Smart and savvy funeral providers have started designing selection rooms to maximize their sales potential, staging merchandise strategically to entice consumers to make profitable selections. More and more funeral providers are revamping their facilities to offer spaces designed to make visitors feel comfortable and at ease: reception halls, coffee stations or a place for children to relax and play. As a profession, we are becoming more strategic, customer-centric and responsive to changing consumer preferences. But when it comes to websites, we often drop the ball.
It’s easy to do with everything else on your plate, but just as consumer preferences are evolving when it comes to service expectations and buying habits, their preferences on how they receive information are changing, too. Your customers are no longer coming into your funeral home to learn about funeral planning – they’re doing it online. The eCommerce Foundation reports that 88% of consumers research products online before making an in-store purchase, so there’s a good chance that a majority of your client families are going to be navigating your website, visiting your Facebook page or reading online reviews before they ever walk through your door. How you design and maintain your website is critically important.
At eFuneral, I’ve spent considerable time reviewing funeral home websites to learn how to seamlessly integrate them with our digital sales platform. While there are a number of funeral providers that are clearly invested in ensuring their website reflects their brand, too many funeral home sites have broken links, pages with no content or low-resolution images. These are funeral homes that take great pride in keeping their facilities current, providing high quality service and making sure that every detail is taken care of, but their websites tell a very different story.
If you take every opportunity when someone comes to your funeral home to set the stage and create the right atmosphere, then you should put the same care into your website. And that starts with identifying your goals.
Identifying Your Goals
When someone comes to your website, is your obituary link the easiest thing to find?
I know what you’re thinking. “Of course! That’s why people come to my website.” And the reality is, you’re right. The obituaries are a significant source of website traffic. But that is exactly why they should not be the most convenient path for your visitors.
Let’s take a look at another industry: grocery stores. Store owners have known for years that most people who come to their store for one or two products are likely coming for milk, meat or a baked good. If the owner’s primary goal was convenience, they would put these products by the front door so people could quickly get in and get out.
But they don’t.
Instead, they put the milk as far from the entrance as possible because they know that on the way you are inevitably going to remember something else you need or see something that is just too good to pass up. They want you to have a certain experience when you visit, and the store design reflects their goals.
The same should be true at your funeral home. You need to outline what you hope to accomplish with your website. If you want people to get to the obituaries as quickly as possible, then that’s great – feature the obituaries. But if your goal is to educate consumers on the value of your services, highlight your competitive differentiators or generate preneed leads, you may need to take a hard, critical look at your website design and navigation.
Evaluating Your Site Navigation
The vast majority of websites stretch their primary navigation menu across the top of their page. Most internet users know this, and their eyes are trained to look either at the top left or the top right corner to find what they need. If the link to your obituary is in one of those two places, site visitors are likely to see and click it first, before they look at any other content.
You’ll also hear a lot of web designers talking about content above and below the fold. This is a relic from newspaper advertising, when the premium ad placements were in the top half of the paper (above the fold), because casual readers would see them without having to unfold their papers. The “fold” on your website is the cut off for a standard browser window without the user having to scroll down. If your obituary link is included in a prominent place above the fold, many visitors won’t scroll down to see your other content.
If you want consumers to learn something about your business when they visit your website, you need to thoughtfully consider where you put key information. I recommend placing the obituary link about a third from the left or right end of your top navigation and/or at least one scroll below the fold. Visitors will still get what they need, but they’ll receive key information about your business on their journey to get there. Even something as simple as glancing over your “Plan Ahead” and “Services” menu items can help educate them about your business. They may even take a detour on their way to the obituaries and find out why they should become your customer.
One more thought on navigation: Regardless of your unique goals, how you want consumers to contact you is the most important thing to include on your website. If you want them to call you, your phone number should be a focal point. Place that in your website header and footer and anchor it on every page.
Talking about Price
The consistency of your message is what people start to associate with your brand, so your website messaging should align with the message you deliver face to face. It doesn’t have to be overly complex or deep. In fact, a lot of times less is more. But when you talk about your services online, you need to be as specific as possible so consumers know what to expect from you. For funeral homes, that should include some discussion of pricing.
Take a hard look at how you’re communicating your prices today. Are you contextualizing why things cost what they do? What story are you telling? Are you easy to work with, or do you nickel and dime customers? Are you compassionate and caring, or are you looking to optimize the business side? When you publish your price list, remember that it is also a marketing piece – it should tell a story and make customers feel a certain way.
I know this is a sticking point for many funeral providers, but price transparency is a key part of building trust with consumers. Most people have trouble feeling comfortable with an experience if they don’t know what it will cost, and consumers quickly become frustrated with businesses that are purposely opaque with their pricing. That’s why many successful business owners believe listing prices online gives them a competitive edge over competitors who don’t, and Forbes recently referred to the practice as “one of the magical keys to a successful small business."
With that said, how you list your prices depends entirely on your value proposition.
- If your focus is on being a low-cost provider, don’t shy away from that – own your position and communicate that through your site. When you look at your website design, include your prices in key places above the fold and on either end of your top navigation. List specific dollar amounts and explain exactly what is (and is not) included.
- If you are a premium provider, don’t lead with price. You’re offering something different than low-cost providers, so make sure you’re telling that story. Focus on the service you provide, the features and the reason someone would choose you. It’s the care, it’s the attention to detail – it’s all of those small things. You should still include some information about your prices, but don’t put it in a prominent position. Keep it out of the main navigation and place it below the fold. And when you do include it, do so in ranges (“Packages starting at…”).
- If you fall somewhere in between a low-cost and premium provider, you should focus less on the dollar amount and more on the cost relative to other providers. Hinting at price as a comparison is a good middle ground (“15% below our leading competitor”).
Remember that the goal of your funeral home website is to tell your story. If you are transparent in both your value proposition and your pricing, you are going to attract the type of consumer who is most likely to be satisfied with your services.
One Final Thought
Your website should be optimized to meet your business goals, and it should function as a lead generator. It needs to tell your story and explain your services in a way that makes sense based on how your brand is supported locally. Visitors should have the same experience with your brand online that they do in person. If you can’t confidently say that that is true of your business today, it’s time to take a hard, critical look at your website.
Luke Frieberg is President of eFuneral Solutions, LLC, a breakout digital solutions company that helps funeral homes maximize market share through optimized online sales. Prior to joining eFuneral, Luke spent almost a decade in various roles with Principal Financial Group, a Fortune 500 insurance and financial services company. He is a graduate of Drake University where he earned his Bachelor’s and MBA.
This article was originally published in the April 2019 American Funeral Director magazine.