OilheatAmerica.com - Built to be the Best
By Richard Rutigliano, PriMedia, Inc.
This is a critical time for the Oilheat industry. The volatility that is present in today's energy markets has created a growing concern among many Americans about the availability, efficiency and costs of home heating options. As a result, consumers are seeking more information, and in ever-increasing numbers they're using the Internet to do their research.
Recognizing this growing trend, the leadership at the National Oilheat Research Alliance (NORA) formalized a plan earlier this year which laid the foundation for the creation of a comprehensive on-line presence that would help consumers to find answers to their questions and learn about the many advantages of Oilheat in an image-enhancing, positive way.
To achieve this, NORA turned to PriMedia, the agency which had created the original OilheatAmerica.com site many years before to widespread industry acclaim.
Taking a successful website and improving further upon it presented a creative challenge. The goal was to create a website that would appeal to consumers and leverage Oilheat's key strengths.
"We wanted to create simply the best industry site of its kind," says PriMedia president Richard Rutigliano. "It had to be better than utility sites, better than competing fuels, one and all."
In addition to this overriding mandate, there were many other challenges as well. Achieving great rankings in all of the major Internet search engines was key. "Consumers searching key words of interest such as "furnace" or "boiler" in popular sites the likes of Google and Yahoo can drive a great deal of traffic to OilheatAmerica, and all of that activity is free," says Rutigliano. "We had to build the right content so that people would find us quickly and easily, under all the categories they would normally search out."
As a result, PriMedia's content developers had a very large task at hand. They needed to expand the existing OilheatAmerica site to create sufficient content to achieve the great search engine site rankings they were seeking.
Where to Begin?
"It's definitely not a 'Build It and They Will Come' scenario," says Rutigliano. "The first thing we had to do was to find out what consumers were really looking for, then build the site content to make sure they found us." So the firm spent a lot of time researching consumers' search habits. What they found was very interesting, indeed.
"We found a huge disconnect between what we wanted to be, and what consumers really thought of us. What I'm referring to is our brand, the core identity that we as an industry are trying to develop."
What PriMedia learned in its preliminary research was that consumers really didn't think of Oilheat as the brand. Instead, searches in Google and other major search engines yielded surprising results. Americans are much more likely to search us out under terms such as "fuel oil" or "heating oil" than the term "Oilheat."
As Rutigliano puts it, "We had an interesting dilemma. We were trying to brand ourselves as Oilheat, but if we focused on that alone consumers would never find us. Somehow we had to be easily found, yet still develop the Oilheat brand. Hopefully, we've created a rich on-line presence that does just that."
As they used to say in the publishing business, "Content is King." PriMedia, having carefully searched and categorized all of the important search terms consumers were actively using, set out to build a content-rich site that could be easily found and which would clearly identify Oilheat as the brand of the future. To achieve this, among other things, OilheatAmerica's scope was magnified several times.
"The new site is probably five to six times as large as the previous one," says PriMedia's Creative Director, John Bruno. "Our copywriters were hard at work developing the new content areas, and we had a lot of help from industry colleagues via existing NORA publications."
John's team did its homework. The designers and content developers on the team researched numerous competitive-industry and related web sites for everything from aesthetics and content organization to interactive features and navigation methods. Rutigliano and Bruno worked closely with NORA leadership, including directly with NORA president John Huber, on a host of issues, everything from site structure and organization to content. "It was a great team effort. We love it when a client has clear ideas and input on one of our projects," says Bruno. "Good things happen."
From Strategy through Execution
"When I first heard of the project I became very energized. Building a new, more comprehensive OilheatAmerica.com presented a terrific creative opportunity. But we were concerned at how to organize that much content and still achieve a fulfilling user experience for the consumer." That's how one of PriMedia's senior web designers, Mark Demofsky, expressed his first thoughts at the undertaking.
With the addition of so much content, that task required an extensive mapping process before work could begin. Content hierarchies were formulated so that the most important information is always the most visible, and the most visually appealing.
"We organized all of the information in groups of three's," says Demofsky. Every page offers a primary, secondary, and tertiary set of related information, and that organizational structure runs the length and breadth of the entire site."
Indeed, consistency is paramount. No matter where a consumer is within the OilheatAmerica site, it is readily apparent where he or she is relative to all of the other content. The user knows where he is, how he got there, and where he can go next intuitively, with no frustrations from apparent dead-ends or information backwaters.
"It's like building a house," says Rutigliano. When designed right, it's aesthetically pleasing and one room flows easily into the next. Also, every room's just the right size."
To achieve this visual hierarchy, PriMedia used some cutting-edge tools. "We replaced the old Flash page that used to welcome visitors and put in its place a visually striking main image which paints Oilheat in a positive light immediately upon entering. The site is now completely database-driven, which means that it creates every page instantly as the user calls it up. That way, we can rotate images at will for more impact." So says Craig Manganello, one of PriMedia's senior web developers, and a key member of the OilheatAmerica project team.
Indeed, the visual impact of the site is hard to overstate. Every time the main welcome screen loads, a new central image is loaded in. That way, a consumer who visits the site more than once will feel that the site is always up-to-date. "Even if content hasn't changed since the consumer's last visit, he or she will have a unique site experience anyway," says Manganello.
Additionally, there is a primary navigation bar and site-search function to quickly and easily get consumers "involved," as well as detailed text links that entice the user to "get more information."
