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

By Liz Wilson

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

When a consumer checks out a construction website, he is looking for information on what services a company provides--and proof the company does what it does well. He's not going to be impressed with flashy graphics and music. Give him the information he wants, and maybe provide a testimonial or two.

The Essentials
A construction company's website should provide client testimonials, calling special attention to these on the homepage. Ways to do this include featuring a quote from a satisfied customer or noting a major contract your business has won prominently on your homepage.

As Delta Creations' owner and head web developer Joel Hill says, "In Louisiana post-Katrina, anyone with a hammer was calling themselves a contractor." But among the masses of construction companies on the internet, it's surprising how few offer testimonials to differentiate themselves. Past clients' feedback offers prospective customers validation that your business has credibility, and distinguishes you from less experienced firms.

To further put customers' minds at ease, use official graphics that represent the various professional construction industry organizations (local and national) that your business belongs to.

Use your website to distinguish your firm from other construction companies. Don't simply roll out your company history--be specific by telling prospective clients the benefits of doing business with your firm as opposed to another.

Good construction isn't cheap, and cheap construction isn't good. The same can be said for some web design companies, so forego design firms that specialize in "cookie cutter" websites based on templates. Most of the time, inexpensive sites like these are simply not optimized for search engines, and even an attractive construction website can still cost you six- and seven-figure contracts if it isn't optimized well--that's not money well spent. Make sure you have a web professional who'll improve your site's search engine optimization (SEO).

If you already have a construction website and are considering a firm to optimize it for you, ask for concrete examples of how they were able to get other construction companies to rank well on Yahoo!, MSN and Google. (Be sure to ask for their target keywords, not just for stats on searches of the company's name.)

Keep the number of site navigation (menu) choices limited. People should be able to find what they're looking for in the shortest time possible and reach their destination page with as few clicks as possible.

Provide photographs and descriptions of past projects, including the time it took to complete the project.

Also, use alternate image tags for photographs and menu buttons on your site. This will not only provide some search engine benefits, but also make the site fully accessible to visually impaired web users who use a screen reader.

Be sure to keep the purpose of the site crystal clear at the top of every page. When someone gets referred from Google, she needs to determine that she's in the right place within a matter of seconds.

Mistakes to Avoid
First and foremost, you want to get potential customers on the phone as quickly as possible. You can't always trust prospective clients to send you an e-mail, and playing e-mail tag is not the best way to sell them on your services. Not having a toll-free number displayed in a prominent place on every single page of the site is a cardinal sin of marketing for a construction website.

Flash-animated websites for construction are overrated. Most search engines have trouble reading Flash movie files, which means you're given limited opportunities to optimize a Flash website for your target keywords. A totally Flash-driven website is typically one page that changes, as opposed to a non-Flash construction website that may consist of as many as 15 pages, each page optimized for a different set of target keywords and performing independently of the others on Google. Each page will also be filled with keyword-rich text, so that's 15 different lightning rods for search engine traffic, instead of just the one with a Flash website. Deciding to forego an all-Flash site could mean picking up five times as much traffic through Google, and subsequently scoring many times more leads.

Flash-based site navigation is a no-no. Search engines such as Yahoo! and Google send "bots" to a website (sometimes called "spiders" by web designers). If Google's spiders don't have a clear path to a site's page (either via an internal link on your site or a link from another website), that page simply doesn't exist to Google. Since most search engine spiders usually can't read or follow Flash-based menu links, they have no means of proceeding to your site's other pages (and consequently those pages will not be indexed in Google). Avoid Flash-based site menus, or at least include a link to a sitemap on your homepage, or a set of text links in the site's footer , which provides a path to every other page on the site.

Avoid using a domain name (.com) that contains digits or hyphens--try to keep the number of syllables in your domain name to a minimum.

Make sure you have sufficient content on each page. While some business owners prefer having very little text on a page, to keep things less cluttered, web designers worth their salt in the SEO game will always say "content is king" when it comes to getting love from Google; and the more keyword-rich unique content on a given page, the better. Keep information that will be most relevant to a prospective client up at the top of the page.

Avoid music on a construction site. This isn't a festive restaurant website--music is one more distraction that isn't necessary.

Avoid inconsistency with font sizes and colors. You want to be sure an older audience doesn't have trouble reading text. Larger-sized text and a white or light-colored background are the easiest to read.

Don't forget to update the look and feel of your site every one to two years to keep it fresh. Don't get bogged down by a content management system with limited capabilities. Make sure your web developer can easily add to your site and streamline it. When hiring a web developer, ask about their willingness to consider other options besides a content management system.

Some companies don't check their website for cross-browser compatibility. Make sure your site displays well in Microsoft Internet Explorer, Firefox and Mac browsers.

Never use a free e-mail address host (Hotmail, Yahoo!, Gmail, Comcast, etc.) on a construction website soliciting contracts ranging from five to eight figures. Your credibility will take a back-click, along with your site visitor.

Avoiding an all-Flash-based site is also good from a loading perspective. The heavier the Flash files, the longer it takes for pages to load (even in an age where dial-up is something of a distant memory). Every second the page takes to load, you're getting back-clicks from a site visitor.

Places to Be
While sending out newsletters and participating in Twitter, Facebook, blogs are fine for sites selling products or that deal with repeat customers, it's not necessary for construction companies.

"With construction, we're not really looking for volume," says Hill of Delta Creations. "A carpet cleaning company gives you a monogrammed desk clock or a calendar because they want to remind you about them on a daily basis; this approach really doesn't work for a construction company that you hire only on rare occasions. Also, there's nothing 'hip' about construction, so we can't market it the same way that you do a retail product. Who wants to add a construction company as their MySpace friend?"

Message boards can be relatively helpful at pulling more traffic to your site. But be aware there's a fine line between what's perceived as contributing to a board and what's perceived as spamming it. Contribute to a message board that's related to construction, and only add your link to your signature after the first few posts. Google places more weight on a link that relates to the discussion content.

A better avenue to take: Promote your business by supporting a good cause. With the popularity of ABC's Extreme Makeover Home Edition, now's a great time to get involved in charity construction projects by donating materials or labor to a nonprofit's building project in your area. Your business will be credited for its donation by the nonprofit's PR, and you can note it on your website. A construction company can also affordably go to PRweb and, for less than $100, send out a mass, self-written news piece. Of course, the story is more likely to be run on small news websites and blogs that use RSS news feeds related to that industry, but sometimes a bigger publication or website will decide to run it. Also, notify your local press about your contribution and provide your website address.

Researched and written by Liz Wilson. Additional information providedby: Delta Creations, a web development and internet marketing services firm.

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