- 00:38 – Get to know Brian Young
- 01:37 – Why we launch podcast series, Building website and making it search engine friendly thru search engine optimization
- 04:59 – Advantages of using Google Analytics to boost your website’s performance
- 07:24 – Benefits a funeral home owner can get from onsite SEO
- 08:14 – Three ways to get your obituary rank higher
- 11:26 – How to get people’s interest like hotels do to get leads
- 14:51 – Advantages of using hidden landing pages
- 18:27 – Advantages of Cremation Arrangement Website
- 24:45 – Rewards of hospice connection
- 27:03 – Tips on how to create Google AdWords
- 32:54 – The no profit zone
Links and Resources Mentioned In This Episode:
[00:00:00] Welcome to the premiere episode of Funeral Results Marketing Strategy Talks. I’m Rob Heppell and I’m here with Brian Young. And on today’s show we’re going to be talking about the Top 10 Insights For Funeral Homes Marketing Online.
[00:00:33] Welcome to Funeral Results Marketing, Brian. Can you share a brief background about yourself?
[00:00:38] Sure. Thanks Rob. I’ve been working in a death care industry since 2007 in the technology website area. In that time, I’ve helped hundreds of funeral homes and cremation businesses that are positioning themselves to grow online and to increase their profitability. I had the chance to work with a lot of leaders in the industry; John Horan, Bill McQueen, Buddy Phaneuf, and that’s really helped round out my understanding of a number of things.
I’d say my expertise includes developing and launching business models that blend or leverage website-based cremation arrangement and e-commerce into their business mix or family brands, as well as positioning traditional funeral home brands and increasing shopper interest in those brands online.
So, that’s an introduction Rob. How about you get us started by getting into today’s topics and like to know a bit more about what we’re going to be looking at this online series of strategy talks.
[00:01:37] Yeah, you bet. I think you know both of us, based on our experience, we have, I think, a lot to share. And I think both of us have that strategic mindset and innovator’s mindset and can actually take these and get them implemented with funeral homes. So, I thought that this would be a great way to launch this podcast series and be able to transmit this information to the listener so that they can take that and apply it to their operation.
The first insight that I wanted to share was building a website from the ground up and making it search engine friendly.
A lot of sites don’t have this in mind in the beginning. It’s a piece of technology, they are built and they look nice and hopefully they function well. But search engine optimization, which is the ability to rank higher in the search engines, especially in Google, is sometimes an afterthought. And when we really dive into SEO – or search engine optimization – the onsite SEO makes up about 25 percent of the SEO power. And although the 75 percent is what we would call offsite SEO – we will get into this in future episodes – that 25 percent is very important. If you put a lot of effort into that 75 percent working in your offsite SEO and don’t have a strong foundation with your onsite SEO, that 75 percent is not going to do as well for you as what you can having a foundation.
When we talk about SEO, onsite SEO, you want to look at three or four main areas: that the site structure includes proper page titles, proper heading tags, so that would be the title of each page, and even URL’s that are human friendly that you can actually read out instead of just a series of characters and numbers and figures.
And what I found when about 10-12 years ago when I was launching my consultancy company Funeral Futurist, is that I was able to get my my itty bitty website to rank higher than other consultants websites within the industry. And I really learned that what was doing that for me was the structure of my website, and when we are building the funeral home website, we want to make sure that they are built from the ground up, SEO friendly. Almost all of our clients don’t have to pay extra money for SEO services from third parties because this is kind of baked in from the beginning. I believe that by doing this and then just following with some other strategies, that’s going to look after most of your SEO needs for your funeral home website. Now, Brian I’d like to pass this over to you for what you’d like to share first.
[00:04:59] Thanks, Rob. Probably the first tip I would like to get into is using website analytics to boost website performance. If you look at your website Google Analytics you can see how shoppers are responding to the online experience or brand is giving to them. And what I mean by that is you can see the amount of time they’re spending on each page, the number of pages they’re visiting and the actions that they’re either taking or not taking while they’re on your website. Then from these metrics we’re able to get a really clear picture of where specific opportunities are or in some cases, where their specific weaknesses and how to correct those weaknesses and turn them into strengths.
