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News Opinion Article from the Final Arrangements News Journal

Funeral Homes have been sold a bill of goods when it comes to what the Internet can and will do for them.

Funeral Home Services Internet Marketing 101

The site can be beautiful; the pictures crisp and bright, the key words optimized perfectly, but it still won’t do what the director hoped.  

By RW Ward, Death Care Consultant
©The Final Arrangements News Journal
February 8, 2005

The site can be beautiful; the pictures crisp and bright, the key words optimized perfectly, but it still won’t do what the director hoped.

Funeral homes have been sold a bill of goods when it comes to what the Internet can and will do for them.

Cookie cutter funeral home websites at much too much money to build and stay on the Internet, now show up whenever someone Googles for funeral homes.

What is lost in the rush to get in for the coming baby boomer surge in death rates, coming in the next decade, is what actually will get a family to pick one funeral home over another. This hasn’t changed in the nearly 150 years funeral homes have been taking care of America’s grieving families. The funeral home that serves that cemetery gets the call.

Yet, the kids with the new toys have sold the industry on flash, and page rank, memorials online, guest books, video funerals and all the other gimmicks this new marketing tool has in its arsenal.

What none of these toys can do is put the professional director at the disposal of a family in need at the time they need them.

A family who is dealing with a death today doesn’t give a hoot if you have pretty pictures or if your guest book or video funeral is the best, they want to know if you serve the area where they need you and if you will help them bury their loved one at the cemetery they have chosen.

They don’t have the time or interest in were you rank on the Internet nor that you used those perfect key words your SEO company gave you for whatever ungodly amount of money you paid the search engine geniuses to get them.

The situation hasn’t really changed but you would think it had, given all the hoopla these days from companies telling funeral homes how they have to change to meet the demands of a new kind of call.

What new call? People don’t die differently today nor do families need services that haven’t been available all along. Yes cremation has increased substantially, but why?

Is it any wonder people are turning to cremation. The TV pitchmen, telling them how expensive funerals are and how they will leave the family in financial ruin unless they buy this burial insurance or that one inundates them day and night. People get scared and want to do the right thing so they think if funerals are too expensive we’ll cremate.

What does the funeral industry do about the direct assault on its core business? Where is the national campaign about American funerals? Why don’t we hear why we have them and what they mean to a family as part of the grieving process? Whatever happened to all those modified whole life policies that do the same thing the TV pitchmen are pushing but at a lot less money and without the gamble the policyholder may die before the insurance even kicks in.

It is said that nearly half the funeral homes in the US aren’t even getting the minimum 100 calls a year it takes to stay in business full time. At that rate, it won’t be long before the American Funeral Industry goes the way of the Brits, part time undertakers.

What is to be done? First the industry has to get organized around serving the public and not selling it.

The business of dying isn’t going away but the way its handled is. Families still need the professional and all his or her facility and staff can bring to their moment of grief. What they won’t need is a slick website that shows up in Google as number one because they won’t be thinking of doing a Google at that moment.

Of all the things a funeral home could do to be part of the death care industry in the next two decades, one stands out among the rest. Be where the family will be when the need for your services is needed. As Willie Sutton, the famous bank robber said when asked why he robbed banks, “Because that’s where the money is.”

Families don’t think of the funeral separate from the burial. They just don’t know enough nor care except for that moment when they need it. Today and for the foreseeable future families will be making decision about funerals and burial and cremations unlike they have before. The family, today is not always in the same general area where the funeral needs to be.

It is becoming a long distance affair, with the daughters in San Jose, California making the plans for their father, who died today, in Miami before they get on the plane to even attend the funeral.

The funeral homes in Miami had better be where the daughters may try if they expect even a chance at serving.

Only two things will sway these daughters, a place to bury dad in the time frame needed and a funeral home to carry it out. So how do these daughters do it? They use the only tools they have, given the circumstances. They make a pass at where to find property and how much and while looking they try to find a funeral home that services that cemetery or area. Maybe they give it an hour as money plays a very small part. It’s the ability to get the funeral services and burial taken care of that weighs on them as the most important thing they have to do right now.

This is how it is going to be and unless the funeral director starts becoming part of the equation of how it really happens for a family, no amount of pretty pictures, key words, guest books, memorials online or any other gimmick the Internet gurus try to sell him or her will help keep the business growing.

The advice to tomorrows funeral home directors is to keep the website but make it work for you. Tie it to something where families will turn at that moment of need and be that funeral home at the other end of the link click to funeral services for the cemetery they will use.

Find out where the consumer is going when they are looking for “cemetery lots for sale” or “grave sites for sale” or “cremation arrangements” “final arrangements” and get tied in with whoever is at the end of that search. Try to tie directly to the cemeteries you serve in as many markets as you can. Get a link but not just one at the site on any page that website decides to put you. If it is going to work for you it can’t be in a long litany of other funeral homes or part of a directory. That won’t be any different then the MSN or Yahoo yellow pages you already get.

Remember you are trying to pinpoint a moment that a family will reach only for a fleeting few minutes at a time of tremendous stress. You have to be that funeral home at that moment.

At some of these cemetery property portals you won’t even need a pretty website, just the information a family will need to make the telephone call.

The business of death care isn’t any different today, although so many want to make the industry think it is. It still comes down to being in the right place at the right time with the right skills to help a family in need. As Willie Sutton might have said if he were a funeral director and asked why he associated himself with the cemeteries, “Because that’s where the dead people have to go.”

About the Author
RW Ward, Essexville, Michigan, USA
Final Arrangements Mail @
http://www.finalarrangementsnetwork.com/
http://thecemeteryregistry.com/

The author writes and studies marketing and consumer trends in death care around the world.
His industry experience includes some of the world's largest death care providers.

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