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24 min read

Building the Perfect Club Website (Joe Jerome) [Episode 11]

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When did you last update your club website? If it's been more than three years, you're likely not realizing the full potential of your online presence. Your website is more than a digital brochure. It should be your greatest sales asset. But creating a website that accomplishes all of your various initiatives takes careful planning and thoughtful design.

In this episode, Joe Jerome from Brand Builder Solutions joins us to tell you where your website might be falling short and what you can do to get it to drive more leads. By leveraging data, designing for the buyer's journey, and articulating the site's true purpose, you can create the perfect website for your club's needs.

In this episode:

1:11 - Who is Brand Builder Solutions?

ED: Joe, for the people who don't know about Brand Builder Solutions, what should they know about what you guys do?

JOE: To keep it really simple, we're a website company. But what makes us probably a little different than what you normally think of a website company is our main goal is to make it very easy for you as a company to be able to communicate with your prospective clients and your existing clients. It's really about empowering the marketers to do their jobs.

1:41 - Changing website trends

ED: Awesome. I know we're going to dive into that and learn more about that because there's so much more for people to know about website and website design that maybe they didn't realize, especially from several years ago. To that end, there are a lot of clubs online who have beautiful websites, they have nice pictures and they can look somewhat contemporary. But there's so much more to the design and the development. For people who are considering a new website or have been approached to design or build a new website, what do people need to know about how websites have changed over the last five years?

JOE: Yeah, so, the biggest thing we've seen has been technology has been increasingly getting better, which means the technologists have kind of been getting marginalized, which means the marketers have been getting empowered. So, the biggest change we see is that marketers have the ability to react quicker. The downside to that is they're kind of used to having a lot of gatekeepers in the way. Now, with all this power, it's like, "What do I do with it?"

2:49 - Websites become interactive

ED: Got it. So, in the same token, there are some industries where you can get away with, I mean, I don't know who does this anymore, to be honest with you, so please feel free to dispute this, but it seems like there are some industries that they might be able to get away with websites that, technologically, is a little bit further behind. But in the club industry that's so visual, that's so social, that's so potentially interactive, where people really want to learn more about the club itself, the members who are there, what should they know about design and how that's changed at least from an interactive perspective?

JOE: Yeah, that's a great point. When it comes to clubs, there's a lot of things I'm going to want to see depending on the club, could be a golf club, a yacht club. Regardless, there are things people are going to want to see because a club is by nature social and it's also an experience. So, whenever you get into things that are experiential or social, you're going to want to see things and hear from people and hear the story, know about that experience before you actually get there. So, how does that relate to design? You want to be able to work with a group, or work with a supporting technology, that makes it really easy to share content and work with a group who's really good at understanding your buyers and then telling their customer story, your employees' stories, your history, and seeing the things that you have at your location.

4:26 - What do you want your site to do?

ED: So, I want to jump into a little bit of the things you mentioned because you said several things in there that I think might have people nodding their head and then going, "Wait, wait, what did he mean by that?" So, when you say "knowing your buyer," if you have dug into web design at all, if you're someone who's been kicking this around, the "buyer journey" is something that is very popular lingo out there today. But let's just talk about your process. Because, yes, 10 different developers or designers, they might have 10 different ways of looking at a website and how it should be designed based on whatever their experience or preference is.

But when you think about designing a website today for that buyer, for that prospective member, what is your process? What questions do you ask the client? What are the questions they should be asking themselves? And then how do you take that information and then say, "OK, this is the right way to build this page. Start with this, and go to this, and go to this." Because that's one of those things that I think people can wireframe and it seems like, "OK, we're just putting pictures in places and words in places." But there's a real strategy to that.

JOE: Right. And one of the things we have in our mission statement is to come in and help people build websites as they should be built. One of the things we find is that — I don't want to diminish the intelligence of marketers or anybody, it's just how we look at it as an industry — people generally just don't know, fundamentally, what they want the site to do. They don't know who to go to to get that done. And let's just start with that first point.

ED: Yeah, so they don't know what they want the site to do. I mean, that's like, a lot of people are probably going, "Huh?"