You know, what if a funeral home was looking at their analytics and they found out that most people didn’t spend more than a few seconds on the home page and they weren’t looking at any other pages besides the home page. Well, that would tell you the home page just failing to engage the interest of the family or the shopper. That means the only people who are going to call that funeral home based on the website are people who aren’t shopping around online. So, if you’re not doing strong online with your website, you’re missing the opportunity to speak to shoppers. And while that may not be the majority of your business each year – even if it was only 10 percent of your business each year – that’s the difference between a good profitable year for the owner or a tight year where they didn’t make as much.
[00:06:29] So, really being strong on the website and using analytics to boost your website’s performance can really be a key in increasing the profitability of your business overall. And having said that, Rob what’s the next tip you’d like to cover.
[00:06:42] Well, it kind of builds off of the analytics, as we know a lot of the traffic to a funeral home website is the online obituary. When we again talk about SEO Search Engine Optimization, all the SEO experts would say you’re the best the current best practice for increasing your offsite SEO is through content marketing. And what this does is it gets links, it gets visitors, it gets engagement on your website – all the things that Google tracks, especially with things like Google Analytics.
[00:07:24] And, one of the benefits that a funeral home owner like yourself has versus all of your friends at your Rotary or Chamber of Commerce, the lawyer or the accountant or the plumber, when when they’re told to, “Hey, to get to rank higher for your website you’re going to need to do some content marketing and you need to write a bunch of articles”. Luckily, as a funeral home you have the benefit of online obituaries and because that’s fresh new content there’s lots of keywords in there. One of the things that is important for your onsite SEO is the number of pages that you have. So, technically a funeral home website should increase by the number of calls that they do on an annual basis.
[00:08:14] And with that, we have found that, and this sometimes is competing against making sure that that obituary ranks as high as possible, third party services like Legacy.com where you want your obituary to rank higher than theirs. Is that how you know what’s the best way for your website to get that obit to rank higher, and we’ve come up with three ways to do this.
Firstly, make sure that you as soon as that obituary is up on your website, that you share it with your family, the client family by sending them an email with a link to the obit and ask them to share that with all of their contacts in their email account. Then send a similar email to any groups or churches that that person belong to because then if that email came in and went to the church secretary and they thought, “Oh, one of our members died, we’d better pass this on” and they just forwarded it to 500, 1000 to 2000 people all in the church directory.
[00:09:31] Then, you’ve now really, first of all ,spread the word about the service and also these people are going to be interested parties and want to come back to the site to get the details. You don’t want to put the service details in the e-mail itself, just a link to your website. And what will happen is people will then share that obituary maybe on social media or maybe even linked to it which is another SEO factor. The third step in this strategy – and this is probably the most important – is to get the family to share the obituary on their Facebook profile.
[00:10:11] It doesn’t matter if you have a Facebook page or not that you put the obit on because that’s only that obit is only going to resonate with a small percentage of the people who like your Facebook page. But, it will resonate to probably a 100 percent of the people that that person is associated with on Facebook, if it’s one of their next of kin.
We have found that this will dramatically increase the traffic to your website, the social signals, meaning people sharing that link on social media. John McQueen from Anderson McQueen, when he put this kind of three step process into place, he experienced an immediate 25 percent increase in online floral sales, just because people are being directed to the website instead of somewhere else. And those people who are being directed there are probably the same people that would be interested in sending flowers, so not only can this help in that manner for some additional revenue, it will also help in your search engine optimization.
Brian, I’ll send it back to you. What do you have next?
[00:11:26] Thanks, Rob. My next tip is about getting leads from your website, and to do that I like to recommend being like a hotel. Here’s why I say that. If I ask you, you could probably tell me the types of information that the typical funeral website has right off the top of your head. Well, they’ve got their contact info and address, they’ve got maps and directions – that probably they have some general information like what to do when death occurs, maybe. Social Security information, veterans information, they probably have a pre-need form and some common reasons that a person should do pre-need.
