Growing your business by optimizing your website

It no longer works to “set it and forget it”

About 20 years ago, some golf course managers in America decided their properties had too many trees, including many of the wrong variety. Famous clubs like Oakmont and Winged Foot were among the first to rev up chainsaws in what became a massive effort to cut, clear and otherwise redefine the contours of what their golfers would experience.

To a good degree that’s been happening lately with golf course websites. Like trees along a fairway, a website can “thicken up” and become burdened by odd things that shouldn’t be there—with nobody particularly noticing. Finally, somebody on the ball recognizes that what the golfer needs and wants isn’t what’s being provided.

Pruning your course’s website can be done at the same time that you tap into new tech advantages – all the visitor-pleasing features and functionality that recently have been developed. Justin Bolton of GolfNow Business sees “tons of energy and innovation” in the corner of the golf industry that optimizes course websites. He would hold up the new site design and template menu offered by Plus, a GolfNow service platform that offers experts marketing consultation and proprietary technology, against anything out there.

“What we’ve got now is a brand new program we started from scratch,” says Bolton, who is the GolfNow Plus Lead Specialist overseeing all branding and marketing-related activities for the group. “We went for a 360-degree solution. Not just what the golfer sees and how he navigates, but what’s on the back end to make things fast and easy for the course operator—including options for all kinds of customization, plus an analytics package that constantly reports on what works, what to keep, what to change.”

Check out the new website Bolton’s crew recently put together with Winnetka (Ill.) Golf Club and you’ll see a portal that’s built for power and speed, and visually a winner, as well. Kelsey Raftery, the Marketing Brand Manager for the park district that runs Winnetka GC, is hearing only positive feedback on the upgrade.

Winnetka Golf Club’s updated website is both visually attractive and built for power and speed.

“They tell us it’s much nicer-looking and that they’re having an easier time finding what they want,” says Raftery. “I don’t know if it’s a coincidence or not but we just had our biggest July ever for revenue and August is looking much the same.”

She notes that the upgrade from Winnetka GC’s previous site, which was managed by GolfNow, was painless and quick, taking less than a month from start to finish. And yes, there was addition by subtraction. She has worked in other industries and observes that, across the board, websites get built out unwisely over time. “People think it’s a good idea to add this page or that page, and eventually you have a huge monster,” Raftery says. “Our site had a lot of pointless material nobody used, so we left all that out of our new version.”

For courses like Raftery’s, the support team at GolfNow Business has a proactive approach to this whole issue. “We do deep dives and scrub them every month or so,” says Bolton. “It’s a necessary step if you want to keep a site up to date and accurate.”

At this time of year, for example, when Sunbelt courses are moving into high season, the GolfNow Business team can make sure their partner courses’ websites in the region reflect any updated rates. “We’ll find tee times posted with $30 rates that should have been moved up to $70,” says Bolton. “The course will take the hit and honor that lower rate to avoid irritating a customer, but they shouldn’t have to and the $40 revenue loss is a negative number that goes straight to the bottom line.”

Along with failing to switch out a wrong rate page, the busy golf staff at a partner course may let time lapse before loading their site with information about new staff members, upcoming events, new instruction programs and more proof that they are ramped up to handle a host of golfers’ needs—those details are looked at by Bolton’s group, as well.

One way to begin thinking about improving the website you have is by dividing it into what’s seen by the golfer and what’s not seen—the latter being back-end functions and interactive monitoring. Getting it “fully integrated,” in other words.

You could compare a course’s website to its front door, where important customer opportunities knock and, sometimes, detour into staff digital files – invisible to management and, potentially, languishing there. Built into the architecture of the new GolfNow Plus website is a communication center that “makes it so your leads on events or banquets or a new league all roll up into one location,” says Bolton. “This way the data becomes cloud-based, and a sharing platform lets a range of employees follow up or make their appropriate contribution. If somebody gets swamped or goes on leave or takes another job you don’t lose the potential revenue from a particular inquiry.”

The term “sticky” used to be used as high praise for a website, reflecting a lengthy amount of time spent looking through it. The new preference is to have a user arrive, gain information, navigate easily, see opportunities and take action. Attractive opt-in pages and no-hassle data collection forms are the new way to be “sticky.” In other words, you capture a purchase or some other desired response, without requiring much time to be spent by the customer.

There was a “set and forget” quality to website setup in the earlier days, but that mentality nowadays is bad for business. Conversion rate is a fixation for Bolton and his colleagues, whether that be an email capture, a birthday-club signup, joining the text club or booking a tee time.

With the new upgraded website program, different visitors can be shown different opportunities based on their IP address, a true leap forward for a digital marketing tool that’s been around for some time. That being the case, GolfNow Business specialists will build in a pop-up that calls the visitor to a certain action, then sets a length of time for how long it will stay that way, given the conversion rate it produces. “The timeframe could be 30, 60, 90 days or perhaps more,” says Bolton, “but no gadget or technique stays up indefinitely without proving its effectiveness.” Very often the strategy is an A-B test of two different methods for achieving a certain conversion standard, with the stronger idea prevailing.

Maintaining and improving your golf course creates a physical product that puts you well in the running for golfer interest and a share of their green-fee budget. Optimizing your website produces a digital destination where the power of technology begins a positive user experience and ends up delivering them to your first tee.

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