JOE: Exactly, and you say, "Well, no, why are you redesigning the site?" "Well, it's outdated." OK, so what does having it being updated mean? Well, it looks better. So, OK, what does that mean? Ultimately, the things we invest in our business drivers. So, when you look at a website and what it's supposed to do, it's supposed to make me more money at the end of the day. How does that happen? Well, it doesn't happen by just putting a brochure up anymore. People are different now. They go to their mobile phone, they're at work, cruising around, say they're planning a wedding, they're not going to just call up and go and meet with you before they start that buying process. They're going to start that online these days.

So, you have to establish what the goals are and think like that buyer does when they're sitting at their computer, when they're on that mobile phone, what questions they might have. Where do they start that journey and how do they get closer to you before they actually engage? They're much more reluctant to engage and to say, "Yeah, sure, we'll stop by." They want to find out a reason why they need to do that first.

ED: How many times do you initiate a conversation with a new client and start throwing that stuff out and then having them look at you and go, "Hang on a second, we got to take a step back and really figure this stuff out"? Because I would imagine a lot of people initiate the conversation without really thinking about this stuff at all.

JOE: Yeah, we get told a lot, "Hey, no one's asked us that." And sometimes we say, "OK, well, we can come back and talk about it later if we don't have that figured out. But if it is too much to take on, we can start out with some easier questions." I think the biggest thing about asking those questions if someone does get stuck, it gives them time to actually consider that big point of, "You know, I'm about to invest some money in this. That's really interesting that I'm not totally sure what it is supposed to do beyond looking new."

8:06 - Create an online experience

ED: Yeah. So, if your intent though, aside from just having a new brochure online, your intent is to say, "I want this website to be my best salesperson because I heard you can do that." Then your first thing is let's get to that point. Then when it comes to the building of that, or maybe there's a better word than that — the logic of that, the workflow of that, the flow of the website — how do you come up with the way to lay that out so that a prospective member's experience, or what their expectation for the experience is, actually matches what they get online? You know what I mean? What's your process for figuring that out?

JOE: Well, there's a couple things. There's, I would say, three things. One of the things you always hear about is best practices. There are fundamental things that just generally work. And the second one, I would say, is asking questions of the team you're working with about how they see themselves and what they're trying to do. But then start to ask questions almost like a salesperson would of that team to get inside the head of their customers, to have them think like their customers and answer questions. So, when your customer is trying to organize a wedding, what's the first thing they might ask you? So, having a sales dialogue that way is generally the best place to get those qualitative answers. And the third leg of it is the quantitative side. People don't realize how much data they're sitting on currently with their website or how much could be available.

ED: Interesting. So, all the backend stuff, in your experience, they're not paying attention to the analytics or traffic or things like that.

JOE: We have very savvy clients and sometimes you get on a call and say, "Do you know your monthly (to take the highest level metric there is), do you know what your visits are for the past month?" A lot of times people are way off on that. They have an idea, but when you actually look at it, they don't know.

10:20 Simplicity vs. Functionality

ED: I'd like to come back to that because that's a completely different set of technology, potentially, to help people better understand what buyers are doing. Let's face it, more and more clubs are trying to drive outside events, whether those are weddings or galas, things like that. So let's come back to that. But back to the idea of some of the changes, it seems to me in the last several years one of the most visually noticeable changes is all the swiping. It's like you go to a website today and it's not (the traditional format of) homepage and then navigate. It's homepage and you start to, whether it's on your desktop or on your phone, you're swiping down pages. Why is that? Why did that happen? I had a club GM tell me the other day, "I don't want that. I just want two swipes. I want the top and then basically the bottom." But there's a reason for that, isn't there?

JOE: You're talking about the general page length. Clearly, you're ahead of me here because you're talking about mobile-first design. You're talking about it as if they're on a mobile phone and they're swiping up the page, right?

ED: Right, yeah.

