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We are living in a digital age. According to a 2017 study from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 80 percent of Internet users in America (93 million people) first search online for health-related topics, including health tips or what gyms to join.
This makes your club’s online presence more important than ever. The best way to stand out to potential prospects and stay connected with current members are well-designed mobile apps and websites.
“A well-designed website is your opportunity to maximize the consumer’s first impression of your club,” said Jennifer Bulger, the senior vice president of marketing for UFC GYM. “With the number of options consumers have in today’s marketplace, they often make quick judgements, so having a user-friendly site allows you to put your best foot forward right out of the gate.”
This sentiment was further echoed by Adam Zeitsiff, the chief information officer and senior vice president of brand innovation at Gold’s Gym. “With lots of information coming at us from all different directions, and lots of people who are so used to getting what they want at their fingertips, a poorly designed app is going to turn somebody off very quickly,” he said. “That’s unfortunate, but that’s the world we live in, so a well-designed app and website needs to be clear, concise and get your message across right from the beginning.”
Part of a great design is appealing aesthetics — providing visually stunning images balanced with essential information.
“If you were just to buy a standard $5,000 website, put it up, put your classes on it and put some stock photographs up, it would really not do anything for the brand,” said David Bell, the general manager of YB Fitness in Short Hills, New Jersey. “I always think it’s important to have some type of imagery of what consumers can expect from the inside of your club and those assets. I’m not talking about pictures of the treadmills, but I am talking about cleanliness, open spaces, brightness, and getting that sense of energy, fun and color from that site.”
But here’s the real question: Should you devote resources to a great mobile-responsive website or to a mobile app? Zeitsiff believes you need both. “A mobile responsive website is a great way to attract, inform, educate and bring people into your facility,” he said. “The mobile app itself is the right tool to use to keep them engaged, follow them and help them along their fitness journey. I do feel strongly that you need both of those things.”
Understanding how consumers are going to use the website and mobile apps, respectively, is important in the design and implementation of each. They both serve different purposes for keeping consumers involved in your gym’s programming.
“A website is likely to be a resource for both prospective members and your current membership,” said Bulger. “It should be easy for both those groups to find what they’re looking for on the site and see marketing information that’s relevant to them. For your app, you’re really more focused on creating a seamless experience for your existing membership, where they can find updates, see your class schedule and book a space.”
One benefit of having a mobile-responsive website over a mobile app is search engine optimization (SEO). The more optimized your site is for search, the higher your gym’s site will appear in search rankings — which is key to attracting customers.
“A website that’s optimized for mobile web browsers is important to reach new customers,” said Bulger. “A large portion of web browsing is now done on mobile devices, and Google prioritizes web-optimized sites in its search results. This is critical for reaching potential new gym members and introducing them to the member experience at your club.”
When prospects reach your website, what will they find? It’s important your site is easy to navigate and tells your brand story.
“You should talk about your brand and where you’ve been, how you got to where you are and your legacy,” said Zeitsiff. “Certainly, if you have more than one club, it should list all of your clubs and should talk about the amenities there. It should talk about the differences, the hours of operation and how to reach people.”
According to Bulger, it’s important to treat your site’s user experience as comparable to an in-club tour. “When designing your site, you need to prioritize the information and features you emphasize for current and prospective guests,” said Bulger. “Your website should serve the dual purpose of new member acquisition and current member service, and it should make both of those functions easy for consumers to use.”
Once you’ve converted a prospect to a member, that’s when the features of your mobile app become extremely important — as this is how you keep members engaged.
“The mobile app with a native interface can do things like tie in to your scheduling systems, embed your barcodes, have push notifications, have in-app notifications for specials and allow you to do things like tie your mobile app to your wearable, which you can’t really do with a mobile responsive page,” said Zeitsiff.
Among the other features of a mobile app are the abilities for members to sign in and out of the club, adjust personal workout schedules and goals, and connect with other members.
“I look for an app to do very simple things in this business,” said Bell. “One is if people are sick of using our scan tag, they can easily use the scan tag that’s on their phones. Two, they have access to our class schedule to see who the instructor is, and can press a button to set an automatic invite to that class.”
Ultimately, both your website and mobile app should support and complement the experience you provide within your club’s four walls.
“We could not have put our best foot forward with our website if we did not do the same thing internally,” said Bell. “It would actually do more harm than good if you have a great website, but don’t pay your maintenance staff enough, don’t care about cleaning, don’t care about dusting.”
Zeitsiff also encouraged club operators to ask for members’ feedback on what features they’d like a mobile app or website to provide. “Ask before your launch,” he said. “Try it out, fail quickly, move on to the right thing, get feedback from your members and the public, and take that and incorporate it into your final product.”
Hopefully, you’ll end up with a website or mobile app — or both — that helps you put your best foot forward with customers.