What Should Be In Your Web Site
At the very least there should be a substantial amount of information about you and your marine surveying business. Similar to a resume, you should have information about your education in general and specifically any training you have had for your profession. Tell them about your life’s work experience, as well as your personal boating experience. This does not have to be in the form of an epic novel, but give the potential client some idea of who you are and what you have done.
You should have a list of the services you provide and an explanation of exactly what they entail. Remember many potential customers are new to boating and what you take for granted might be Greek to them. (What is a moisture meter and what does it have to do with my boat?)
Content Is King
The more information you include in your web site that is relevant to boating and boaters the better. Not only does this help the potential client get information he needs, but your site’s ranking with the various search engines will go up. Search engine robots have become extremely sophisticated of late and now approach the abilities of human readers in determining the relevancy and importance of web sites.
Think of stuff that the average boater needs to know and often doesn’t know. For instance, a list of things to check and get done every spring to get their boat ready to use, and another one to put it away for the winter. Maybe you could do this in the form of a printable checklist.
Perhaps a list of equipment that is a good idea to have on a boat and that is often missing, with an explanation of why it is important.
If you have a particular area of expertise, write about it. Have you ever had anything published? Make reference to it here, and reprint the article. Never had anything published? Now is your chance! Be your own publisher, but get someone else to proof read it.
If you are electrically inclined you could write a short dissertation on common problems found with electrical systems and added equipment and the dangers produced if they are not installed properly. If you are not so inclined get someone who is to write it for you, publish it on your web site with credit to the expert.
If you are somewhat of an expert on sails write about how to choose, store and maintain them. Write about the different types and weight of sailcloth and what applications suit each type best.
If you are something of a motor head write about the care and feeding of marine engines.
One of the most common blunders made by boat owners is the installation of equipment that requires drilling holes in the boat where they neglect to do proper bedding and sealing of the parts and the holes. Write an explanation of what should be done and why, and perhaps a short primer on how to do it correctly.
If you have significant experience in navigation, celestial or otherwise, write something about the importance of good charts and equipment and how to use them.
In short, any information that is truly useful to boaters belongs in your web site. The more impressed the potential client is with the information he gets from your site, the more likely he will be to open his wallet to you.
An important thought to keep in mind when choosing material is that your aim should not be to scare the daylights out of the potential boater and thus make a golfer out of him, but to give him useful information that will make his boating experience a better one, and help him develop into a knowledgeable and safe mariner who will be boating (and getting surveys done) for years to come.
Bells And Whistles
I subscribe very strongly to the KISS method of web site design (Keep It Simple, Straight-Forward). I think that probably the biggest mistake made by companies, large and small, is grossly overdoing graphics, animation, flash displays and more that may not work at all on mobile devices.
You have to ask yourself why people have come to your web site. Is it to be entertained? I think the answer is seldom yes, if ever, and besides you are not in the entertainment business. I think there is nothing more annoying than having to wait for a large download of some clever but air headed animation only to find out it doesn’t actually tell me anything I need to know.
What is important is to make sure your site is easy to navigate and understand. The less fancy code the faster it will load… remember, the user may be on dial up or be using a hand held device or smart phone that doesn’t take kindly to huge downloads.
People come to your web site to get information. The quicker and easier they get it, the sooner you will be talking to them. Do NOT try to force potential clients to use those silly fill-in forms to contact you by Email. They are very annoying and most people detest having to type in their Email address, name and phone number when their Email software does it all automatically (I know I sure do!). The purpose of your web site is not to try to gather every last bit of information on the first contact that you need to do a survey. The sole purpose is to generate sales leads for your business (yes, sales… you are selling yourself and your services!).
Do make sure however that the site is attractive and professional looking. This is NOT the place to let your niece or nephew practice their web site skills. If the site looks cheap and amateurish, so will you and your business. This is the wrong place to save a few hundred bucks.
Getting Your Web Site Seen
Once you have a web site created and get it on line the next big hurdle is getting the right people to find and read it.
As explained above, content is King when it comes to getting exposure from search engines, but there is more you can do.
It is important to be sure that your web pages are set up properly with useful META tags, proper “Titles”, “Descriptions” and “Keywords”. If you are doing your own site you will have to learn all about these things, or if you are getting someone else to do it, make sure they know what they are doing.
The next most important factor in getting a good ranking from a search engine is the number and quality of other web sites that have a link to your site. The key here is relevancy. The more relevant web sites that have a link to your site the better. For instance if you are a member of SAMS or NAMS, a link from their web site to yours is very important, because they enjoy a high status with all the search engines.
Next, get links from other sites that are relevant to marine surveying in particular and boating in general, such as marinesurveyor.com, boatus.com, yachtworld.com, and others. These links may not be free, and some are more expensive than others. Don’t pay an exorbitant amount; it probably won’t be worth it.
You may be able to get good free links from your local yacht clubs, marinas, boat repair businesses, yacht brokers and the like – the more the better. To state the obvious, the more relevant links you have the better chance you have of reaching potential clients.
The cost here is in the time and effort it takes to talk to the people in charge and ask them to set up a link. You can offer them a reciprocal link as an incentive… you put a link to their web site from yours.
Don’t forget to promote your web site yourself at every opportunity. Have the URL printed on your business cards, stationery and any other promotional material you may already use, including the side of your truck. In short it should be in all the same places as your phone number, including direct mail programs and promotional gifts you may use such a calendars, pens, letter openers etc..
If you advertise in print anywhere be sure to include the URL. Perhaps you can even save serious money by reducing the size of your ads in magazines and newsletters because the web site URL might be able to replace much of the ad copy, and therefore enable you to advertise in more places.
People expect businesses to have a web site today, where they can find out more about you before they make an initial contact. Make it easy for them.
It is also important to remember when you are done not to let your web site stagnate. Update the content. Add articles and information. The search engine robots can tell when a page was last updated and they take this information seriously. Google is currently placing a lot of emphasis on “fresh content”, so be sure to add new information to your site on a regular basis.
Finally, time itself seem to be an important factor in rankings. The longer a site has been in existence the better ranking it seems to get. So NOW is the time to start, not tomorrow.
P.S. The pictures on your web site should be attractive, positive images that reflect what you do to a certain extent. Use images that do not identify a particular place or boat, otherwise you should have a “property release” (similar to a model release). So keep signs and boat names/numbers out of the pictures.