JOE: We call that "the long page" a lot of times. Well, to answer that, sometimes a tight page could work, but generally you have that longer page because people don't want to click around. There's a way they think, and if you actually understand the context of how they're thinking, you can answer a lot of those questions almost in a sequence that the buyer might have. And within that long page, you provide some links when their journey would go in a different direction. But generally, people are reading down like they would almost in a newspaper with different subject areas. So, what happens is, if you don't provide enough information, people get confused, they don't have a lot of tolerance, and they leave. So you try to provide a lot of choices on that page and then let them drill down from there.

12:23 - Design that answers questions

ED: This is connected to what we're talking about, talking to the sales team, finding out the questions people ask, really understanding, getting into the head of that prospective member or the person who's visiting your site. Why are they coming? What are they looking for? And then building that site so that as they go down that page, that very lengthy now, in some cases home page, you're really kind of going in the sequence that most people are searching for things on that website, to begin with. Is that accurate? Do I have that right?

JOE: That is totally accurate. The homepage is a great example.

ED: Is there an advantage to that? I mean, is it just an ease of use thing that led to that design change, or what prompted that?

JOE: Well, there's a couple reasons. One that makes sense and one that's probably not as logical. We have a lot of copycatting that goes on, so then it becomes a matter of style. So, people just create a long page and figure out what to put on it. But the logic behind it, when it does make sense, is that you have a lot of different visitors with a lot of different things they want to do. So if it's a golf club, for example, you have course information, you have "How do I join?" or you have your existing customers. And then you also have people that might be interested in weddings, banquets, lots of different contexts and different visitors who come there.

So, when they come to the home page, aside from that top navigation, there are things you want to highlight. So, if you're only speaking to a specific audience in a specific frame of mind, you're not going to be able to use that homepage as a traffic cop to get them to that next part of the journey.

ED: Interesting, because that's historically the way it was done, right?

JOE: Well, yeah, it was always done the old way. Like, "Hey, here's the top nav, here's a very general branding message, a picture, and a footer at the bottom." There wasn't much there. Maybe a couple buttons on things that you think they want without actually studying what they're actually really looking for.

14:30 - Clubs, challenges, and copycats

ED: What is the biggest challenge for you, or for the industry, today with the way the technology's changed in really trying to get into the head of the consumer?

JOE: I think this is a specialized industry and in every specialized industry, what happens is we can sometimes fall behind technology. We almost get into an echo chamber because the rest of the world might not understand us, and that's OK. But where it becomes limiting is that we're not keeping up with the times so much because we are amongst our own and we start to make decisions based on looking at our competition. So, what if our competition is just not up with the rest of the world? What if our industry is not up with the times? I think that's the biggest thing is being able to understand that the answer might not be out there just with someone else, that we can be ahead of the industry. I think that's the biggest benefit.

ED: Well, it's a great point too because so many, so frequently, within the club industry, like a lot of industries, it's a copycat thing. Sometimes people look at the leaders, or the perceived leaders in the industry, and say, "Well, how are they doing it?" Then they just simply copy what they're doing even though that may not be the most effective way or the most current way.

JOE: And the beauty of that is this: it's the website business. Sure, you can go out there and look at what's out there. But again, on your site, you have visitors doing things that are trackable, measurable. We have things like heat maps where we can see how far people are scrolling and what they're clicking on. We have so much intelligence built in as to how our visitors and how our buyers and potential buyers are interacting. We actually don't need to look at everyone else. We could kind of get inspired by others. But we have enough information to know how our visitors are already interacting and what they might need.

16:34 - Understanding your data

ED: I was just going to say, let's talk about that. Because, I mean, you're throwing out some stuff that might be really kind of foreign for some people, which we talk about software applications like Hotjar, for example. Can you, just so that people understand the power of some of the intelligence that's out there that will allow them to make better decisions about design, can you talk about tools like Hotjar and what they do and why they're so significant when it comes to a redesign of a website?

