The Fitness Center Industry Make sure your fitness center website contains this list of essentials, avoids easy-to-make mistakes and is visible in the right places.

By Elizabeth Wilson

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Most of the time, a client checks out a fitness business's site for information on class times, membership plans, the facility, equipment and/or events. Since most of us exercise close to our home or work, noting the location is key to a fitness website. Focusing on these elements in your site will also help it rank higher in search engines.

The Essentials
The site needs to be presentable, professional (but not have a canned-site look) and clean-looking, but fun. Provide easy access to information, and have consistent menus throughout. If your site doesn't match this description or hasn't been updated in two to three years, consider a redesign. During a redesign, ask your web professional for a fresh design using "CSS" (cascading style sheets) rather than "tables." This will make you sound like an expert and will aid in search engine optimization (SEO).

Be sure to include a push for membership on the homepage that also lets the customer know your specialties. What makes your fitness center different and why should he come back to your site? A facility events/news feed with RSS subscription capability on the homepage keeps visitors updated on the latest health and fitness news and events. Also, consider an easy-to-use and tasteful body mass index calculator that stores the data, making it easy for customers to check back. A service like this is beneficial because it's likely to draw potential customers back to your website over and over again, increasing the chances of a customer conversion.

Your website should have complete and up-to-date biographies on all the instructors and trainers, preferably including quick contact information for personal trainers, a photo and basic background information so customers can quickly determine a trainer's specialty.

It's important to update the content on your site monthly especially on the homepage. Do an overhaul of your site by updating the look and feel every one to two years. Your web professional should know what you need to do this easily. Don't get stuck in a hosted content management system with limited capabilities; make sure your web developer can easily add to your site as your business grows.

For a fitness website, focus your content on class schedules and events: This information should be updated as it changes in an easy-to-access spot on the homepage. Also make sure there's a link to that page on each of your website's pages.

Make sure you have individual pages related to each of the specialties you offer. For example, if your business is a gym that offers aerobics classes, personal trainers and free weights, a page should exist for each of those.

Have your SEO professional concentrate on location(s) to drive local searches and searches for specialties including location. For example, the web professional should form titles for individual pages of your website related to not only the specialty covered on that page, but also to your gym and its location.

Mistakes to Avoid
Most fitness websites unsuccessful in converting customers have the following issues:

Messy design. Inconsistent menus, layout and overall poor design cause potential customers to feel lost and back-click away. Contact a web development firm and ask what they can do to help improve your site. These consultations are often complimentary.

Using "frames." Frowned upon by most search engines, a site redesign and SEO in this instance are highly recommended.

Irregular updates. A visitor to your site will view it as stagnant and won't come back again. This can affect your conversion numbers as repeat visits to a site directly translates to winning new customers.

One person updating the site. Let numerous employees participate in updating the site rather than having a single individual responsible for the entire site, as it's important for employees to feel invested in the website. They can also offer valuable feedback. Also, a forum to get customers talking not only builds community, it provides another reason for customers to visit your site more often.

Unorganized content. If your website's content is cluttered, insufficient, or inaccessible, restructure it and add more content. If needed, consider a professional copywriter who specializes in website copy and can work with your SEO specialist.

No SEO. Get thee to an SEO professional! Search engine optimization, marketing and promotion is the recipe for your website's success. An SEO professional with a proven track record can suggest ways to improve your site--from content to design issues/questions you may have. Consider this step equal in importance to getting your site designed in the first place.

No web marketing plan. Your site won't get you anywhere if you don't have a web marketing plan in place. This plan should drive local customers to your site, and include a way to access web statistics. Your web hosting provider should be able to provide a few of these statistics to you at no extra charge.

Places to Be
Push your site by utilizing web directories, including DMOZ, but avoid link farm sites. An SEO professional can recommend local sites and local blogs where a listing or comments section may be beneficial for you to participate in. Create a resources page with reciprocal links to other fitness businesses that complement yours in locations outside your area--it'll attract search engines.

Contribute to forums where the services you provide are being discussed. Offer basic fitness advice without making it sound as if you're trying to win business by doing so. If it sounds like you're pitching your business, readers will be quick to judge, and you could be perceived as spamming the forum.

Write a frequently updated blog. It's a great tool to promote your site, and it lets you advertise what's happening in your business. Feeds from a blog can be picked up and syndicated by other sites, letting your web footprint grow without you having to lift a finger. Any press your business has received or self-written press releases, should be included in your blog--but make sure to keep the blog entertaining and lighthearted. Also remember to link back to your businesses website. Use one of the many free blogging sites, but have your SEO professional optimize it for search engines first.. Have her ensure social networking and website links are shown after each post so readers can easily access them.

Ask employees to visit your blog and comment as their input can be valuable to readers, as well.

Researched and written by Elizabeth Wilson. Information provided by: UrbanVerve, a leading web strategy consulting, web development and SEO solutions company, and CI Web Design Inc., an innovative web design and development company.

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