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Please help us see outside of our box!

smartstagersmartstager subscriber Posts: 1
edited February 2007 in Website Critique
My business partner and I like to joke that we can`t think outside of the box because we are too far inside of the box. We value any feedback in regard to our website:
SMART Stagers is a home staging and training company. Our business model has three different focuses:
1. We offer Home Staging services. Home staging is preparing a home that is for sale so that it presents at its best and will appeal to a broad range of buyers.
2. Last year, we developed a training program for staging. This services trains others how to stage homes and start their own business.
3. We designed a program for Real Estate Professionals, that enables them to offer Staging as part of their list of services at an affordable price.
I`ve written all the content and have designed the site. I have a webmaster who puts it all together for us. I bulldozed the site 3 months ago and created what you see today. The revamping did result in an increase in our search engine rankings (though not on google).
Our problems are:
Potential trainees are visiting the site, but not buying the training program. We are concerned that our copywriting isn`t inticing enough. We are currently considering running a "special" on the cost of the program.
Customers are not finding us through the website. or once they are there they don`t buy.
We have been keeping busy working through our Real Estate contacts and refferals, but I really want this site to work for us and the other stagers that we will train. I can`t help feeling that I am missing the boat somewhere.
Any imput will be greatly appreciated.


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    InactiveMemberInactiveMember subscriber Posts: 12
    I wrote an article on copywriting. It has some of the information you seek.
    In my opinion, your copywriting isn`t too bad. It`s certainly much better than most. However ... if the page isn`t working all that well ... you might have a clarity problem. There`s a lot of information on the landing page.
     CookieMonster2007-2-5 14:11:22
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    InactiveMemberInactiveMember subscriber Posts: 12
    Specific copy evaluation.
    1. There is a lot of information on the landing page. This isn`t necessarily bad but you have to remember: information competes with information. What do you want the customer to remember, realize, believe? When I look at your page, I don`t know what to remember. To what should I pay attention? The design isn`t bad by any means. But there are a lot of words and so forth.
    2. You actually seem to almost understand the concept of what you offer -vs- what you do. What you do is unimportant to a customer. What you offer is very important. Staging obviously offers the chance to sell a house faster, for a higher asking price. Why not use a heading such as:
    "Want to sell your house faster without reducing your asking price?"
    That seems to nicely encapsulate what you "offer". It`s not perfect but you might start with that idea and take it somewhere great.
    "Home Staging is just SMART". This is what you think. But it`s more or less generic. What does this say to someone? That home staging is SMART? Who cares if it`s smart ... why not focus on selling faster without reducing the asking price. Now that`s SMART.
    "Sell More Area Real Estate Today". This is an idea, which I call a dot. Yet you fail to connect your product ... staging ... to increased sales. There are many such dots on your landing page and many of them are disconnected. Great copywriting needs to start with one or two dots and connect and communicate ... with total clarity ... how these dots deliver a benefit. As a thought exercise, complete the following:

