Virtual Doors Open Literal Doors:
 10 Characteristics of a Truly Outstanding Senior Community Website

Virtual Doors Open Literal Doors:
 10 Characteristics of a Truly Outstanding Senior Community Website

The very first web page went live 30 years ago. It was dedicated to Tim Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web project. While it was bland and uninviting, in retrospect, we know that this first URL opened the door to today’s websites, which virtually open the door to the whole wide world. 

With nearly two billion websites in existence, the competition to attract the attention of the 4.72 billion web users across the globe is staggering. Unless you’re Craigslist or Wikipedia, whose unattractive physical look is so embedded in public awareness it would be foolish to change design, a modern website needs some curb appeal – and a whole lot more. 

Four years ago, we blogged about the all-important home page. A killer home page is still paramount, but let’s take a fresh look at the multiple characteristics of a truly outstanding website – one that visitors will remember and return to time and again, one that builds trust in your brand and leads visitors to take action. 

For the purpose of this blog, we will focus on the senior living industry. Indeed, most of the features that make a great senior community site apply to all websites, but the onus on the senior space to provide an exceptional online experience is particularly great. As literal doors have been closed to visitors, virtual doors must do the lion’s share of the work attracting prospects. 

Ten Things That Make Your Website Outshine the Rest

  1. Virtual tours. Because COVID has severely restricted (if not completely prohibited) in-person tours of senior communities, virtual tours of indoor and outdoor spaces, common areas, amenities, and individual apartments are absolutely essential. Engaging online tours are more than still photographs; they are interactive, three-dimensional, and offer a 360-degree perspective – as close to the real thing as if one were walking through your property. 
  2. Navigability. Getting lost in an illogical, disorganized website is like driving in a strange city and not knowing your way around – with one major difference: you can immediately click out of a website, never to return again. A move to senior living is one of life’s major decisions and, unfortunately, one that is sometimes made during crisis. The first point of entry should be an easy, orderly glide through your community. Studies have shown that the eye tracks text in a certain pattern, and visual hierarchy in the arrangement of your site’s elements points to what is most important and how to seamlessly find subsequent content. Main and sub-tabs designed with first-time visitors in mind guide prospects through a well-organized, stress-free visit.  
  3. Clean, simple design. An unfussy, uncluttered design throughout your entire site, but especially on the home page, makes for a pleasant, positive user experience. Simplicity in design is fresh, timeless and soothing. There’s also great business benefit in a simple design, as several studies have shown that minimalism garners more conversions by establishing legitimacy and confidence in a brand. Endless clicking and scrolling is distracting and comes off as amateurish and “salesy.” On that note, if at all possible, avoid sponsored ads on your site. 
  4. Uniform branding. Along with a clean design goes visual uniformity across your entire site, including color schemes, typography, logo, and other graphic elements unique to your brand. “Cookie cutter” designs are a dime a dozen and will do nothing to distinguish you from the nearly 30,000 other senior communities in the U.S. 
  5. Animation and interactivity. Today’s Internet users are seeking an “experience,” particularly now when in-person visits and events at your senior community are limited. Animated and user-driven interactive elements bring life to your site and create memorable journeys throughout your pages and in your visitors’ minds. These elements also increase engagement with your community and more clicks to discover what’s around the next corner, so to speak.  
  6. Readability. Small type and hard-to-read fonts are a no for any website, especially those serving older adults whose eyesight may be compromised. A simple, legible font scheme (consistent across your entire site) will serve your visitors’ needs and keep them engaged. It will also lend a more professional, sophisticated appearance, establishing trust and credibility in your brand. 
  7. Great Content. You can use the most awesome typestyle and graphics in the world, but without great content on your site, it may as well be gobbledegook. At its core, the “king” – content – is information that benefits your audiences on its own merit – a takeaway, so to speak, that is meaningful regardless of a lead. Great content creates a positive connection between you and your visitors, the ripple effects of which can be boundless. 
  8. Response Time. Sites that load slowly will be abandoned quickly. Optimal load speed is under three seconds; 40 percent of consumers will reportedly abandon a site if it takes longer than three seconds to load. Response time is a function of underlying infrastructure (e.g., a good content delivery network) and design element choices, among other things, and it is essential not only to keeping visitors on your site, but good SEO. 
  9. Mobile friendly. A whopping 90 percent of Internet users across the globe access the web from their mobile devices. Websites that adapt to whatever device one is using allow for significantly greater reach and more shareability among visitors. In essence, you can’t survive without a mobile friendly website. 
  10. Expert designers. Achieving all of the above is a tall, but very necessary order. It is not a layman’s endeavor, nor the work of a pre-fab template. Professionals trained in web design and management on both the front and back ends are a must for a truly outstanding website. 

