Shout a little louder

words: Tim Power

The power to make lasting connections is at your fingertips with SAIF’s online toolkit…

How did we manage before the internet? There’s a whole generation today that would not be able to answer that question and now almost 4.4 billion people – 58% of the global population – have enthusiastically embraced the ‘web’ as a way of quickly getting news, keeping in touch with family and friends as well researching, reviewing and buying products and services online. The days of looking up a local business in the Yellow Pages are long gone.

Instead, customers who search for a service on the web are hit with a plethora of choices, but it’s the professionalism of the website and the information it contains that will influence their decision-making. This is why digital marketing is important, and why SAIF and Golden Charter have developed a free digital marketing toolkit to help independent funeral directors to enhance their SEO (search engine optimisation) and to increase their ‘digital footprint’.

But if that sounds a bit like ‘geek speak’ to the uninitiated, don’t worry, because all is explained in the new toolkit available to download from the SAIF website.

Boosting online presence

Ciarán O’Toole of Golden Charter was one of the digital experts involved in the development of the toolkit and he says it’s a valuable resource for funeral directors who don’t have a great knowledge of digital marketing.

He said: “I think the toolkit is great because it explains to funeral directors in really simple terms what they need to think about and, potentially, what they need to do to get a better presence online.

“Of course, there are loads of things you can do in digital marketing but we are just focusing on the basics, such as the quality of the information on the website, how it ranks with others when people, for example, use Google to search for a funeral director, the pros and cons of pay-per-click advertising and how businesses should approach social media and PR opportunities.

“It’s always good to start by ‘Googling’ your own business first to see what a potential customer sees, whether that’s on a laptop, tablet or smartphone. We have found that a lot of funeral directors are not optimised for mobile phones, which is what everyone uses nowadays.”

First impressions count

SAIF PR Consultant Mark Binnersley was also involved in the development of the toolkit and believes it’s crucial that funeral directors have a digital presence today. He explained: “Even though research shows that most people choose a funeral director by recommendation, they will still look on the website to see what that business is all about. Those funeral directors that have a digital presence which is accessible, easy to use and designed with families’ needs in mind are more likely to do better than those who don’t.

“First impressions count and your website is very much your shop window. Traditionally, families have needed to cross the threshold of a funeral director’s premises to discuss their needs and options, but today the funeral director’s website has to be seen as an extension of that threshold.”

“This is particularly important in an era of direct cremation, DIY funerals and changing trends around funerals. I believe funeral directors really do need to have a presence online to remind the public about why they are important and how they add value to families in their time of need.”

Independent research* shows that many independent funeral directors across the UK have developed their online businesses, including enquiry forms on their websites (77% of those surveyed), and using digital tools to improve their search engine optimisation (60%) as well as using paid pay-per-click search engine advertising (33%).

Interactive quotations assist

Near & Near Undertakers in Grimsby developed its website years ago to include an interactive quotation facility, long before there was talk about the visibility of funeral fees and costs. Funeral Services Manager Chris Robinson said: “We have always been very transparent on pricing so it was always part of the original website when we set it up many years ago. In fact, we are probably the only funeral director in our area that has this transparency on pricing.

“We find it is popular with some customers who like to get an idea of the costs of a bespoke funeral service before they call us to discuss their requirements in more detail.

“We get most of our business from people phoning us first, but it’s still a useful facility to have, as we will often refer callers to our website to find out more about us and so they can see our prices and use the interactive quotation facility to look at the options.”

In addition to the website, Chris said he finds Facebook very useful for ‘soft’ marketing, particularly for posting obituaries which families find useful, as they share posts with their loved ones.

Customer testimonials matter

Ross Hickton, of funeral director Trevor E W Hickton Ltd, created his first website 10 years ago and over this time has developed the skills to maintain and update three sites for the company’s different brands operating around the Midlands.

He believes that having an online presence is critical to his business, particularly as the activity from visitors to these sites has increased over recent years.

Ross Hickton

He said: “We have seen a major increase in visitors to our website recently, checking the location of our branches, but more importantly reviewing our price list and what we offer. We have always had a contact form but now it’s being used very regularly by families who have looked at our price list and want a more detailed quote.”

The prices are listed on the website and there is also a PDF which can be downloaded, as Ross believes that people like to print out copies to read as well as emailing the PDF to other members of their family to discuss options before they contact the funeral director.

Reacting to these online requests for more information is crucial as Ross explained: “We offer a 24-hour service on the phone but we have to be just as flexible online too, so I make sure I reply to any emails within a couple of hours on my phone.

“I know for a fact that we have picked up funerals because I responded within hours of receiving the email rather than leaving it until the next day as the other funeral directors may have done in the past.”

Ross has also secured funerals through the customer testimonials which are featured on his website, together with scanned thank you letters and cards. He said: “When we send out our papers after the funeral we ask people if they would like to review our service on Google or Facebook. We find a lot of people post directly on our Facebook which we can also post on to our website. People have told me that they have chosen our service because of the positive reviews on the website.”

Ross always makes time every couple of months to review and refresh the information on his websites as Google recognises changes and this helps to give the website higher rankings in web searches.

He added: “We recognise that some people don’t want to come into a funeral home straight away so the next port of call is our website where they can see what we have to offer. That’s why we have put a virtual tour of our branches and a lot of people have commented when they visit us that they felt much more comfortable knowing where they were coming and seeing that the office was nice, light and and welcoming.”

Ciarán agrees that the personal touch will always be the mark of a good funeral director but it’s important to have an online presence to attract those potential customers that are not familiar with their local funeral directors. He said: “People will still continue to walk into a funeral director’s on the high street, but if you do not have a credible website then you could be missing out on potential customers who do not know about your business and are searching on their phone in the evening when they have a problem.”

Getting found online

With around 3,760 searches per month, can boost your business profile. – the website run by Golden Charter for independent funeral directors – continues to go from strength to strength, averaging 3,760 site searches per month, with research showing that more than half of enquires lead to a funeral being arranged with a funeral director.

This research also showed that monthly enquires have increased eight-fold since the start of last year, and Golden Charter’s Ciarán O’Toole believes the website is on track to increase the number of enquires to 4,000 in 2019/20 and eventually up to 12,000 in 2021/22.

Ciarán said that, with more than 1,500 listings, localfuneral. is now biggest directory of independent funeral directors in the UK, and that more businesses should register to take advantage of the growth in online enquiries.

He added: “If you search anything to do with funerals or funeral directors on the internet I’m going to guarantee you that will come at the top of most search engines like Google. So if a customer is looking for a local funeral director and searches by city, town or postcode they will find you, but you have to be listed.

“Unlike other funeral director websites, is not trying to insert itself into the conversation between a customer and a funeral director. We don’t record calls or try to take deposits from customers before passing them on to a funeral director – we connect a customer directly to a funeral director as quickly as possible.”

The reason why localfuneral. features at the top of website searches is because the team at Golden Charter are using ‘best in breed’ website technology and are also constantly developing the site in consultation with funeral directors and customers.

Ciarán said: “Every quarter we undertake extensive market research where we will survey anything from 500-1,000 people about their at-need and pre-need funeral options online to understand what the customer thinks and wants when it comes to arranging a funeral.

“We also have funeral directors around the UK who input their views to us every month as well as various groups within SAIFCharter who also feed into the development of the website, so we are constantly talking to funeral directors to ensure the website meets their needs and drives business to them.”

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