Hopefully, there would be pictures of the facility and staff, maybe an About Us page and some merchandise information. But while that’s informational, what’s really persuasional about that information. I don’t just mean standing up and saying we’re the best you should come to us. Nobody wants to read that. It’s more about the old adage of show me don’t tell me.
And to help explain that, I like to examine a different vertical where the businesses are doing very well. And that’s the vacation resorts. So, imagine if you will if you wanted to go on vacation at your favorite beach, It has a number of hotels on it. There’s a Marriott, there’s a Sheraton, there’s a Hyatt Well. Which one do you pick? You already know that all of those hotels have nice rooms, they have nice swimming pools, nice restaurants and they’ll have beachfront locations. So, what makes one appear more appealing? Or does it just come down to price – because it just comes down to price. That’s not in your best interest. Well, those businesses know how to compete online in ways that generate excitement and interest. And if a funeral home starts leveraging the same principles, it can reap the same rewards.
Most funeral home owners I talked to are ignorant of the fact that statistically deathcare shoppers are 72 percent female. Are you talking about the types of things women are interested in? Are you showing pictures of the kinds of things women are interested in? There’s other studies out there that show that roughly half of Americans aren’t satisfied with their funeral even though – that sounds incredulous – but, even though they give super high marks in the same survey they say that funeral directors give fantastic service, are highly attentive to detail and very compassionate.
They say the facilities were immaculately clean, whether they were a small, older funeral home or one of these new mega funeral homes. So, the facilities are clean, the care was great and yet, they’re saying they weren’t really satisfied. When asked why, they say well, we’re looking for something a little different.
And when asked what is that, they said we don’t know, we’ll know it when we see it. That’s really the crux of the matter. If we can delve into that type of content, we can get people’s interest the same way that the hotels do. Hotels are experts in showing things that you didn’t know you were interested in. But as soon as you see it it’s like “Wow, I want to go a stay at a resort on my favorite beach”. That has a lot to do with getting leads from your website.
[00:14:39] And when we delve into this in the future, we’re going to look at a lot more specific details on which pages shoppers are interested in looking at, and how to get them interested in contacting you. So I’ll pass it back to you Rob.
[00:14:51] Hey, great Brian. And to echo that and take that a little bit further, when you have a specific audience in mind sometimes you don’t want to drop them right on to your home page. We’ve been, over the last five years, really encouraging our clients to use hidden landing pages. What this allows you to do is to have an ongoing conversation with a specific group of people.
So, when when you land on the homepage of the funeral home, as Brian said, there’s lots of things going on and it may not be something obvious to take them to the next step, but if you’re advertising in a church bulletin and it’s the St. Andrew’s Catholic parish and you’re paying for your little bulletin ad and in that ad it’s “for more information go to HeppellFuneralHome.com” then you just dump them onto your home page. That’s a wasted opportunity because you know a lot about these people who would be reading that particular ad.
So, what I encourage my clients to do is to edit that ad slightly and have it at HeppellFuneralHome.com/Catholic or /St-Andrews. What’s going to happen when people go there? Well, first when they see that ad, they’re going to that last word Catholic or St. Andrews is going to resonate with them because it’s something very important to them because they’re sitting in the church pew reading the church bulletin. And now it looks like there’s something special for them, not just the generic home page link. So then, once they land on that page you can then have a picture maybe in front of that church, if it’s church specific, if it’s denomination specific. In this case, maybe there’s a picture of a rosary and you could talk about the services that you provide for the Catholic members of your community.
Now, it doesn’t have to stop there. You can then create additional landing pages for all the other denominations so again, you can be having these one-on-one communications with people through those specific pages. So, they feel that you understand them instead of just sending them to the home page where it says “We serve all faiths” – because there isn’t anyone who’s all faiths – they are of a particular faith and all faiths kind of doesn’t make them feel special, but /Catholic or you could even do this for other groups such as /Veterans, /Freemasons, whatever it may be. Wherever you’re advertising, take the time to and it doesn’t cost anything to add an additional page on your website.
