Today, a Web site is part of the marketing plan for many fitness facilities. Owners and managers want their club to have a presence on the Web, yet few have analyzed why they need a site, how they expect to use it or what type of return to expect on their investment.

Creating a Web site just because your competition has a site is a reasoning sure to lead to disappointment.

The first step is understanding the purpose of your site. A fitness facility Web site is a marketing tool that has two main purposes: 1) Market the club to attract new members, and 2) Support and retain existing members. The first step is to determine your marketing goals. After defining the site's purpose, select components that will support the goals. Proper selection and assembly of these sections is the key to creating a site that fulfills your marketing purposes. Let's examine the different components of a Web site and how they address these purposes.

MARKETING AND SALES

Club locator

A locator should be immediately visible on the home page.

Club description

Contains information about the amenities of your club. This site component is your most important sales tool. Add photos of areas throughout the club or a floor plan.

Programs

Click here and the visitor should see a listing and description of the programs offered.

Membership plans

Although we have yet to determine the effectiveness of online sales strategy, even if all pricing isn't listed, it's helpful to provide a range or low-end price point.

Incentives

Include special offers or incentives on your home page — a special offer banner or pop-up window creates a call-to-action.

Company info

Most clubs fail to understand that this is a sales tool. Let people know something about the company and management including experience and philosophies.

Contact

A site visitor should be able to easily find a contact button that provides all contact information.

MEMBER SUPPORT AND RETENTION

Schedules

Existing members should be able to find class schedules from a home page link without a log-in.

Event calendar

This is another important member service tool. It can also be a money-saver. The more you can train your members to go to the Web site for information, the less you'll spend on print and postage expenses.

Personal programming

More facilities are including personal scheduling, allowing members to log in to a secure members-only area. In many markets, however, this application might be an intimidating, high-expense item.

Health and fitness information

This section is optional.

Bill pay

This can be a member convenience or an accounting headache. Before adding any type of online payment option, make sure that it will automatically sync with your merchant credit card and bank account and existing accounting system.

Community

Some facilities are adding a section that allows members to communicate with one another and find a workout or tennis partner. Make sure that you have sufficient provisions for protecting member privacy.

E-mail

It's important to collect member e-mail addresses and have them accessible in a database program. Collecting visitor e-mails on your Web site is also an important tool for reaching prospective members.

While developing an effective Web site can seem to be a daunting task, remember that you don't have to include everything all at once. By maintaining focus on your marketing goals, you can create an effective Web site that can grow with your needs and your budget.

Marti West has been a fitness industry leader for 25 years. West is president and CEO of Healthclub.com www.healthclub.com.