By Alice Tong, CPDT-KA
Many dog trainers are too busy running their daily operations to build and maintain their website, so they turn to me. I’ve had the privilege of designing websites for renowned trainers Terry Ryan (author of Coaching People to Train Their Dogs) and Ken and Debbie Martin (authors of Puppy Start Right). Web design is always changing, so this article isn’t about the hippest design trends. Instead, these are the top five website tips that will help your business succeed despite how fast the design trends and applications change.
1. Personalize to Your Community
Know your target audience by knowing your community and the people who you want to help. This is your strength when you compare your website to the big box store websites. Those sites are often built to reach the general population on a national scale, whereas your website can be built specifically to target your city, town, neighborhood, and community. Make sure you list the cities you service throughout your site to improve your SEO (Search Engine Optimization) results. Having good SEO gets you listed at the top of Google or Bing search results. Choose pictures that represent where your clients live. For example, if you live in a beach town, choose pictures of dogs running on the beach instead of running through a field. You can even ask your clients if they have any good pictures of their dogs that they’d like to have featured on your website. Personalization can go beyond just location and can include content and pictures that highlight the most common behavior issues, breeds, and training services that are most needed in your community. The design and functionality of your site can also be personalized to the age, culture, and preferences of your target audience. For example, if you live in a city with a large population of young and digitally savvy dog owners, you may want to make your site just one scrolling page with an emphasis on directing new client to your social media pages. Show your future client that you understand who they are and where they’re from, and they will more likely want to work with you.
2. Personalize to Yourself
It seems obvious, but working with clients who you like and who like you will help your business thrive. Your website and online presence give you the chance to work with clients who are the best fit for your services by showcasing who you are. Show your photo, your personality, your training philosophy, and your strengths. The more they understand you, the more they will relate to you and the more they will want to work with you—or not. Save yourself the time, effort, and headache of emailing back and forth with someone who may not even be a good fit for your services, and let them screen themselves out. For example, if your competition is the guy whose main qualification is “I grew up around dogs all my life” and believes a prong collar is the answer to everything, be transparent on your website about how you are different from your competitor. Highlight your dog training education, certification, and the modern methods you use. Choose colors, pictures, and layouts that reflect your personality and style. Include content that reflects your sense of humour, images of your favorite dog breeds, or videos of your favorite behaviors to teach. Showing your customers who you are helps build a sense of connection and trust that can lead to more progress in training for their dog. It also increases the likelihood of gaining satisfied clients that will continue to send you referrals, and lower the likelihood of you getting burned out from difficult clients.
3. Keep it Simple
Five seconds is the amount of time the average visitor to your website or social media page may give you (if you’re lucky). Most clients are going to view your website on their mobile device where there is even less available screen real estate! Instead of overloading your site with paragraphs of text, summarize your written content to succinct points, and combine pictures, videos, colors, fonts, and layouts to convey your content more quickly and efficiently. Posting a picture of you training a dog to do a behavior that your clients admire can often be more effective than a page with a long paragraph about your dog training beliefs.
4. Engage in Social Media
Instead of vilifying social media as something you “have to do,” use it as another way to get to know people who may be interested in the same things you are, and whom you may actually end up becoming real friends with! Digital media moves fast, and apps will change. You may not know how to snapchat, tweet, or post as fast as your 10 year old nephew, but that’s ok. Instead of complaining about all the things you don’t get about some social media apps, give the platform/app a try by playing around with it, and continue to use it if you can figure out a way to have fun and connect with people through it. Each generation has used different modes of communication for marketing, whether it be talking on the phone, watching tv, or listening to the radio. Using social media platforms are just a natural progression of this decade’s current communication tool. Social media is available to everyone, and has evened the marketing playing field in a way that TV or radio commercials couldn’t do for small businesses. Social media platforms are actually a much more personal and authentic way for your dog training businesses to gain loyal customers because there can be two-way conversations that happen immediately. When thinking about what to post, instead of just finding articles to fill up space or posting sales pitches pushing your services, personalize your content to be authentic to what you value, find interesting, and are passionate about. A good way to judge whether something is worth posting is to look at posts from friends or companies you tend to “like” or re-share on your own feed. Being vulnerable about your daily successes, challenges, and thought processes can lead to meaningful conversations that build stronger personal and business relationships. Looking for and interacting with other people’s posts the way you’d like people to look for and interact with your posts can build authentic connections with people who then want to support you and your business. The golden rule of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” applies in both real-life AND on your social media feeds.
5. Encourage Online Reviews
Google, Yelp, and Facebook are examples of review platforms you should encourage clients to use after working with you. Clicks from those websites can then lead back to your website, bump up your website’s SEO and build strong referral streams. If you get a less than stellar review, don’t be a reactive rover by immediately posting a defensive reply. Take the time to write a reply that you think the next customer would read and think “that dog trainer sounds so understanding and reasonable, even when someone is being so rude to them. I’d like to work with someone like that.”
If you’d like to learn more about creating a strong website and online presence, follow me on www.facebook.com/ChoosePositiveTraining and www.instagram.com/choosepositive. If you would like professional help implementing these principles into the design and content of your website and social media accounts, you can contact me through my website at www.choosepositivedesign.com.
Alice specializes in website design and media content for positive dog trainers, dog walkers, therapists and other service providers who support using positive reinforcement and humane science-based methods with dogs and people. Being a positive reinforcement dog trainer and therapist herself, she has a thorough understanding of the services and clientele in our industry, and an immense passion for helping people and dogs. By supporting dog trainers and their websites to shine, she hopes more people and dogs will have the opportunity to experience the effectiveness and joy that can come from using positive reinforcement and humane-science-based treatment methods. If you’d like to learn more about creating a strong website and online presence, follow Alice on Facebook, Instagram and at her website.