JOE: Yeah, and I think one thing that's significant in these tools is that they're easy to understand because they're visual. So, let me explain something like Hotjar at a very high level. All of the interactions people have are recordable to an extent. We can see where they're clicking. Rather than looking at an Excel spreadsheet or something that really makes it complex, a tool like Hotjar will actually let us take a snapshot of the homepage and you're able to then visualize where people are actually clicking. So, in your navigation, in different sections, where are they clicking? We can actually see how far down the page they're scrolling. So, if we go off message at any part on that page, they'll light up red. You'll see all this engagement in red. And then when you see it go cold and blue, you know you lost them. You know that's the part of the page you need to make a difference. Very intuitive, very easy to represent what otherwise would be very complex data and almost invisible.

ED: So, let's be really clear about this for people who are listening. So often, if you ask someone, "Where do visitors to your website go?" They go, "Well, I'm sure they go here. I know they go there." But most of it is just based on either a hunch or maybe they've seen something like Google Analytics, potentially. But with tools like Hotjar that are actually recording so you can see people, you literally see their mouse on the page of the website go from page to page. When you're able to record that and capture that data, it's a lot easier to make decisions about how to build your website. Is that correct?

JOE: Absolutely, yeah, absolutely.

18:57 - Audit your website

ED: I want to move on to some more cosmetic things, but before we do that, let me ask you one more question about preparing to build a new website. One of the things you guys like to do is an audit, right? So this is where we get some of this information. If someone is considering a website design, why should they also consider having just an audit, have someone report and review and provide feedback? What is the benefit to the customer of that?

JOE: Oh, the benefit of that is tremendous. It's really fundamentally to create alignment and to educate on the frontend. But there are a million different ways you can build a website. You can buy a template. There are a lot of different things you can do with a website. The audit basically goes and evaluates how are we doing on key metrics areas. What's our bounce rate like? In other words, how many people come to a page and leave it? What pages get viewed the most? There's a lot of this information that will actually dictate the design of the website. When we redesign a website, we're fixing problems. The only way you can fix a problem is to first get a diagnosis. So we call it a diagnostic or audit. We want to find out where the problems are and where the wins are, and strengthen the wins and fix the problems. Otherwise, we're wasting our time redoing websites.

ED: Right. I think you started going down that road, maybe at risk of getting overly technical, but we recently did a podcast on SEO and optimizing. But what's the website being found for? Sometimes people think their website's being found for things other than what they're actually being found for online. So, people are doing Google searches. That's one of the things you can also pull out of an audit too, right?

JOE: That's a huge piece. "Where are they landing? You have all this traffic." "They're coming to our homepage." No, they might be coming through a blog post. That blog post might be bouncing at 90 percent and the people who are reading it might not even know who you are. "Thanks for the information, I'm out of here." When you have plenty of places to capture them and engage, you're wasting an opportunity if you're not looking at where they're landing and where they could be landing from an outside source such as Google or a referral site. So, you really need to get in there and know how they're coming in and with what context they're coming in so you can structure that journey appropriately to maximize the value out of what you've already earned.

21:36 - Utilize video effectively

ED: Let's talk a little bit about cosmetics because I think that especially for clubs, and we're all for this, but let's just really understand the impact of video on a website. It's easy to make a blanket statement and say, "Oh, yes, video is great to have on your website." And we love blanket statements like that when it comes to video at StoryTeller. But anyway, the point is, what is the best way to use video? The many applications that you guys have seen inside the club industry, out of the club industry. What is the way that you would recommend positioning video?

JOE: Well, a good friend of mine, I think he's a mutual acquaintance, Adam, he always would tell me about video before I even met you. The greatest way to get to someone's brain is through their heart. So there are different ways video can be used. I'm not the expert on it, I'll leave that to you. But video being used on a site can be used, at least from a buyer journey standpoint, if it's to brand or to engage them in a motion, you want that high impact video. But I think the most powerful way, often, to use video is to get some high-quality customer experiences. The best way to talk about your product is to have other people talk about it. But before you do that, you need to know your narrative.

ED: I'm sorry, you need to know what?

JOE: Your narrative.

ED: Your narrative, got it. That's your Delaware accent that was getting me there. Narrative, yeah, absolutely. And so often as a video production company, for years we've produced videos for people and for businesses, and they either don't know what to do with it or they bury it somewhere on some page that's really difficult to find. So, some of the things we've been talking about, as well, around just understanding traffic and where people are going and what they're looking at can also help determine where best to position that video, right?

