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The woodworking Euteneier family, including dad Thomas and sons Dylan, right, and Evan (not pictured), started building their portable ‘shepherds huts’ last summer in Maxwell, Ont. Their product is a cross between a bunkie and a trailer.

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

Each week, we seek expert advice to help a small or medium-sized business overcome a key issue.

Thousands of people have visited Güte's website since the Euteneier family started building its portable "shepherds' huts" in Maxwell, Ont., last summer. In May alone, after the custom handcrafted huts were featured on a popular website for high-end men's products, the site received more than 24,000 visits.

A cross between a bunkie and a trailer, but more aesthetically pleasing and versatile than either, the hut is the brainchild of Thomas Euteneier, a veteran Ontario homebuilder, and his sons Dylan and Evan. They are all adept woodworkers, and Dylan also takes on marketing and website management.

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The shepherd huts, which come in two basic models, sell for between $16,000 and $40,000. Each is custom-built to buyer specifications, so prices vary considerably. They can sleep various numbers of people, or include kitchens, chemical toilets or custom detailing. The contemporary interiors offer magnetic roll-down screens on the windows, hand-forged brass vessels for the dry sinks, and ethanol fireplaces.

The company's creation shows well online. "We're getting a lot of people looking at it," Dylan says. "But I suspect it's mainly people just browsing. We need to get people thinking more seriously about the product."

Most sales so far have come through appearances at trade shows and word-of-mouth.

Dylan religiously analyzes reports from Google Analytics to measure online interest. Out of the 24,000 Web hits in May, for instance, more than 21,000 were new visitors and 84 per cent of the total were referrals from other websites, as the company has been successful in attracting the attention of mainstream media and bloggers.

The 24,000 hits led to between 400 and 500 responses in the inquiry box, with most of the questions about price. After Dylan answered the queries, he received 15 or 20 follow-ups for more information. This resulted in telephone conversations with several people and then a sale.

Dylan and dad Thomas work on a Collingwood model. (Peter Power for The Globe and Mail) for The Globe and Mail Peter Power for The Globe and Mail

Dylan and dad Thomas work on a Collingwood model. (Peter Power for The Globe and Mail)

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He wants to do better online. "I think this is pretty low," he says of the number of people who follow up after his first response. He would like to connect with more people over the phone, and has listed a number on the site. But for every call he gets, he receives 150 e-mails. "There has to be a better way than people just hearing the price and never talking to us again," he says.

The Euteneiers don't think their price is high, based on what competitors are charging for prepackaged bunkies without the portability feature.

How much online business can Güte expect to do? After all, their product costs more than a few dollars and is not an impulse buy. How can Dylan better communicate with Web visitors to convert them into buyers?

The Challenge: How can Güte convert online interest into more sales?

THE EXPERTS WEIGH IN

Joseph Chklovski, vice-president for marketing for the digital marketing agency ICM Consulting & Media Corp., Toronto

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The main problem with the online marketing aspect of Güte's business is the website's conversion rate. The company should be able to double or even triple the number of buyer leads without having to spend any additional money.

Güte should launch a comprehensive "conversion optimization" initiative that would automatically test different elements of the website (main marketing slogan, special offers, main header image, etc.) against each other to find a version that would convert prospects into leads at the highest rate.

Using specialized software (available for less than $100 a month), two versions of the same website element would be shown to website visitors – 50 per cent would see one version, while the other half would see a different version. (This process is called "A/B split testing.") The software would track the conversion rate of each version and determine the best variations once enough visitors go through the test to make the results statistically significant. This takes the guesswork out of website design.

Brent Purves, CEO of Stir Marketing, Vancouver

Güte's website is well-designed and mobile-friendly, but some areas could use attention. It lacks clear calls-to-action, client testimonials and video, which is important for search-engine optimization and communicating value. It has a relatively low page count and few links from other websites, resulting in a weak search-engine presence. There are four social networks linked to from the site, but more effort is needed to build a following.

Dylan should make it exceptionally easy for site visitors to contact Güte. They should be able to get to the contact form with one click from any page on the website. He should also consider featuring a toll-free phone number "above the fold" on every page. He should post more reviews and photos from happy customers, as well as video testimonials telling real-life stories and featuring Güte's selling features.

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Social media presence could be improved with a blog and strategic engagement within the growing "tiny home" community. He should use Pinterest and Instagram, too. He could set up Google and Facebook "remarketing" ads to remind visitors they have visited the site. To capture names and e-mail addresses from visitors he could provide an incentive like a free e-book, entry into a sweepstakes, or a discount to encourage people to sign up for a monthly e-mail newsletter.

Norman Verblonski, owner of Canadian Choice Windows & Doors, Toronto

Several years ago we went through the same challenge faced by Güte. Here is what we did:

First, use your website's prime real estate – the centre of the page above the fold – to showcase your best offers and specials. Currently, Güte's home page has a picture of two huts without any text or additional information that would help interest users in what the company sells.

Second, install live chat to interact with website visitors in real time, which will allow you to guide users through your website and answer their questions instantly. Güte's products are unique – their benefits, the options and other relevant information needs to be explained. We saw our website leads jump by more than 15 per cent after we implemented live chat.

Third, invest in a Google remarketing campaign, which will target prospects who have visited www.gute.ca with Güte's ads as they browse other websites. Remarketing is a cost-effective way to re-engage potential customers. It worked for us.

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Lastly, feature testimonials from customers in key areas of your website. Trust and credibility are major barriers to online success, and the best way to establish them is to showcase the good things customers have to say.

THREE THINGS THE COMPANY COULD DO NOW

Tweak your website

Test different versions of it to see which works best.

Share success stories

Post reviews, testimonials and photos from happy customers.

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Add live-chat capabilities

Your product is unique – its benefits and options need to be explained.

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Interviews have been edited and condensed.

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