    Get a sheet of paper.
    Draw two dots.
    Write the concept beside the first dot: Sell More Real Estate.
    Write the concept beside the second dot: Staging
    Draw a line between the dots.
    On that line write copy that actually connects the dots. Make sure its clear and credible!!
    "Staging is producing an atmosphere that will warrant your asking price and get your home sold." This is backwards and again unconnected. How about "Empty houses take longer to sell."
    3. Pricing. Your prices seem reasonable to me. I don`t know ... but I can imagine that staging is really a lot of work. Probably it involves moving a lot of furniture and stuff into, and out of, a house in a short time. Yes. Lots of work. Still. Still you might want to read a book about pricing strategy.
    4. In your post you describe a business model that has three different focuses. This is fine although not recommended ... but you need separate copywriting for each. Umbrella copywriting simply dilutes your message and confuses people. Are you selling to realtors, home owners, or all of the above. If so, you need a separate page for each. If you mean "our business model has three different revenue lines", well that`s a different story entirely. Three revenue lines if fine, assuming you can execute each service equally well.
    5. Your site is refreshingly free of cliches and worn out ideas. This is very good ... actually it`s excellent. You really did a great job at least with creating original language.
    NHG also had some great copy suggestions/ideas.
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    smartstagersmartstager subscriber Posts: 1
    I have been having a lot of "ton of bricks" moments lately - where suddenly things hit me. Thank you NHG for the "Where are you marketing your site?" question - because the truth is, while we have (paid per click Google, marketing materials etc.) we haven`t done enough.
    Ton of bricks =  market the site more aggressively
    CookieMonster, thank you too for your analysis. I had actually read and printed out your article last night. Grabbed my pen and started to rewrite my website again and thought maybe I would have you all look at it before I drive my webmaster nuts.
    I`d like to follow up with some questions if I may...
    When you say -
    1. There is a lot of information on the landing page. This isn`t necessarily bad but you have to remember: information competes with information. What do you want the customer to remember, realize, believe? When I look at your page, I don`t know what to remember. To what should I pay attention? The design isn`t bad by any means. But there are a lot of words and so forth.
    This is the page I like least. My efforts are to try to fill this page with "rich content" and "keywords" (according to the search engine articles I`ve read). So would your advice be to keep the design and content but use less words? I agree with you that I need a more eye grabbing headline. I chose "Home Staging is just SMART!" because of the company name. Does that make a difference in your assesment - or no - because if you didn`t catch it - no one else will either?
    Thanks again,
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    InactiveMemberInactiveMember subscriber Posts: 12
    To answer your question.
    The landing page on your site is designed to accomplish one thing:
    Communicate ... with total clarity ... position, product/service, purpose.
    Ideally the copywriting should persuade the visitor to take action ... which would potentially be inspired by a specific call to action, as I believe Cartess discussed in a previous post.
    Marketing is about fantastic communication, it`s about clarity. Ideally within 4 seconds of visiting your site, I should know what you offer and why it is relevant to me. Yes. Four seconds. It`s SO easy to hit the Back button. So relevance is really critical. It`s all that matters, actually. A great exercise is to watch someone surf through your site. Several people in fact. Watch and keep your mouth very tightly closed. And listen to what they say. These people should be random if possible ... not family or friends. Afterwards, ask the tester to describe your product or service. If you`re married, maybe ask you husband`s colleagues, or if you`re not married, ask the bartender or server. Give them $20. Best money you ever spent. When someone can look at your site, and tell you 4 seconds later, what you`re offering... that`s a good place.
    I don`t know very much about SEO or how to construct a site that is attractive to search engines. There may be other considerations in this respect. But first and foremost, in my opinion, are the human visitors.
    Here`s the landing page of a site I`m working on in terms of copywriting:
    [It`s not finished but look at the communication style. That`s a super simple, clean approach for a really complex product. Less words but real, honest communication. I guess you don`t have to necessarily reduce the word count ... but you need to make sure that every single word is useful. Once you reach relevance and are communicating clearly ... don`t add any more text. That`s the point at which text becomes competitive.]
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    InactiveMemberInactiveMember subscriber Posts: 12
    Ideally the heading conveys the "offer". This should be very, very clear.
    People might read the rest of the information *if* the offer is compelling and relevant. And if you have a lot of information, people are likely to remember less. Or they might not remember the right thing. Hence I favor a more minimal approach on a landing page. [I`m also more of a minimalist in general. But this is not always the right approach either.]
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    InactiveMemberInactiveMember subscriber Posts: 12
    I really don`t want to run at the mouth, but ... a question.

    Why are you marketing? A great question for you to answer.
    Are you marketing to increase awareness? To increase sales? Both? In my opinion, the purpose of marketing is to help the business owner learn to make good decisions: it can help you create the right products, it can help communicate effectively. It can shape your business favorably.
    Promotion is not marketing. If you want to raise awareness, you can promote your business, which may or may not involve much marketing. If sales are the issue, then you might need to learn how to ask for someone`s business if you don`t already know how.
    Do I have a point? I hope so.
    Lots of successful businesses are run on product development and sales ... with minimal marketing. In those cases, the only "marketing" activity is promotion. While this is sort of an archaic model, it works fantastically for a lot of companies. What I`ve talked about today is marketing ... but promotion and sales are equally important. So depending on your situation and experience, about which I know nothing, you might want to develop a three pronged strategy.