JOE: Absolutely. So, to cover that really quick, your high impact video is probably going to be on your homepage. The halo effect that we talk about in marketing, that first grand moment when I first see you. Love at first sight with your brand. But when you want to start getting into where you might start establishing authority in terms of the quality of your product, that's where you might use testimonials and things like that, and video testimonials are really good.

But there's a certain context of a video for the context of the page. Every time. And people often lose that. They hear general statements like, "More video is better." Or, "Videos that aren't at a high-level production are more real." Well, no, not always the case. Sometimes you just look like an amateur. Sometimes you can't get the emotion there. So, again, it's totally dependent on the placement of the page and the context.

24:48 - Positioning calls to action

ED: That's really helpful stuff. Another cosmetic thing that I think comes up sometimes, especially for clubs, so many clubs are very, very aware and conscientious of the positioning of their brand so that they don't look overly aggressive. They certainly don't want to seem desperate to bring in new events or to bring in new members and things like that, so there's a subtlety to the presentation of their message. And yet, we know, especially from an inbound marketing/marketing automation perspective, conversion and getting people to click through on calls to action on the website can be really, really important, especially if you're looking to drive new membership, new membership leads, new event leads and things like that.

What are some different ways that clubs can — and this might require some thinking so I want to give you a lot of lead time on this one, Joe — but what are some different ways that people should be thinking of presenting calls to action on their website that feel really tasteful, appropriate, but not buried at the bottom? Because so many clubs will bury their "contact us" at the very bottom. In this day and age, you know, we're talking about scrolling through or swiping through on your phone, you might get three swipes. So, how do you know, strategically, where to put those calls to action in so that they just seem to fit?

JOE: Yeah, so I'm going to be redundant here and go back to the data. Go back to the data. See what they're currently doing, but you have to be strategic on the frontend. You have to think like the buyer as to where it is. So they have to be appropriate. You can't just get away with "contact us." I mean, that's just so general. We have enough information to understand what someone could be thinking at that point. So, we just need the appropriate way to ask that question to them to get them to be helped.

So, one example is maybe they have a question in that part of the page about "What is it like to be a member?" Well, it's simple. "Wondering what it's like to be a member here? Here's a story." That's your call to action. Not just, "Hey, contact us." Nobody's going to engage, they're going to be gone. You have a great opportunity missed if you're not placing those calls to action appropriately in that section in the context of how that visitor's thinking.

ED: Or even some of the other things that we've seen out there are for weddings and events. "Download our floorplan." You know, "Look at our menu," "Look at our food options," "Here's some of our pricing for that" as well.

JOE: Absolutely. A typical thing you would do is you talk to the manager of the catering department and you just sit down with them and, you know, generally it's not going to be on the website. We don't see it there often the first time. You say, "What kind of process do you walk people through when they're here? What do you give them? What do you show them?" "Well, I show them a diagram, I show them the different venues, I show them the menu." "OK, can they get that on the site?" "Well no, it changes a lot." "OK, well can they at least contact you to have it sent to them?" "Oh yeah, we can do that." So, depending on what they have available, there's a range but you just have to make it accessible. And the best way to take an inventory of that is to, again, talk to the team who's on the ground. Make them a part of the process.

28:22 - Integrating management systems

ED: It's terrific. Last question around some design. Well, most of this has been about design, but one of the things that comes up quite a bit, Joe, is there are some fairly significant platforms that a lot of clubs use for their website, for all their backend, accounting work, reservations. Club Essential is a big player, ForeTees is a big player, North Star Media is a big player. And a lot of times clubs will get into an engagement with these organizations that do a wonderful job on a lot of different levels, but they may not be as robust as some other CMS platforms out there. We've had clubs approach us to say we'd like to do something different than what our current platform can offer. What do clubs need to know about working with a different public-facing site? So, can they put a different public-facing site on that? How do they bolt that onto the backend? Is that something that's possible and how do they do that?