IVY’s team of experts in the senior living space can bring excellent web content and design to life, bringing prospects to your virtual community and in your literal doors. 

Contact us today at 630-790-2531 or visit www.ivymarketing.com.

IVY MARKETING GROUP. COME GROW WITH US. 

How to Construct a Social Media Plan

How to Construct a Social Media Plan

It’s true: those who fail to plan, plan to fail. While social media is often perceived to be random, rudderless and routine (and sometimes is), a well-structured Social Media Strategy can make a significant difference in your communications with prospects and clients.

Your plan must start with a good, interactive website, rich with ways to help people improve whatever they might want to improve. Your website should have an active blog with new posts at least once a week. These two pieces are the hub of your marketing effort and the cornerstone to your Strategic Social Media Plan.
Your website/blog should sport:

• Value to others in many forms: physical, mental, emotional or financial.
• Innovation and Humor.
• Consistency. Make your posts as frequent as possible — at least weekly.
• Media of all sorts from articles, to photos and videos should be easily accessible from your website.
• Your brand on every page: logo, colors, phone numbers, etc.
• A call to action. Free stuff is very, very good!

 

2) Your Plan should identify what social media vehicles, groups and blogs to join. Be selective and strategic about what groups you choose. Then, keep up with them. Participate. Add value to the conversation. Make “offers” to them that will improve something they are interested in. Send them to good links (not just your own).
3) Leverage the communities you are in to publish your informative, helpful and humorous information. It CANNOT be self-promotional.
4) Choose the right networks. YouTube is the best place to host your videos but Facebook is a great way to have a conversation.
5) Build your relationships by being available, trustworthy and helpful in all your interactions. Do NOT sell!
6) Listen to the conversations. If you hear or see something worth sharing, pass it along with a link so the credit goes where it is due.

7) Integrate your traditional marketing into your social media marketing. Cross promote your website and blog with brochures, events, advertising and give-aways.
8) Measure your results. How many new “friends” have you made? How many more subscribers do you have to your newsletter? How times have your comments or content been shared with others?
9) Sign up for free company listings with search engines.
10) Re-evaluate and re-tool when necessary; but remember, it takes a long time to build relationships so give it a year or more to determine if you are being effective with your Strategic Social Media Plan.

What’s in Your Marketing Budget?

What’s in Your Marketing Budget?

2011.  A new start.  New hope. New strategies for success.  Most marketing professionals are optimistic about 2011.  Reportedly, there are a more conversations, and companies are now addressing their need for market share (rather than the service and product survival focus of the past 24 months). So far — it’s all good.

But the success your organization will experience this year in new leads and sales is closely aligned with the marketing choices you make.  For example, does it make sense to continue advertising on tv, radio or print at the pre-recession rate? How many carefully planned impressions will be wasted on people who are not interested in your offering? Or, perhaps, skip right over them with all the technology available to avoid your carefully crafted ads?  What about direct mail?  Is your return typical — between .5 and 2%?   What does that make your return on investment (ROI)?

The Center for Media Research shared some interesting information that can help guide your organization to a successful 2011 marketing budget.  Overall, 50% of budgets are expected to increase over last year with 43% maintaining current levels.  The top allocation increases are:  65% to email marketing, 57% to social media, 41% to Search, and 35% to mobile marketing.  This year’s losers are direct mail, down 36%, followed by tradeshow and events at 33%.  Trailing in third for the budget bruise is advertising.

Marketing is common sense at its very core.  Who is interested in what you offer?  Where can you find qualified prospects to “talk” to them?  What is better about your company’s services and products that would cause prospects to buy?  You really don’t need to look any further than your screen to answer these questions — it’s all on the Internet.  That’s where most people search topics, ask questions, seek other people’s opinions and find news and entertainment.

Companies are recognizing that their website is the centerpiece to all their lead generating efforts from information to testimonials to education.  The better your organization tends to its website with reliable, relevant content that interests prospects and customers, the more trusted and valuable your organization becomes to them.