[00:17:57] Take the time to track that ad, so if you’re putting an ad in a specific publication and you know who the audience is reading it, then carry on that conversation on that page on your website. There’s also other strategies that we can use hidden pages for and and we’ll probably be talking about those in the future too.
Hey Brian, let me pass things back to you. What your next insight that you want to share?
[00:18:27] Thanks Rob. The next tip I thought we could get into would be the cremation arrangement website – talking about basic advantages of that model. Most people are aware I think, the name indicates, the cremation arrangement website let shoppers select merchandise and service options during the procedure that fill out the paper or are going to make their payment online. Most people don’t know is some of these websites are doing over a million dollars a year in revenue and more. There have been websites out there that have have gotten above the million dollar mark in under five years, or I guess just about five years is the fastest one I’m aware of. And these aren’t belonging to big corporations, these are belonging to the equivalent of sole providers who run their businesses very smart.
Some of the advantages of leveraging a business model that uses a cremation arrangement website are as follows: they can easily compete across the 30 to 50 mile radius or larger if you want. Some people go out of the gate planning to take on the whole state. You’ve probably seen cremation societies of – and they mentioned their state – or low cost cremation of a whole region like Southern California or something. So, that means you can compete across a lot wider area than you ever could with a funeral home that typically has a driving radius market of 10 to 15 minutes max. Also, cremation arrangement websites typically average between 2 and 10 percent higher revenue of all than in office arrangements, especially at low cost businesses.
[00:20:01] Now, if they ask owners why that was and they said we think it’s because of two things: one, the family has to see every choice every time when it’s shopping online. The online funeral director of the website never forgets to include something, it’s never too busy, or has to hurry off. It’s the same thing every time.
And the second reason is the families feel in control of the situation. Unfortunately, the press has not been kind to the death care industry. It seems like, in my experience, I almost always hear them talk about negatives. The thing that happens once every few years. It’s less likely than getting hit by lightning to have something go really wrong at a funeral home but that’s what the press talks about. So, there are still too many consumers that have apprehensions but when they’re in the comfort of their own home with their computer or their family they can see every choice to make the decisions get what they think they want, and many times this leads to them adding something incrementally that they probably would have passed off without examining it in the arrangement room. And that means higher revenue.
Also, of course the website increases overhead. It’s an online employee. You buy it once and then you don’t have to pay and train it year after year. It’s a robot, it does what is supposed to do. And finally the cremation arrangement website side of things matches a growing set of consumer conditions in the US.
[00:21:21] You know, back in 2008, a study that Batesville Commission found that 62 percent of families that had previously arranged a cremation said they agreed with the statement that they didn’t need the help of a funeral director to arrange their next cremation. They didn’t say they didn’t like the funeral director. They didn’t say they didn’t want help. They just said they agreed with the statement, that I don’t need a funeral director to arrange my next cremation. I’m paraphrasing that but that’s the core of it.
So, when they’re 62 percent of families saying they think they can arrange a cremation by themselves, what happens if a cremation business that allows online cremation arrangements starts up in your market. Obviously with some businesses generating over a million dollars in revenue through a cremation arrangement website, there is a potential to really grow this segment of the market and it can really be profitable when it’s done right. So that, I will pass it back over to you Rob.
[00:22:19] Well, Brian that’s great. And I think that’s a great lead into what I’d like to share – this strategy I call “get the money first” and we’re still talking about cremation arrangement websites.
In studying e-commerce websites and the best practices, is to eliminate any friction points that lead up to the sale. What I noticed with cremation arrangement websites that were out there, I discovered that they were trying to replicate the in-person arrangement: you know, when you sit down with the family you get the statistical information first, and then you tell them about the forms, and then make the selections and at the end, that uncomfortable part of getting the money.
