The Internet has developed into one of the most powerful marketing tools in business today. It has been hailed by the corporate world as a facilitator of global electronic commerce. The Internet doesn’t need to be intimidating or mysterious. Users are more sophisticated than ever before. Millions have conquered the Internet learning curve.
How can you make your site as effective as possible? First, be sure every feature on your site is operating efficiently before it’s marketed. “Nothing will discourage a user more than to enter an address and have a ‘site not found’ message display, broken links, or missing images,” says Michael Patrona, vice president of Excel Limousine Service in New Rochelle, NY. “Once our site was operating at maximum efficiency, we listed all of our key-words with more than 600 search engines. Additionally, we developed a ‘meta tag’ system that included common misspellings of words used in our industry. Very few outside of the industry can spell ‘limousine’ or ‘chauffeur.’ The most common misspellings of these words were added to the meta tags. The search engines have been the keys to our new business.”
Kristian Bouweiri, vice president of Reston Limousine in Sterling, VA, says it’s very important that search engines, such as Yahoo, Excite, and Altavista, have your information on file. “You have to periodically search each engine for your site. If you cannot find it, contact representatives of that search engine. They will send you a form to fill out so you can get priority viewing on their search engine.”
Tom Fitzpatrick, operations manager for Regency Limousine, Inc. in Wilton, CT, warns that you should be aware of any time limits for free listings on certain search engines. “You are automatically attached to many search engines when you establish a website,” says Fitzpatrick. “However, after a while, you are dropped from these.”
According to Patrona, the company’s on-line booking page has received reservations from as far away as Japan and has experienced a significant increase in corporate business. “We have also developed a list of our current client’s e-mail addresses and stored them in a database,” he says. “When the site was completed, we sent an e-mail to all of our clients. The company newsletter is also posted on the site. We send e-mails to our clients every month to make sure they are aware of everything that’s happening in our company. We often provide discounts in our newsletter for our electronic clients only. It’s important that the content of the newsletter is something that is useful.”
Matthew Harrison, chief operating officer and owner of AAA Guaranteed On-Time Limousine Service in Clinton, NJ, believes providing easy access to information is key. His company’s site provides extensive information for the traveling executive, as well as information for those who are moving into his area.
“Our ‘Travel Information Center’ can provide answers to just about any question a traveler might have, including airline flight and airport information, places to visit, things to do in other cities, weather conditions, loading and reservation services, and maps that will locate any address.”
Monique Perry, office manager for Klassy Koach Transportation in West Palm Beach, FL, agrees. “In order to have an effective website, people must be able to quickly and easily access information,” she says. “Images that appear on your site must be clear and represent an a accurate picture of what you provide. Do not display a 1998 Lincoln Town Car and then disappoint your customer with a different vehicle. Further, accurate prices and complete information must be posted. Do not post a $45 transfer rate and then bill the customer $55. Repeat business will be negatively affected.”
According to Bouweiri, a website must be rich in content and offer the following features:
- Testimonials from customers.
- On-line reservation capabilities.
- A guestbook.
- Links to other important sites, including movie theaters, restaurants, local sights, and concert schedules.
“I believe the key to a successful website is periodically maintaining and updating the site,” says Patrick Biletnikoff, general manager for Professional Limousine Service in Denham Springs. LA. “We constantly search for additional links that will provide as much information to our clients as possible.”
Biletnikoff also believes it’s important to provide clients and visitors to your site with an opportunity to provide feedback. “This is a great way to evaluate your service and your website,” he says.
According to Patrona, the most important points to consider when designing and promoting a website are:
- Selecting a web developer you can trust. The developer must understand your company objectives.
- Developing your site with your clients in mind. What you like doesn’t matter.
- Promoting your website. Never believe that “if you build it, they will come.”
- Updating your website constantly. Give people a reason to come back.
- Making your website address a part of all of your marketing. Display it on your letterhead and business cards and record it on your “on-hold” selling.
Biletnikoff developed his site strictly as a value-added service for his clients. “Our website provides customers with more accessibility to more information than standard advertising mediums,” he says. “In this day and age, more people own computers and are on-line. In order to keep pace, the limousine industry as a whole needs to have a presence on the world wide web. This will generate increased use of luxury transportation. A presence on the web is a tool that will eventually blossom into a necessity.”
Patrona’s original objective for establishing Excel’s site was for web presence. “That focus has changed because of the significant amount of reservations we receive on-line,” he says. “On-line reservations are an integral part of our business today. Our reservations page also features the ability to have reservations faxed to our office. Even when we’re not on-line, we never miss a reservation.”
Electronic Promotions Are Cost Effective
Harrison says the most effective marketing method for his company has been e-mail campaigns. “We e-mail promotions exactly the same way we use regular mail campaigns,” he says. “However, it’s a great deal cheaper and the results can be measured in days rather than weeks.”
Harrison obtained e-mail lists by geographic location through VL Communications Corp. in East Lansing, MI. “I worked closely with them in our marketing efforts,” says Harrison. “We obtained a mailing list of almost 45,000 residents and targeted virtually every home with Internet access. A bulk e-mail service sent out our personalized e-mail advertisements each month for six cents a name. Compare that with the cost of printing, paper, postage, and mailing list rentals and the savings are nothing short of phenomenal. More importantly, the positive results of those campaigns were equally phenomenal.”
According to Harrison, each month’s mailing produced a minimum 4 percent response with more than 1,800 user sessions. “We continue to work on a variety of e-mail campaigns,” he says.
Perry also realizes savings from her company’s website investment. “We ask the company planner if they have access to the Internet,” says Perry. “When he or she views our site, we automatically establish an edge over our competition. This gives the customer confidence in our company. Our site also saves us a lot of money in postage. Additionally, when mailing material to a prospective client, you are not guaranteed that the information will get to the appropriate person in a timely manner.”
Harrison says the key to creating the high response to his company’s e-mail advertising was implementing a free monthly contest. “People could enter by simply submitting their name and e-mail address,” he says. “The winner received a night on the town which included limousine service and dinner at a local establishment. After a few months of advertising the contest, we discovered that it wasn’t necessary to send out e-mails so frequently. People would come back to our site every month to enter the contest. More importantly for our company, Internet users were looking at our advertisements and sending us personal e-mails requesting quotations. We receive as many as 20 to 30 quotation requests each week.”
Harrison’s company receives several direct reservations by e-mail every day. “Some of those e-mail reservations come from our existing customers,” he says. “However, many reservations are a direct result of our Internet advertisements to prospects.”
Negotiate Agreements for Links
To increase wedding business, Bouweiri purchase links with wedding publications. “Some of our most effective web marketing has been to advertise on-line with wedding magazines,” says Bouweiri, “We purchase links on their sites. This triggers five to 10 inquiries a day for weddings rates.”
Harrison has also established several links to outside commercial entities. ‘However, I do not recommend that you sponsor those entities on your website with their own advertising banners,” says Harrison. “The effect will not only increase your download time, it will make your site look too commercial.”