The next step is to drive traffic to your website.  Search engine optimization (SEO) is important, of course, but only ten companies are listed on page one of a given search.  That means organizations must find ways to drive traffic to their websites where they can woe their market with outstanding information, visuals, videos and news.  The more Internet channels you use, the better your results.  For example, clearly, social media enjoyed back to back break-out years in 2009 and 2010.  We expect more to come in 2011.  But this year, it’s hard to beat the economies of scale in e-mail marketing to the prospects and customers whose email address you have been accumulating.  Pay-per-click advertising and mobile marketing should surge a bit their year as well.

Your budgets are probably approved.  But to make the most of your marketing dollars, use your common sense to determine the best allocation of your hard-fought funds.

The Marketing Smoothie Recipe for Older Adult Services

The Marketing Smoothie Recipe for Older Adult Services

Take your direct mail, your advertising, your website, Facebook page, special events and put them all in a blender.  Combine, mix on high and serve immediately.  The rich flavors will create a marketing masterpiece worthy of your finest efforts.  Yields:  New customers.  Will keep for at least one year.

It’s true, every ingredient you add to your marketing mix is going to enhance the effectiveness of your campaign especially when you combine them and let them work together to support each other.  This is especially true when appealing to older adults.  Seniors usually read direct mail and watch or listen to commercials, hence the expiration date for these mediums is further out than say, print advertising.  That .5% response rate you get with direct mail may bring people to your community, your store or your website.  Use it wisely because it is quite expensive; however, it can boost interest and awareness about your organization when you promote your website, blog, Facebook, etc., in the mailed piece (email or snail mail).

Special events are a great place to have people sign up with their email addresses.  Offer something for free, or an opportunity to win cash or a give-away and you’ll get more email addresses.  Take your online magazine or website on the road — to senior fairs, to trade events, anywhere you can.  Then let people see what they can learn, enjoy and gain value from by participating in your online activities.

Of course there’s a menu of options for those folks who like to consume the latest communications trends of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and blogs,  too.  First, connect your Facebook page, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn accounts via any one of a number of new social media management services that are often free.  Then link all of that to your website.  Connect the paths among all these accounts to your blog or online magazine, to reputable referral sites and of course, your RSS Feed.  Promote your events on your site, within these accounts, offer special discounts, etc. via these mediums.  You can even try pay-per-click advertising on search engines and referral sites.

In your monthly statements or newsletters, provide links and special advantages to using your organization’s online tools.  Use signage throughout your venue to promote your online and make it worth a prospect’s while to seek out your business on the Internet.

Online strategies are far less expensive overall and are proving to be about 60% less per lead than traditional tactics.  However, a slow but steady shift of funds and efforts away from the traditional methods into the online is a far more successful way to reach the older adult market.  Use the next year or two to change your lead-generating diet to mostly online.

Providence Life Services Realizes Social Media Success

Providence Life Services Realizes Social Media Success

When you have a 90% score on your website that Hubspot grades against all websites in every industry…  over 7,000 people visit your site monthly… and, you use technology resources to distribute your messages to over 100,000 active emails accounts, you are leading the pack in online communications best practices.  Such is the case with Providence Life Services (PLS), a not-for-profit Christian ministry serving seniors and headquartered in south suburban Chicago.

A four person staff designs, writes and manages the marketing for seven communities, four home and community based service groups, four rehabilitation centers as well as the parent organization, PLS.  Along with PLS’  website functionality that is content rich and frequently updated,  the marketing team manages the Facebook pages for the corporation along with their independent and assisted living communities.

“Originally our participation on Facebook was driven by a desire to provide a ministry for the families of residents.  The snippets of daily life caught in photos, stories, videos, etc., are a wonderful way for the families to see what the lives of their loved ones are like,” commented Director of Communications, Melanie Jongsma.  Mary James, Vice President of Communications and Marketing added that it has become a great marketing tool, too!

“Introducing social media into the Providence Life Services marketing and communications strategy is a result of three years spent rebranding our organization which included a name change from Rest Haven to Providence Life Services,”  according to James.  “Credit must be given to our CEO, Rick Scott, for his vision to embrace social media and technology as a significant component of our communications strategy.”

Peggy Hiemer designs and manages the website, Facebook accounts for PLS and its communities along with e-newsletters to various constituent groups.  Ms. Jongsma and Ms. Hiemer led a training class for community marketing directors to teach them how Facebook works.  Their community Facebook pages launched three months ago. “The success of the Facebook pages are directly related to the interest and dedication of the onsite point person.  The more buy-in there is at the local level the more successful  Facebook is as a communication tool for the residents.”