Content, Content, and More Content
The new OilheatAmerica.com needed to be many things. Consumers must be put at ease quickly that the information they're viewing is credible, completely accurate, and unbiased. "Information is sourced and very well documented," says Debra Kupperberg, senior copywriter on the project. "We feel that we've created a true information resource that will be used by consumers and professionals in a variety of industries. It truly is the go-to venue for hard facts on heating equipment and energy conservation, petroleum supply, and new and exciting initiatives such as BioHeat."
Just some of the additional features to the OilheatAmerica web site include:
- up-to-date information on oil production and supply, with a focus on new drilling techniques and the abundance of American oil reserves;
- a thorough, yet consumer-friendly, description of how boilers, furnaces, burners and water heaters work;
- valuable advice on upgrading Oilheat systems and tanks, and how to choose the right equipment;
- dozens of energy conservation tips that can be practiced throughout the year;
- the latest facts on clean, green BioHeat®;
- a discussion of the full-value benefits Oilheat dealers provide, with an explanation of prevalent pricing/payment options;
- need-to-know facts on the newest tax credits and incentives for Oilheat consumers.
In addition, there's a section on community service which highlights how the Oilheat industry is working closely to help improve life in our local communities. Currently the Oil Heat Cares program, which is run by volunteers from the National Association of Oil Heating Service Managers, is featured.
Integration with the National Campaign
One of the most significant challenges that PriMedia faced centered on the integration of OilheatAmerica.com with the Intelligent Warmth campaign now under way. "We thought about that for awhile." says Bruno. "What we came up with proved to be really neat, and very effective. We took some of the on-line ads and pay-per-click images that NORA was using, and actually populated parts of the web site with them." In essence, the ads serve as one of the navigation tools that are fundamental to the overall organizational hierarchy that the user experiences. For instance, a BioHeat ad image serves as the button linking the consumer to the biofuels information set. Once again, because the web site is database-driven, these images can rotate or be interchanged easily whenever the need arises.
For the consumer, it is all totally seamless. The www.intelligentwarmth.com address which is featured in the print and radio campaigns takes users directly to www.OilheatAmerica.com. He or she may see a print or on-line ad, link to or type in the URL and arrive at Oilheatamerica.com, and have a totally integrated user experience.
Interactivity is Key
One of the most important features of the new and improved website is the extensive FAQ or Frequently Asked Questions database. Working in conjunction with NORA, a comprehensive repository of information was created with the intent that most questions a consumer could have about Oilheat would be instantly addressed. "Is Today's Oilheat's Sulfur Content Reduced?" "Should I Be Concerned About My Tank?" "How Do I Compare Different Heating Options?" These are representative of the types of questions to be found there. Immediately after OilheatAmerica was launched it became apparent that this would prove to be the most popular section of the entire web site. To tie in with the radio and print campaign, the FAQ section features the "talking oil heater" imaging.
As much as possible, OilheatAmerica.com employs dynamic, interactive content. That way, consumers will experience a highly evolved, technologically-advanced site. The view is that visitors will extend this experience to their perceptions of Oilheat and Oilheat equipment itself.
A highlight, back by popular demand from the earlier version of OilheatAmerica.com, is the Interactive H.O.U.S.E. An acronym for "Helping Oilheat Users Save Energy," the H.O.U.S.E. guides consumers, room by room, through a virtual house, offering valuable tips to help them save energy and money.
In addition to the comprehensive site search feature, there is also an on-line monthly poll which will help NORA leadership to assess consumer sentiment, and guide future content initiatives. And, of course, there are links to local, state, and regional Oilheat associations and downloadable .pdf's of many NORA brochures for homeowners, real estate professionals, and home inspectors.
Launch to Dovetail with Radio, Print and PPC rollout
The timing of the launch was critical. Working under an aggressive timeframe in order to be ready for the upcoming Print, Radio, and On-line Advertising campaign, and the coming heating season, a complete and thorough project plan was put in place to identify, track and meet the critical factors that would ensure the successful delivery of the site. Consistency of look, feel and function across operating systems, browsers and communication links was critical to the successful use and acceptance by the consumer. Through the use of usability labs, direct feedback was received from actual consumers who were given hands-on previews to future enhancements - all of which resulted in a more consumer-oriented, user-friendly website.
Tracking scripts were developed to help identify the frequency and direction consumers would take from the home page to other pages. This information will help to continue refining and developing pages that truly resonate with the consumer.
The new OilheatAmerica.com was launched September 7, 2006. In the first full month since its implementation, the number of unique visitors to the site has grown dramatically. "We're measuring 'How' and we're measuring 'What,'" says Rutigliano. "We want to know how people are finding us, and what they're viewing when they get there. That way we can make sure to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to delivering the types of content consumers really want."
Links have been established to OilheatAmerica.com through industry, dealer and manufacturer sites, through paid interactive banner ads, on other web sites of interest to most homeowners, such as the HGTV (Home and Garden Television Cable Channel) home page, as well as the home pages of major companies such as the Home Depot.
Industry participation, by linking sites to OilheatAmerica.com, will help to achieve optimal rankings in major on-line search engines. Through traditional media as well, such as direct mail, newsletters, and other advertising, we can help get the word out to consumers and industry professionals to help support this important new NORA initiative.
Richard Rutigliano is President of PriMedia, Inc., a full service marketing and communications firm with offices in New York City, Long Island and Boston. The company is now offering free marketing consultations to Oilheat retailers. Phone: 800-796-3342, or visit their Web sites at www.primediany.com and www.oilheat-advertising.com.