JOE: Absolutely, and I can understand where the confusion might be. We've also been lucky enough to work in the software business and in the cloud software business. A lot of times the applications you use, think in terms of Facebook, that's an application, these are things we call "web applications." So, an application to make a reservation. Sure, it might reside on the website, but it's not the same thing as that customer-facing website. It's the same technology that supports it, but it's transactional, whereas what we're talking about with the website is like your store or your club itself. It's like a physical place for someone to be educated and engage.

Those other forms of things are application-driven and they are purely to facilitate something that needs to be done to facilitate a transaction. Two different worlds. If you're just thinking in terms of operations, you're ignoring the buying behaviors and the thinking behaviors and the things people want to engage with. So, those other things are so important. But the other piece is, and your question was, do they integrate? Well, we've already faced this in the software world. Once you log in, you're on a different platform, generally, anyway. There's no benefit by having your public-facing site be on the same platform as these more functional things like accounting. That is another thing that's changed. Those things do not reside in the same area. And I can probably get really technical on details on that but that's probably another show.

ED: But they would have to have a separate login at least, right? I mean, that's something that could happen if they wanted to go to the backend.

JOE: Well, yeah, but that type of stuff, that's not searched by Google, that's not coming in off all the social activity you might have out there. Those things are generally not done for marketing and for attracting new business. So, it's a separate thing altogether.

ED: It's just operational.

JOE: It is, it's totally operational.

31:49 - Looking to the future

ED: So, I always like to ask this question, especially around technology, where do you think this is all going? How do you see websites evolving and changing in the next five years, say, especially with search changing as much as it's changing? Will that have an effect on design and development? What do you see?

JOE: Well, there's a lot of different opinions on this. Some people say, "Wow, websites might go away, it might be all Facebook-driven." But at the end of the day, a website is a thing you own. So, I don't think that part's going to go away. In fact, I think it's going to be stronger. I think more people are going to be driving. We had the social media bubble where you would actually find people on their website pushing people out to their social media channels. What I'm seeing now more is everything from social media search, diversified sources coming into the website then to give you more control because you need to actually develop a very custom experience for your visitors. So, I see it actually turning back to the point where all of these external sources are coming right back into your website. So, you then take over once the introduction's made. It was trending in a different way a few years back.

ED: And does that include more people doing business on business websites? So, I mean, not that this would necessarily happen, but you know, you can purchase everything online today. Do you see a day where people could say, "Yes, I will become a social member at your club by signing up online and paying, giving you my credit card information so you can ping it every month and take my dues out of that."? Is that something that you think is going to be, in the world of an owned property online, do you see that just continuing to grow?

JOE: Ed, if people are finding their soulmates online, they're going to be able to find a club online. You have all these Match.com's, you know, we're already doing it in more important decisions in our life. It's going to happen in real estate, it's going to happen in clubs. This is what's happening because this is how people want to interact. Now, that doesn't mean people are going to be taken out of it. We can connect via video, we can be one-on-one. In fact, our business is 100 percent remote. We work with you a lot. You're in Minnesota. So to that extent, it is still digital. But, yes, people are going to be doing what is most convenient for them. And what right now and for the future, what's going to be most convenient and helpful is going to trend to a more self-service model. But that doesn't mean, by any means, we're going to eliminate people.

ED: So, the more your site is built for the consumer, for someone who's coming to learn more so they can make a purchasing decision, or learn more so they can make it and then execute it on your website, the more you can build your sites for that, the better off you're going to be. And Joe, I'm a little bit embarrassed that you revealed our soulmate, how we found each other online. But we'll recover from that.

JOE: Yeah, the secret's out.

ED: So, how can people learn more about Brand Builder?

JOE: Well, just go to BrandBuilderSolutions.com. That's a very easy way to find out more.

ED: Speaking of which, you can get pricing and information on all of your services and what you guys do as well on your website.

JOE: Absolutely, and one cool thing we have that works for us is we have a chat window right on there and we're always there to answer questions, so that is probably one of the best ways to connect.

ED: Oh my gosh. That's for another...

JOE: That's a whole other episode.

ED: Yeah, no kidding. Joe, thanks so much for being with us and for sharing all your great insight.

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