Mary James added, “We consider it critically important for the staff to participate in the online discussion since each community is a ‘family’ of staff and residents.”  PLS never screens the comments that are made on the site or Facebook, however, they  are monitored closely.  “When a not-so- complimentary comment comes into the conversations, we are quick to find something to offset it,” says James.

Traditional marketing methods are still used by PLS since the target market responds to direct mail and events.  However, whenever we feel we can transfer a message via the internet, we will,” exclaimed James.

It’s addicting!  The fast-paced, ever changing world of public relations and marketing captures your interest and keeps you charged up to learn more everyday.  I love to find the best ways to tell our client’s stories and man, they have awesome stories!

It’s my job to discover our client’s goals and then match the best processes to achieve them, within their budgets, of course.  I get to explore traditional, digital and every manner of communication to determine which tactics, whether it is direct mail or TV advertising, a new website or PPC (to name just a few) will efficiently and effectively capture the attention of prospects. 

I also get to work with great people at IVY – they’re creative, fun, caring and super smart.  We’ve all been around the industry a while so there is not a novice among us.  Our clients are very cool too and totally passionate about the services they offer.  We’ve been working with most of them for years so we know they truly care about being innovative and responsible to the markets they service.  I have great admiration for all of them and look forward to every day. 

It’s true what “they” say, if you love what you do, you won’t work a day of your life!

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IVY was established in 1990 with a basic premise to offer professional, ethical and highly creative marketing, advertising and public relations services. We have successfully maintained our core values and have been part of many amazing projects, client growth and changes in the world of marketing that continue to happen at lightening speed. Most of our clients serve older adults in some capacity so we keep abreast of the opportunities and challenges they face.   Each day, we keep it real and fun and consistently deliver positive results to our clients and their markets.

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As a hybrid graphic and digital designer/web developer with over 17 years of experience, I am always on the lookout for innovative digital and print visual communications. IVY Marketing Group’s broad range of projects keeps my job challenging and rewarding, as each campaign is a new and exciting opportunity to effectively communicate our clients’ messages and help them achieve their goals. It’s my passion!

My body of work encompasses a diverse design style and wide base of clients, ranging from national associations, small businesses and big name brands like Hyatt and LiftMaster. I firmly believe that form follows function and highly value the communicative power of simplicity. 

Areas of professional expertise include Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, Word Press, Responsive Design, CSS3, and HTML5. The industries I’ve served include senior living, health care, hospitality and finance.

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All my life, I have loved writing. As a child, I could often be found in my room “writing a book.” While “novelist” is not (yet) on my resume, I am a storyteller. I believe that everyone and everything has a great story, and it is my joy to find that story and share it with the world.

After earning my bachelor’s degree in journalism and completing my master’s studies in the same field, I joined a small advertising agency with powerhouse clients in the hospitality industry, such as Hyatt, Hilton International and Carnival Cruise Lines. I began as a proofreader and achieved the position of senior copy writer within a year.

After my first son was born, followed by two more, I started a freelance writing business that included (among several others) such clients as Advocate Health Care and Coldwell-Banker Realty. Clients in the education arena included DeVry University’s Becker CPA and Stalla CFA Reviews, DePaul University, and Naperville School District 203, for which I won two state public relations awards.

For nine years, I was employed as Communications Director for a large faith community, where I managed all aspects of internal and external communications. I was writer, editor, designer, web master, and content manager.

As such, I am experienced and comfortable writing multimedia for a broad variety of industries, products and services.

I joined IVY Marketing Group in 2013, when I began writing client press releases on a freelance basis. I loved the work—and my teammates—so much, I was thrilled when I was invited to come on board in a greater capacity.

I have immensely enjoyed getting to know our valued clients in the senior housing industry, the people they serve, and telling the many wonderful stories that come out of content marketing done right—with the love and care our IVY teams puts into everything we do.

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It all starts with one idea. Working with the Ivy creative team for over two decades has always meant taking one great idea and bringing it to life to help our clients meet their goals. We enjoy the challenges offered with every creative opportunity and try to make the design process itself enjoyable for our clients.

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Making certain that the projects IVY produces are word- and picture-perfect is my specialty. But I also love implementing marketing campaigns and programs that bring our clients success. Details are my thing, so it is a pleasure to have worked with IVY twice now, first after college four years ago and, recently, for the past two years.

The IVY Group is a terrific team of creative, positive and talented professionals that I love working with and, judging from the length of stay of our clients, I think they love our team, too!

