in an easy-to-find location. The top right-hand corner is best.
Worn-Out Leashes And Solid Praise
A few weeks in business can leave you with a grimy treat bag and a few broken clickers. But your hard work probably pleased a few clients, too. With Internet shoppers giving greater weight to customer reviews, grit your teeth and call in a few favors. A “Testimonials” page, with detailed before-and-after success stories (“I can finally walk Bowser by the neighbor’s dog!”) is worth its virtual weight in gold. Sprinkle short testimonial excerpts throughout your site, too, set apart visually to draw the eye. Consumers know that some businesses fake their own praise, and reviews signed with full names and locations sound more authentic than those signed “Tricia K.”
Write For The Right Crowd
You pursue continuing education in canine behavior. You network with other dog pros and subscribe to industry email groups. You know the lingo. Your clients don’t. Few will have more than a vague understanding of the term “positive reinforcement,” let alone “R+.” Whether it’s “recall,” “sep anx,” or “resource guarding,” be sure your writer chooses words with the dog owner—and our good friend Google—in mind.
What’s Their Problem Anyway?
The last point bears repeating. Your website is for your clients. When mapping it out, always keep them in mind. Their priorities are different than yours. Most owners love their dogs, but they’ve chosen career paths that don’t leave their hands smelling like liver treats at the end of the day. When owners steal five minutes in their cubicles to surf the Internet for local dog pros, they’re not worried about the quality of their human-canine bond. They just want to come home to an intact couch and a still-white carpet. They’re short on time and need their dogs walked, groomed, or trained not to jump up on attractive neighbors. So be sure your website answers two questions:
- Where does it hurt?
- And how can I help?
Step Away From The Soapbox
Humans are confounding. It’s tempting, after time spent in the trenches of owner compliance, to use your site to lecture on proper training methods or the exercise needs of young Labradors. But an owner is like her dogs in at least one respect—neither of them like to be scolded. You can summarize the key benefits of R+ in brief and welcoming prose. But don’t let a gruff bark scare off new business.
With these tips and the right professional team in place, your site will make a formidable first impression, setting you apart from other local dog pros and grabbing the attention of potential clients. Good design, strong writing, and a clean layout will quickly provide the info clients need, earning their gratitude. After all, Facebook, cat videos, and the rest of the Internet are calling.