Having a website is now one of the most hotly debated topics in funeral service, yet very few know what it is, how it works, or how to truly use it to one’s advantage. In this post, I hope that I can help you understand more about websites and what you need to consider to truly succeed online.
Let’s start by understanding that your website is simply your space on the Internet – your teeny, tiny little spec in a vast space that has had a profound impact on every business around the world. It has changed virtually every market, toppled dictatorships, and has become the single source for people around the globe to rapidly find out anything they want to know when they want to know it. This vast new space can become your biggest friend or it can become your worst enemy. It’s entirely up to you.
Make no mistake; there is no coincidence between the advent of the Internet and the rapid erosion of the public’s perception of funeral service. There is a story being told online but rarely is it being told by funeral professionals. Many don’t have the time and others don’t make the time to take the Internet or their website seriously. For years, we have sat back and hid behind the cloak of mystery and secrecy of the funeral profession. Unfortunately, this has allowed a new breed of entrepreneurs and online initiatives to emerge.
The next wave of the perfect storm to cripple funeral service is starting to happen. We, as a profession, have allowed ourselves to lower our standards by falling prey to the allure of free websites and website incentives by casket companies and others, all vying to get control of your valuable data, obituaries, visitor traffic, and online revenues. With many of them aligned with your biggest competitors and backed by some of the largest private equity firms, are we witnessing the proverbial leading of the lambs to slaughter – all because we have taken our eye off the ball?
Here are some things to watch out for:
Form without function: There is a growing tendency for funeral professionals to get caught up over big graphics and pretty colors as the reason they chose one website provider over the other. I could conjure up all kinds of euphemisms like ‘Lipstick on a Pig’, ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’, and… well you get it. The reality is, without function, all the pretty colors in the world are not going to make your online presence successful. Consumers today are already accustomed to finding real information they seek. If all you are trying to do is market fluff, you will quickly see the number of families you serve drop.
Why being #1 on Google could be killing your business: Everyone wants to be #1 on Google – or so they think. The reality is, being #1 on Google can cost you tens of thousands of dollars per month and you may still end up losing. The public is very educated and savvy when it comes to the Internet and search engines. Surveys show that the public has a heightened lack of trust and will not deal with firms who rank high on search engines through meta-tags and paid Google words, and that fail to provide any real information. This reticence could start costing you 30% of your business and you may be too naive to even know what is happening.
Like all things – knowledge is power. You no longer have the luxury of sitting back and doing nothing. If you are not prepared to learn everything you can about the biggest threat to your business, it’s time to quickly align yourself with a company that does understand all of its complexities.
The hidden damage: In the latest attempt to target unsuspecting funeral homes’ online profits and visitor traffic, many website providers are pounding the virtues of the online Sympathy Store. A growing number of desperate firms have fallen prey. Analysts are quick to cite that the advent of highly-commercialized Sympathy Stores is contributing heavily to the further erosion of the public’s perception and trust of funeral homes.
The peddling of trinkets on funeral home websites shows just how out of touch these companies are with the real problems plaguing funeral directors and the reality of today’s more Internet-savvy users. When anyone is being asked to lay down $39.95 for a “Porcelain Comfort Rabbit”, they will likely take the extra few seconds to open a new tab, search Google for “Porcelain Comfort Rabbits”, and return 16 matches at $7.95 elsewhere. The immediate reaction of the public, real or perceived, is to see this as gouging by the funeral home and a further example of why they cannot be trusted. The firm not only loses the sale of the comfort rabbit (and the side of curried chicken) but the compounded effect of families never arriving at their door. The even bigger impact is how we are all perceived in the public’s eye.
To make matters worse, recently, one of the newest tech companies to prey on funeral service is advocating a new Sympathy Store model that allows clients to increase the amount they can charge. That same “Porcelain Comfort Rabbit” is now selling for $179.95! This is probably the worst example of how out of touch a technology company can be with the reality of what their customers really need to succeed. Funeral service is suffering enough and needs true champions to help them get through this.
But, are you already in too deep and locked in a contract? What can you do?
The first thing you need to do to move forward is to – STOP!
Stop spreading your dollars around to every new vendor that has a new gimmick and gizmo. Stop accepting the relentless sales calls from technology vendors that are only meant to further confuse you. Stop linking your casket rebates to your website needs. It’s time to align yourself with a single source technology partner that has the knowledge, the experience, and the comprehensive solutions to help you develop, manage, and maintain an aggressive strategy using multiple websites, business systems, and strategic marketing tools.
Here are 8 Pieces of Advice:
1. Choose your technology partner wisely. Ask yourself the simple question: Do they have the knowledge and solutions that can help you grow your market share? More importantly, can you afford to have all that they offer used against you by a competitor if you make the wrong choice?
2. Avoid the temptation of accepting incentives or free websites. A free website will not give you the functionality you need to aggressively compete in this changing market. There is lots of money to be made from a comprehensive online strategy that will also offset your technology costs and there are casket companies out there to provide you with pricing to remain highly competitive without the need to lock yourself into accepting one of their websites as the incentive.
3. Choose a single source technology partner that can provide the efficiencies and core expertise to help you carefully prepare and manage your complete online and technology strategy. In the end, you will save a lot of time and money, and avoid any further frustration.
4. Avoid buying into the latest and greatest. Wait for a year. If the provider of the “next latest thing to revolutionize your business” is still in business after a year, take a second look at it.
5. Take back control of your obituaries. Don’t allow your provider to redirect them to obit posting schemes that may be owned and controlled by their biggest customers and your biggest competitors. Read more on obituary piracy here.
6. If you are in a contract, you still have options. Speak to your new technology partner about waiving fees until the contract is up. This will allow you to move on without the expense issue holding you back.
7. Choose a funeral website provider that has your (and the profession’s) best interest at heart. Far too many companies only care about making money at any cost.
8. Avoid website and technology companies that have sold out their clients three and four times in the past. You and your data may be set up for the 5th sale into the hands of an entity that only wants your client families.
It’s time to think smarter and take back control. If there was ever a time to educate yourself more about technology, it is now. The future of your business and the future of our great profession is depending on it.