People online, especially the online cremation shopper, is looking for convenience – they’re not looking to do this over a long period of time – they want to get it done. And, as Brian was saying, they think they can, and they probably don’t need a funeral director to do it. So, what we started doing was getting the money first and then after that, they could then have the family fill up the statistical information and then sign the necessary forms, such as cremation authorizations, because they don’t want you to put a form with 80 fields in front of them. If they don’t know one of those questions, they might just close the computer and I’d have to research or phone someone, and then you know then there’s a chance of getting distracted.
[00:24:06] So, we like to get the money first, get the stat second and the forms third, and my clients have echoed on this hypothesis, which is I’d rather chase families around for stats information or get them filled forms than chase them for a credit card or for money. It’s just it’s just the way an online shoppers thinking – they know they’re there to make a transaction. Let them make the transaction as easily as possible.
Brian,what do you have next for us?
[00:24:45] The next topic I have Rob, is the hospice connection and how big are the rewards. You know, almost half of the deaths in the United States occur under hospice care, but more important than that to your bottom line is that about 90 percent of hospice referred families go with the death care provider that’s recommended to them, even though hospice is not actually allowed to recommend one business over another. So, there’s kind of what’s officially allowed, and then what’s actually happening.
[00:25:14] And, I’d take every advantage I can get and have been over the last several years, to either interview hospice or listen whenever there’s a hospice worker being interviewed, and what we’ve learned is that with the average hospice worker caring about 10 cases at a time, and with 36 percent of the people that come on the hospice dying within six days of getting on hospice, having a few hospice workers who really like you, can translate into a lot of referrals each year. So then, the question becomes well how do I get hospice to like me, what can I do to win their favor? What specific things do they notice? I mean if they’re that busy and they’re carrying on average of 10 cases and they’re driving all over the place, they’re pretty busy.
How do I get them to even pay attention to me, so I can you know cut my cost per acquisition by receiving hospice referrals? That’s all we’re going to talk about in-depth as we get into that topic, because the other big beautiful thing about having hospice referrals is somebody who hospice is referred probably isn’t shopping around online.
And while a lot of people are shopping online, the more people we can get to bypass that step and just go right with the referral. Those are people who aren’t out there looking at the search engines and that’s another strength which Rob already talked about. But if your website is ranking number one in your market and somebody refer t
o a family to a different funeral home and they get on Google and they see you first. Well you’ve got a chance to pull that family away.
[00:26:49] So there’s a lot of reasons to pursue building relationships of hospice. And we’re going to talk specifically about how to do that in that strategy talk.
Rob, what have you got next?
[00:27:03] Well, I’d like to talk about the people who are searching online and the proper way a funeral home should create their Google AdWords account structure, though Google has recently changed the way their results are displayed. And although we’ve already talked about ranking high for SEO purposes, we would call that your organic ranking, so you’re not really paying for that. What’s happening right now though is there are probably, in competitive markets, there’s going to be four ads above first above the map and then above the organic listings.
[00:27:45] So, if you’re in that competitive market, it’s really important to have an Adwords presence there. But what I found is as I’ve done audits and reviews of funeral homes Adwords accounts is maybe they set up themselves – you know, they got that card in the mail saying here’s a free hundred dollars with Adwords, just enter your credit card information and we get started. Usually that’s just a lost leader because they know you’re going to burn through that, and the unfortunate part is that usually the accounts aren’t set up properly or maybe they’ve been set up with with an Adwords person that doesn’t really understand our industry.
[00:28:29] So, what I found the best way to set up your account is to first of all, from the campaign perspective, which is kind of the first area of where you start to segment the different keywords, is we’re going to break that down into a funeral campaign, a cremation campaign, a pre-planning campaign and then in those campaigns, we would create ad groups which would focus on funeral services, then funeral costs and cremation services and cremation costs, because we want we want to know what their intent is and if we can follow their intent. So, if someone’s looking for cost, let’s take them through the helping them in that decision making process and lead them through that maybe we show them a cost comparison.
If they’re just looking for funeral homes or funeral funeral services, we don’t have to get into costs right away. We could maybe talk about all the different service items that you offer or how you make services unique in your area and meaningful to the for the deceased and for the survivors.