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Rock-climbing, training for an 80-floor stair climb event, running a 5K…This is just a tiny peek into what people 20 and even 30 years older than I am, are doing on a fairly regular basis at some of the retirement communities that IVY represents.

I’m of the generation that still has reoccurring nightmares about what the next step looked like when my grandmother could no longer live by herself. The very best option at that time was living at a “facility” and  included eating rubbery chicken and playing an occasional game of BINGO. Period. That’s why my parent’s generation begged us not to ever put them into “one of those places.”

I am so proud that IVY’s clients are at the very forefront of an industry that creates opportunities, challenges, and most of all freedom for seniors, allowing them to explore hobbies, interests, passions…the next chapter of their very full lives.

I feel reassured for my own future. Even more, I feel honored to be able to share the impactful stories about this paradigm shift in the world of senior housing. What we hear and see at our clients’ communities is fascinating and inspiring!

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Keeping up to date on new public relations strategies, online engagement tactics, and promotional tools is my passion.

With my hospitality background in marketing top Chicago restaurants and hotels, I was eager to bring fresh concepts and communication strategies to our clients and have really enjoyed learning various industries.

Our clients have such exciting and unique events and programs, which really makes it motivating for me to make the most of their content.  Results like increased sales leads, website visits and social media connections make everyday rewarding and interesting.

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I oversee, plan and implement projects and processes at IVY.  Often,  I am the conduit between our writers and designers, with printers, and other vendors to fulfill the marketing needs for our clients. I also manage media buys and coordinate production of advertisements.

Working for a flexible and fluid company that is constantly growing, changing and evolving is fun and rewarding. There is always something new to learn.

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My bio has a big blank in the beginning—Mom and Dad rescued me in Wisconsin, and no one really knows my origins. They were probably ruff. What matters though is where I am now, running IVY Marketing Group. There are humans here who think they’re in charge. In truth, they do actually have amazing experience in content marketing and public relations, but I’m super important and the center of attention. I mean, look at this face. Right? And I know I’m the top dog because honestly, I’m the only one allowed to sleep through staff meetings and eat things that people drop on the floor.

The fact is though that I truly love staying awake at staff meetings. Everyone talks and laughs and they’re always excited. That surprises me a little because it’s not like anyone has thrown a ball to play fetch or anything. But I guess what gets my pack of peoples’ tails wagging is their work and their clients. I don’t know what a website or a blog is, but I do know that my pack must be good at them because they’ve earned all sorts of awards for these and other things. My bed had to be moved because the framed certificates were taking up so much room. Despite the inconvenience, I’m proud of these awards!

I serve several important purposes at IVY. I always let Mom (and the world) know when the mailman is here. When people come into the office, just one (usually) quick non-invasive (usually) sniff, allows me to determine important characteristics…like if they had anything good for breakfast, own any pets (pet owners are the best!) or if they stepped in anything on the way in. (It’s sort of like me conducting a first job interview.) I generously share my tummy because I know people like to give it a good scratch. I always give kisses, whether one is feeling lonely or not. And I’m always happy to share someone’s meal, especially if they’re trying to lose weight. My pack describes me as being engaging, amusing, and entertaining. (When I hear a siren, I “sing” along and it makes them laugh.) NPR talks about the benefits of having a pet at the workplace. Studies show pets lower stress hormones and improve morale and productivity. I wholeheartedly agree that a dog in the workplace is the best thing since rawhide bones.

As for my pack of people at IVY…they are amazing and always make my tail wag!

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I could not be more thrilled to work alongside the IVY team.

For over 25 years, I have been employed in top executive positions across the Chicago area and have consistently built profitable businesses, generated sales, and developed and launched new product lines.

Strategically positioning companies and commodities for growth is a strong suit I’m eager to bring to ResponderHub™, IVY’s new crisis communications solution. I’m also excited to help expand IVY’s reach in the senior marketing industry.

I believe people are more open than ever to thinking outside the box and looking at new ways to reach their customer base, while at the same time reducing their cost of sale. The senior industry is exploding, and IVY is perfectly positioned to respond to the need for innovative, quality content marketing services and effective crisis communications.

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I love being able to use my skills to help improve other people’s lives, and with a growing elderly population, it’s important to create meaningful and user-friendly digital solutions to aid the senior living industry.I have a wide range of technology and design skills with a deep interest in Human-Computer Interaction– helping IVY provide outstanding web design and print design services. IVY has a long-proven track record of excellence, and I’m proud to be able to help carry on that tradition. 

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