    Communicate clearly.
    Promote consistently.
    Ask for the business.
    [With the idea that marketing has given you the tools to make enough of the right decisions. Make enough of the right decisions, with product strategy and communication strategy, and you have a receptive customer. When you ask a receptive customer for the business, they say yes. Now, if you want the customer to bang on your door and say "when can you show up and stage my house?", you`ll need a different strategy. If that is what you want, you`ll need an incredible value proposition and razor sharp marketing. This is a bit more complex and probably relies on word of mouth more than anything.]
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    keyconkeycon subscriber Posts: 34
    This is the page I like least. My efforts are to try to fill this page with "rich content" and "keywords" (according to the search engine articles I`ve read). So would your advice be to keep the design and content but use less words? I agree with you that I need a more eye grabbing headline. I chose "Home Staging is just SMART!" because of the company name. Does that make a difference in your assesment - or no - because if you didn`t catch it - no one else will either?
    Normally, I would have plenty to say (as many regulars here will attest to) ... but CookieMonster, Cartess and Craig got the jump on me tonight and I will yeild to them ... and they have provided some EXCELLENT advice so far ... except on one item you mentioned ... as quoted above ... I will comment.
    It is clear you have been "swayed" by the SEO "gurus" out there when you speak of "rich text" and "keywords", etc. You`re not the first. And before I get hammered here, I am not knocking SEO and some of the advice from these people. But I find many of these "gurus" lack pratical and real-life experience.
    You have SOOOOOOOO many ways to market your site beyond search engines and such. They are part of your plan, but not an end-all, cure-all as SOOOOOO many people seem to believe. Just think of your 3 main audiences and the many, many, many different ways you can drive people to your site. Advice from an old-timer on the Internet (no, I didn`t invent it, Al Gore did that) ... your website is a part of your overall marketing plan ... it is not IT. Use your website as a tool; not a pot at the end of the rainbow. Being that you are trying to serve 3 different audiences anyway from one site and they are B2B and B2C, you already have enough challenges and work ahead of you.
    Focus on your passion(s). Sometimes life is easier in small steps. You didn`t run before you walked.
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    smartstagersmartstager subscriber Posts: 1
    Thank you all!  I cannot describe how valuable everyone of you have been to me. I have taken what each of you has offered and compiled a list for myself and I need to get to work.
    This forum is similar to what we do in Staging... I walk into a client`s home and say move this, remove this, clean that, throw away that and wallah! - we have a home that will "captivate all who enter!" It is easy as a stager to see the home differently because I don`t live there, I didn`t decorate it to my tastes and I don`t have any emotional investment into it.
    So thank you for helping me "Stage" my website!
    Is it all right to ask for a preview and get some approval after the changes?
    Thanks again!
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    InactiveMemberInactiveMember subscriber Posts: 12
    Thanks for the nice message! Feel free to post again when you`re ready for another review.
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    337design337design subscriber Posts: 3
    Hi Cari, you`ve got an awesome site, first off.  One thing though that I would re-design is the navigation at the top.  I try and look at sites for the first time as a 1st grader... and I couldn`t figure out where the navigation was.  I would suggest making them buttons, or moving them vertically to the left side of the screen.  Right now they look sort of like Google Adwords, and also there`s no rollover effect on them.  Other than that, can`t wait to see the updates!
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    smartstagersmartstager subscriber Posts: 1
    I`m back! Wow, why was it so hard? My business partner and I spent 2 days just trying to answer the question "What is Staging". We could answer the question - just not in 4 seconds and in 10 words or less. Haha!
    By the way, I loved the way cartess set up our webpage! It creeped me out a bit that you were able to alter it in that manner - that fast - Should I ask my webmaster to beef up security or can anyone do that at any time?
    Question for 337design - (Sorry in advance to all the anti-search engine people) But the reason I had the navigation bar moved to the top was because I had read that the stupid spiders didn`t like them along the side. Does it really look bad? If they were altered with the roll-over effect would that make a difference?
    At the very bottom of the site (as it is now) there are the letters S M A R T and they are also the site menu - should I lose that all together?
    Thanks again all!smartstager2007-2-20 15:34:43
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    smartstagersmartstager subscriber Posts: 1
    Thanks again!
    NHG - I am definetely going to create subdomains to go to those other pages, additionally, I will still mention them on this home page, but not until the end. I personally don`t like websites that I have to scroll down for miles to read all of the infomation. I would like it to be succinct and click to another page if I want. So I may not have too much there to read.
    Cartess - Thank you for the advice - We do need to exploint our USP - back to the think tank!
    Craig - Thanks for the ton of bricks on my head! I can see it a lot clearer now.
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    SEOExpertSEOExpert subscriber Posts: 1
    Hi...I was a realtor in a past life and I used/referred a homestager.  From a realtor and client standpoint both your service is really valuable and makes sense.  Realtors, however, are sometimes stingy...they`ll make 10k in commissions and have  a really hard time puting down personal money to market/prepare the listing.  Virtual tours/homestaging, etc.
    If I were in your business (im sure im not telling you anything new) I`d try to figure a way to help your realtors to push more of the fee to their Clients.  Maybe offer to charge the realtor 1/2 and the homeseller 1/2.  The idea being to take some of the financial risk off  of the realtor.
    Also, for your local market and the web pages of your sub-homestagers.  I`d consider listing some of your recent clients/realtors....at the top of your web page.
    Our website lists recent clients.  In your case, if you get a well-known realtor in your area as a referral-partner.  Other realtors will have heard of him or her...if they see that they`re offering your service I think it would give them more of an incentive to go with you (especially if they`re successful in their area) 
    Also, I`d consider doing some Search Engine Optimization for your website.  If you want the most "bang for the buck" to get your company out there to marketplace...where people are looking for you, this is the best most cost-effective option.  SEOExpert2007-2-12 16:34:29
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