If you have a website, or are thinking of building one, remember that it will be visited by three kinds of people: existing customers, potential customers, and competitors. If your website only contains lists, phone numbers, and links that hand over your potential customer to a competitor, you're missing a great opportunity to educate and market your company to them.

What's in a Domain?
One of the most basic mistakes contractors make regarding their websites is in choosing and communicating their domain name.

When a company's management chooses a domain name, it should take care that the name is easy to read, write, and pronounce over the phone. Companies normally use their company name as their domain, or derive a derivative of the company name, if the first choice isn't available.

Your company name is your best choice, especially if it's short. The company name is obvious, easy to remember, and a good first guess if someone doesn't know your web address. Even so, what seems obvious to you, may read differently to someone else — or perhaps everyone else. The results may be deadly or hysterical, depending on whether or not you own the site.

For example, take Joe's A/C and Heating. As domain names go, www.joesacheat.com is a logical abbreviation and seems to work well—at least for Joe. However, I have a problem with trucks driving around town advertising 'Joe's a Cheat'.com. I actually learned this lesson the hard way years ago, when I first started my Internet business and wanted to call it Contractor's Exchange. I was set to go with it until a friend of mine looked at the intended domain www.contractorsexchange.com and burst out laughing —'nuff said?

Since then, I've learned that the best way to avoid domain name confusion and help the consumer remember your company domain depends on how you present it to them in the first place.

Style Points
When promoting a domain that consists of two or more words, capitalize the first letter of each word in the domain. This helps the reader interpret — but more importantly —remember your domain name, as it is easier to remember two or three words than 20 letters all run together. This is especially true when someone sees it on your truck as it goes by at 40 mph.

In our above example, Joe would never be thought of as a cheat if he always displayed his name as www.JoesACHeat.com. Remember, web addresses aren't case-sensitive, so always begin each word in your domain with a capital letter on your trucks, business cards and email addresses.

When it comes to a tricky or unusual company name, the good news is that it's likely still available for use as your primary domain name. However, if your name is often misspelled, you have a hurdle in getting customers to your site. If you can identify one or two common misspellings of your company name, you can help customers find you simply by purchasing those domains as well and pointing them to your site. Avoid initials, because, unless your company markets them regularly, no one remembers them. Given the choice between initials and branding, go branding. Branding simply adds words to associate your name with what you do, for example, ComfortByJoe.com. If you can't have the most obvious domain for your company, a phrase that makes sense is the next easiest thing to remember.

Stay with a ".com" ending, if at all possible. You'll have to work twice as hard to promote a domain that ends in ".net", ".biz", etc., because if customers do remember your name, chances are good they'll assume the ".com" and end up at someone else's site. They'll be more likely to think they got the first part of your domain wrong than the end.

Site Maintenance, Integration Essential
Contractors assume that once the site is up, and running, their work is done.

Without a strategy to utilize your site, you basically end up with a glorified electronic refrigerator magnet, where the message never changes.

There are many ways to easily integrate your company operations into your Website. Here's a quick example of how much difference a simple integration strategy can make. You've probably visited web sites that put up a directory with pictures of their employees. As nice as this is, let me show you how implementing a simple strategy behind this type of page can make a huge difference.

Instead of having a picture of your technicians with a blurb that says "This is our guy," add a little information about each employee such as hobbies, pets, accomplishments, etc. The goal is to show interesting information to which your customer can relate. Customers aren't looking for proof that your tech is competent. What they really want to know is what type of person will be in their home —not what certificates he's collected. The only caution I recommend when doing this is that you use the technicians' first names only so you don't become an employment agency for your competition.

Once you've updated your directory, whenever you call a home before dispatching a tech to make sure someone is there to let your tech inside, have your CSR say:

"Mrs. Smith, we were just calling to make sure you were home before we send John to check out your air conditioner.... and by the way, do you have a pencil? (....wait for response)

"Great, write this down-- 'www. CompanyWebSite.com'. If you would like to know what John looks like, we have a picture directory on our Website, so you can learn a little about him and have a better idea of who will be in your home."

Not to be sexist or politically incorrect, but I don't know many women—my wife included—who would not like to know what type of person is going to be invited into her home.

We have one of the most unbelievable mediums of communication this planet has ever seen,
and the best we can come up with is the same lists and information we put in the Yellow Pages, only with color pictures.

Informed Consumers Buy More
This strategy involves your customers in your website at a time when they're as focused they'll ever be on their home's mechanical system (remember you're going there to fix a problem). By doing this, you've hit a homerun, as long as your site is designed to hold their attention, and educate your customer on all the other products and services you offer. The best part is that if your website showcases all the problems you can solve, they will ask your tech while he is there for more information if something strikes their interest.

Using your website to market other services to your customer when they're focused on their mechanical system is a great way to increase your technician's add-on sales, and the easiest and best way to make your website work for you at no cost.

The beauty of your website is that the information you present to your customer can always be current and reflect what your company is doing today. That's why it's so important that you be able to control it directly — or hire others who can update it for you. The most important thing your site needs to do is to communicate why your company is the best choice and educate your customer on all the problem solving solutions you offer.

David C. Squires is president of Contractor's Online-Access, Port Huron, MI. Contact David at 810/985-6603 or visit www.onlineaccess.com.

This article is based on the presentation, How to Market Your Business Using the Intenet, which David Squires will be giving at HVAC Comfortech 2005, which will be held in Nashville, TN, Sept. 14-17, 2005. For more information about HVAC Comfortech, call 216/931-9550.

Learn from the leaders: In 2004, HVAC Comfortech presented more than 30 speakers providing educational seminars. All the sessions were recorded, and are available for purchase. For pricing and ordering information, visit the show website: www.hvaccomfortech.com.

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