January’s Website of the Month winner was CarBootJunction, a website with a directory, forum and blog to help you locate and get the most out of your local car boot sales. We caught up with them to find out more…
Tell us a bit about yourself and CarBootJunction.
When I first became self-employed I was buying and selling discontinued tableware and collectibles. One of our primary sources for stock was car boot sales, but at the time there was no single place online you could go to find local boot sales. So we decided to do it ourselves and created CarBootJunction. That was back in 2004.
Since then we have grown from strength to strength and re-launched the site just over a year ago with an awesome new design courtesy of Chris Wharton of 2nd Floor Design and some great new functionality thanks to our own in house developer Simon Jolley (BizGen Ltd). We also dedicated a support team member, Allie, to the site as well to help new and existing members get the most from the site.
Within a month of the re-launch our traffic increased significantly and is still growing year on year with over 2 million visitors in the last 12 months.
CarBootJunction is much more than just a directory – it counts a blog and a forum amongst other features. Why did you decide to expand the site in this way and what benefits do they have?
We had a forum from the very first release. There is a definite sense of community amongst those who attend car boot sales and we wanted the site to reflect this. While it is important for us as the directory to be independent we wanted our users to have the opportunity to review car boot sales, help each other out with car boot sale tips and advice, and to make new contacts. For us, this made the site more sticky resulting in repeat traffic and a sense of belonging amongst users. That said, we are definitely seeing a transition from traditional online community tools such as forums towards social media, such as Facebook and Twitter.
We added the blog originally so we could start posting details of our own experiences of car boot sales around the country, but to be honest we didn’t have time last year. This year we are taking CarBootJunction on the road and intend to resolve this. In the meantime we have used it to post some interesting articles by our copywriter Pete Hopper of Write For You, about the history and growth of car boot sales not just in the UK but worldwide. Hopefully, some of our users have enjoyed these. More importantly, from our point of view blogs are a great opportunity to include keyword relevant content for the benefit of the search engines.
One of the challenges of creating a directory is making information easily accessible. What tips would you give to someone looking to create a directory with categorised listings?
Accessibility for most users is about getting to the information you need with the minimum number of clicks and fuss. At the same time you want to include keyword relevant contact for the search engines. In the case of CarBootJunction it’s been fairly easy as with only one theme “car boot sales” the categories become geographic (town and county). We have other sites such as “Dog Friendly Together” a directory of dog friendly accommodation and places to go in the UK with multi-level categories. It then becomes a fine balance between choosing keyword relevant categories for search engines and keeping it easy for the user. Number one tip – always think about it from a user point of view first and last. Don’t get distracted by designers trying to add sparkles and grumpy developers who don’t like making square pegs fit in round holes.
The site has an eye-catching design and friendly feel thanks to the use of vectors and colours. What inspired you to style the site in this way and what did you want to achieve with the look?
Again, I really have to thank Chris Wharton here because I’m terrible at design briefs. I’m more of a code cruncher and can’t colour in for toffee. I think the brief was something like…. “I want it to look car booty and have a guitar sticking out of a boot, because there’s always a guitar!”
CarbootJunction has an innovative map search for listings. What are the key features, and how easy was it to implement?
We use the Google maps API to deliver the map results with clustered hot spots which users can click on to zoom in to their boot sale of choice. It’s fully customisable so you can use your own graphics for the pins making it friendly and familiar for the user. As with everything Google the API was well documented and it was reasonably easy to implement. The biggest challenge is making sure you have clean data in your database so the search queries work as everything is converted to latitude and longitude rather than being postcode based. If a user has given incorrect address details we sometimes end up with car boots showing up in the middle of the North Atlantic!
You have an active presence on social media. What are the benefits of using networks like Twitter and Facebook for the website, and what’s your strategy for using them successfully?
If done correctly social media can keep people coming back to your site time and time again, as well as gain some new visitors along the way. It’s an opportunity to engage with and interact with your audience. The key is to post useful stuff on a regular basis while getting across a little of your personality. And when people retweet, mention, share or reply to your posts, take the time to respond. We’re still learning, but we’re getting better all the time.
Why did you choose to host your website with Heart Internet?
CarBootJunction.com was actually the first site we hosted with Heart Internet, moving over when we were dissatisfied with the support service of one of your competitors. Straight away we noticed a massive difference with excellent support teams and competitive, transparent pricing. We became a reseller and now host nearly 200 sites with you.
How did you go about asking people to vote for your site in the Website of the Month contest?
We added the voting buttons to the main pages of the site within an hour or so of being notified that we had made the final six. We updated our announcement box on the home page, posted in our forum and on all of our social media pages. In fact we reminded people on Facebook and Twitter every few days, so they are probably relieved that we’ve won and will shut up about it now #unlikely.
How do you plan to develop CarBootJunction further in the future?
We have so much going on this year! First off we have noticed a sharp rise in indoor car boot sales this year, no doubt due to a combination of the poor weather and the recession creating a demand for a longer car boot season. With this in mind we are adding an indoor/outdoor filter to make it easier for users to find indoor boot sales on those wetter days.
We are also adding the option for International searches. There are car boot sales all over the world and they are growing in number in places as far away as Malaysia.
We have re-launched our newsletter this month with a monthly prize draw for anyone who is signed up to receive it. They have the opportunity to win all sorts, from fleeces and thermoses in the colder weather to tee shirts and cream teas when it gets warmer.
And finally we are taking CarBootJunction.com on tour in the Spring, visiting car boot sales the length and breadth of the country to meet our users face to face and find out what we can do next year to help them further!