And what I also find is that funeral homes wouldn’t use negative keywords properly and that means that if you enter a negative keyword then your ad won’t show up. We talked about this earlier. Most of the traffic that comes to your website or people are looking at obituaries. So, if people are searching for obituaries in your town, you really don’t want to pay for that because there’s no buying intent, they’re not they’re not going to be buying or purchasing a funeral from you or a cremation. Sure, maybe, they could be buying some flowers but you don’t want to be paying for that because the return on investment is going to be way too low.
So, we want to make sure that if they’re looking for directions, if they’re looking for your hours, if they’re looking for obituaries, you want to have those as negative keywords and to take this a step further to kind of dial down and and really fine tune funeral homes AdWords account is we create a brand campaign and a kind of competitor campaign.
[00:30:53] So, then any brand names or or variations of your brand name would go into that account. And, because we don’t want your competitors bidding on your name your ads going to appear at the top but we don’t want to be paying the high price clicks for such as what a for funeral homes in Seattle, Washington is going to be an expensive keyword phrase. But if it was Heppell’s Funeral Homes Seattle, then there’s they’re looking more for for my funeral home, if that was the case and we should not have to pay as much for that
so, sometimes again, these these keywords aren’t segmented out and it ends up costing the funeral home a lot more money.
[00:31:45] And, then we do the same thing if it’s a competitor, we can put the competitor’s keywords in that in that account. You can’t use your competitors names in your ads but you could have an ad show up that says “have you checked out our website, or look at all the various services offerings service offerings we have, or a cost comparison” depending on the competitor that they’re searching for and also if they were searching for Young’s funeral home in Seattle ad that’s not my funeral home, I don’t want to be bidding on the high priced bid on that either because there’s probably a good chance that they’re just looking for Young’s funeral. So, those are just some ways that you can really dial in the spend in your Adwords account. We’ll get into this in a lot more detail in the future. But those are just things to think of when you’re when you’re creating and managing your Google AdWords account.
Hey Brian, let’s pass things over to you for Number 10.
[00:32:54] Thanks Rob. For the last topic I have here for today is called the no profit zone and it’s a case study of Anderson McQueen funeral homes, Master Key to Profitability. And I’ll tell you what I mean by that in a second. Back in 1987, cremation really started to grow the state of Florida, and between 1987 and 2010, Florida’s cremation rate exploded from 21 percent to 72 percent, which is just huge. During this time, when a lot of other funeral homes were struggling to survive, Anderson McQueen funeral home grew in its call volume from 450 calls to 22,000 calls, while also growing profitability. How did they do that? Answering that question is the point of this strategy talk. John McQueen and his team began leveraging a strategy to keep themselves out of the no profit zone, as it’s called.
[00:33:52] So, by focusing on some groundbreaking approaches to packaging and servicing that exceeded the desires of both high-end experience shoppers and also low-cost price shoppers, they avoided the no profit zone in the middle while becoming the most beloved collection of death care brands in the Greater St. Petersburg area, and they’re still operating on that foundation today and continuing to extend their market reach their call volume and their profitability.
So, that seems so very relevant in today’s America where the majority of the country is now experiencing this rapidly growing cremation rate and a lot of funeral home owners are wondering, how do I respond to that? How do we evolve my brand and my offerings in this new era to stay profitable? Well, I think examining how Anderson McQueen did it will provide a lot of answers.
So, that wraps up the points I have for our first set of talks here. Rob, what else do you have to share?
[00:34:52] Well, I think this has been great, Brian and just sharing some of these insights to get what our intent is – to get your creative juices flowing in your brain. We want you to check back soon for future episodes of Strategy Talks and if you have any questions at all make sure you leave it below here on the website and let you know if you like what you’re hearing, please leave a comment or a rating on iTunes or Google Play.
[00:35:23] And, we really thank you for spending time with us today. Our goal is for you to serve more families and provide them with more meaningful services.
So, make sure you check back soon for another episode of the Funeral Results Marketing Strategy Talks. On behalf of Brian Young, this is Robin Heppell.