November 13, 2017
Odds are you’ve invested considerable time and money developing your website. It probably does a pretty good job telling your story, showing your airplanes, detailing your programs, quoting prices—that sort of thing. Chances are good, too, that you’re a little disappointed in the results the site has produced. The phone’s not ringing like you thought it would when you updated your site a few years ago. The website brings in some business, and your tracking system shows that people are clicking on it, so you know word about your business is getting out. Why aren’t those visits turning into students?
Today, more than ever, your marketing must be both engaging and seamless. Every facet of your marketing program must mesh with the others to produce a simple, effective flow that converts casual visitors into introductory flights, then turns those hot prospects into full-fledged students. Your website is a crucial component of your marketing mix, and it must be built from the ground up to produce results—not just deliver pretty pictures and free information.
Here are 10 features that your profit-oriented website should have to maximize prospect conversion and keep your props turning:
- Video. Video beats still photos every time. Would you rather read 1,000 words on the FAA requirements for becoming a private pilot, or watch a three-minute video of a CFI explaining the rules and supporting his/her descriptions with animated on-screen bullets? The same principle applies to every part of your website, from showing off your fleet to discussing how to finance training. This doesn’t mean you should overdo it, just pick four or five topics and do a quick video on each, then feature them on various pages throughout your site. One word of caution: Don’t try to host the videos on your web server. It’s better to link to your files on YouTube or some other web-based video hosting platform.
- Testimonials. Real customers talking about their experiences with your school will sell better than all the creative copy in the world. Find three to four customers, sit them down in front of a camera (your phone or tablet will do just fine) and ask them to talk about why they wanted to learn to fly, why they chose your school, the best thing about flying, and advice for new students just getting started.
- Chat. Some prospects would rather do a live chat than a phone call. The reasons are varied, but often center on the increased anonymity that comes with chat and the ease of ending the conversation without fear of being sold. A dedicated computer could be set up and loosely staffed with CFIs waiting for a student, or with clerical people trained in the basics of providing info to prospective students. Many companies have started featuring chat on their websites as a test, only to find it led to the development or expansion of an inside sales function. Think of chat as another arrow in your communications quiver, giving site visitors another way to contact you. Several technology vendors provide chat integration—your web developer can steer you further.
- Introductory flight reservation. The ability to have prospects reserve introductory flights right from your website could increase your flights significantly while giving you more opportunities for conversion. Getting prospects in the door the first time is always the hardest step in your sales cycle, so anything you can do to simplify the process can only help. A link from each page of your site to a reservation form could enable prospects to not only choose their preferred date and time, subject to confirmation, but pay for their reservation via credit or debit card. Properly done, introductory flights are powerful sales tools, often resulting in more than 80 percent of prospects moving forward with additional training.
- Call-to-action buttons. These little babies are amazingly effective at getting people to click. Buttons with titles like “See Video Now,” or “Reserve Your Introductory Flight,” or “Click Here to Chat” have proven to result in far more interactions than simple colored links. Facebook recently introduced Call-to-Action buttons on inline and sponsored links and ads, and was surprised to learn how effective they were at getting people to go to the next page.
- Content worth reading. When prospects are perusing your website, they want solid information, not hype and salesmanship. Give it to them. In your learn to fly page, for example, cite the complete Part 61 sections for private pilot, instrument rating, commercial pilot, and CFI (if you do those). On your meet the instructors page, give two to three paragraphs on each CFI, complete with background, flight experience, even outside hobbies—and don’t forget pictures. Research going back decades shows that long-form copy sells better than short bursts or highlights, especially when the product or service being promoted is complex, such as flight training. More details draw the reader (or video viewer) in and create a stronger attraction to your school.
- The right kind of photos. Don’t, under any circumstances, use stock photos to promote your flight school. Stock photos look fake and staged, because they are mostly fake and staged. Photos that don’t look genuine make your school look less genuine, and that’s the last think you’re looking for. Your photos should be of your people, your planes, and your facilities. Photos should be close-ups, nothing far away, and should be shot from interesting angles. A commercial photographer versed in marketing could be instrumental in turning a so-so site into a showcase that brings in more and better students. Don’t skimp on the photos.
- Social media links. Going to your website one or two times is one thing, but engaging your audience through social media will put your brand and your offers in front of your visitors on an ongoing basis. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram—even Snapchat—can keep your school in closer touch with your prospects than your website alone. Having links to these sites prominently displayed in the footer of each page of your site can dramatically increase the number of people following your messaging. But beware: Focusing on social media is a commitment, and it requires regular posting and content updating. Outdated or stale messages can make you look uncommitted and can damage your branding.
- Contact form. This seems obvious, but it’s surprising how many websites have no built-in form for visitors to communicate back to your school. This form can feature checkboxes for the kind of information the visitor would like to see from you; or things such as “Send Me Your Newsletter,” “Send Me News of Upcoming Flying Events,” or “Have Someone Call Me.” Sure, they could just call you or shoot you an email, but remember that call-to-action buttons bring more clicks. Forms do, too.
- Mobility. If your website simply shrinks down to a smaller size to display on a phone or iPad, you’re losing business. Today’s web visitor simply won’t take the time to pinch-zoom your site to be able to read it; they’ll just move on to something else, like your competitor’s more user-friendly “responsive” site. Mobile visitors dominate today. Research is clear: More visitors (especially younger folks) are using their mobile devices almost exclusively for everything from banking to turning in homework assignments. The best flight school websites feature a mobile version, with a design that works best on small screens. These mobile sites enable prospects to not only get the information they want, but also make it possible to book a demo flight, view videos, contact the school, even chat with an instructor or the school’s owner. Your main site (the one viewed on laptop and desktop computers) might even give way to your mobile version, especially as devices improve and networks get faster.
Incorporating these features into your website can convert your electronic brochure website into a powerful lead generator and profit builder. The days of static websites that simply convey free information are coming to an end, being replaced by technology that brings measurable results and a better bottom line.
William Woodbury is a flight instructor and freelance writer in Southern California.