What You Need to Know About Web Sites

By Christie Walker
Each year I review between 50 and 60 optical laboratory Web sites for the annual Optical Laboratory Web Site of the Year Award. And every year I'm amazed at the improvements of some sites and the total lack of change of others. I have found some sites that haven't changed the content or look of their site in the past five years. For a Web site, that's almost an antique. This year I narrowed down the field to some 20 sites before handing the list over to a panel of judges to pick the top ten sites.

Something interesting happened this year... each of the Web sites in the top ten this year were also in the top ten last year. Point spreads have become smaller and smaller, with some sites moving up and others moving down based on a half a point. This means the competition is getting tougher and tougher. Web sites who are in the top ten have excellent content that is of value to the eye care practitioner and is presented in a pleasing, easy-to-use format. This is a bottom line requirement to be in the top ten. What you will find at each site is a above and beyond approach to what these sites provide their customers online through their Web sites. Here are some of the comments from the judges.

"Two things I noticed immediately about this year's sites vs. last year's. A lot of lab's Web sites now include calendars, links to associations they are members of, and newsletters for customers. Some of the newsletters were even online. I gave higher marks to labs that included glossaries of terms, links to marketing programs, etc. I was particularly impressed that Laramyk.com even has a news group where members of the community can post reaction to issues and truly interact."

"Overall, the look and feel and 'speed' of the sites are all great and improve each year. I think the sites that work the best are the ones that quickly 'show' their content upfront rather than make the user click through all and return to home page each time. I like sites that provide a lot of resources to the ECP client particularly general education information about the eye, vision, basic frame and lens and coating info. Education training and modules ruled for me which is why I thought the Walman site excelled, as did eyeglasslenses.com, laramyk.com and schroederoptical.com."

"Most of the sites included product information, remote ordering and promotions. Some were better than others at promoting marketing plans. Walman's site was particularly good at including easy-to-read links to just about everything that's important about Walman, from philosophy to product offerings. Other sites did this too, but had the information in pull-down menus. Only Walman got most of their links on the front page without jamming them in."

Other features that scored high marks with the judges were: good promotions such as Interstate Optical's Treasure Island promo; labs that stressed 'opportunities for ECP practices such as safety eyewear or kids packages; interactive 'ask a question' feature; and a drilled rimless page and virtual lab tour.

"Order-checking, online ordering, tracing and other interactive functions are becoming more important to ECP's success so the prominence or inclusion of those features were important in my rankings."

The quality of the content was important to the success of the Web sites. Just having links to manufacturers' sites is not enough any more. Practitioners are looking for information on availability and how/why to dispense a particular product. Links to educational opportunities, the ability to download forms they need, up-to-date information on promotions and ways to order product and marketing tools online are all becoming increasingly more common on the top Web sites.

Several of the Web sites that made the top ten have had a face lift. Katz & Klein has a smart new look and Sutherlin Optical jazzed up their site as well. Check out this year's top ten sites to see what they are doing right and implement some of their ideas into your own Web site.

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May/June LabTalk 2017