Category Archives: Marketing

Onsite SEO for Funeral Directors

Friday, 14 November 2014

onsite-seo-for-funeral-directors

 

 

Posted by Mark Sharron

For the third part in this series on SEO for funeral directors I’m going to explore onsite SEO. The goal of this post is to give you an understanding of how the major search engines view your website’s funerary focused content.

If you think back in time before Google existed, the internet was a disorganized unsavory place. Many of you will probably retort the internet is still an unsavory disorganized place.

Before Google, if you wanted to find a website you either had to know its address or you used search engine directories e.g. Yahoo, Altavista, Lycos Dogpile and many more that have since faded into oblivion.

Search engine directories depended on webmasters to submit an honest description of their websites and place them in an appropriate category. This system was open to abuse and it made it difficult to find anything of value.

Google arrived in the mid 1990’s and quickly became the dominant choice as it was a lot better than its competitors at returning relevant results. The way Google achieved this feat is as follows:

Google used a crawler/spider to index the actual content of a website.

Google’s algorithm would then parse the text on the page and judge the relevance of a site vs the relevance of similar sites based on its actual content and assign a search engine rank position.

Duplicate content was identified and demoted within the search index.

Google then reviewed how many links were directed at a site using an algorithm called Pagerank and determined sites with a greater number of links were more reputable and again reward them with a preferential rank.

I will explore links/Pagerank in a later post. For now my intention is to focus on the mechanics of creating a strong ranking signal using the text/content on your website alone.

Onsite SEO Basics:

The most important part of any SEO campaign is keyword research. Once you have identified which keywords you want to rank for, Onsite SEO becomes nothing more than a labelling exercise.

As a funeral director the trick is to identify terms that potential customers will search for. Running an Adwords campaign can be a great help to this end.

The obvious “funeral director + location” will be your core keyword however there will be a range of terms such as “cheap funeral director” or “no-fuss funerals” that will be equally desirable.

If you want to rank for “Funeral Directors in Brighton” or a similar keyword your site needs to contain references to “Funeral Directors in Brighton and lots of them though out the website.

Keyword Stuffing:

Please do not take this last sentence as a direction from myself to drop “Funeral Directors in Brighton” into every other line of your website. This technique is known as keyword stuffing and WILL NOT WORK.

The first problem you will encounter is the text on your site will become awkward and unreadable by potential clients. This will turn off prospective customers away from your brand.

The second and equally undesirable effect; Google will quickly identify the content on your site is low quality, an algorithm called PANDA will then penalise your site causing it to drop in rank.

Latent Semantic Indexing:

To avoid incurring a penalty, SEO’s like myself use a technique called latent Semantic Indexing. Google makes use of natural language processing and understands associations between words/language/entities. When writing content for your site the trick is to use variants of keywords, inflections, synonyms and related terms and seed your text with them.

Start with Variants:

* Funeral Director Brighton

* Brighton Funeral Director

* Undertaker

* Funeral Parlour

* Funeral Home

* Celebrant

Identify associated words:

* Death

* Cremation

* Burial

* Funeral Service

* Coffin

* Urn

* Bereavement

* Grief

* Tribute

The advantage of using this approach is your website’s content will read naturally, you will avoid a potential penalty and be rewarded with preferential placement within Google’s search index.

Writing Tip:

When I start creating content I compile a thorough list of keyword and associated terms. I then set the list aside and write the content without giving the list of keywords a second thought. After I have written the content I read through and slip keywords into sentences where possible and effecting minor re-writes if necessary. This approach saves time and the content reads naturally.

Page Structure:

Structuring the HTML on your page helps your website get noticed.

Heading Tags: Money keywords and variants are placed within unique HTML heading tags through each page.

Keyword Density: Money keyword/variants should be placed in the first paragraph and every 100-150 words.

Title Tag/Meta Description: The money keyword for any page should be the first word of the meta title and should be placed at least once in the meta description. Please note, title tags and meta descriptions should be unique for each page on your site.

Image Alt Tags: You have the option to place a text description. Again use this opportunity to work in your keywords.

Site Structure:

When building a website, I let the search engines and keyword research determine the structure. I mentioned earlier that SEO is a labelling exercise; I match each keyword to a client’s services where possible and create one page dedicated per keyword. e.g.

www.yourfuneralcompany.com/cheap-funerals/.

This approach ensures that the website will acquire a ranking signal for a broad range of keywords and creates a foundation that can be built upon.

Internal Linking:

Linking between pages on your site will again re-enforce the relevance of each page as Google recognises relationships between similar pages with similar content.

Once I have built a series of landing pages targeting specific keywords, I build a set of supporting pages and link between them and back to the page I am trying to optimise. Not only will this improve your search engine rank for the target keyword you will also start ranking for a variety of long tail variants of keywords you were not originally focusing on. The trick is to complete this process in a non-uniform manner using a variety of keywords/keyword variants and conversational anchor text as the basis of each link.

Screenshot 2014-11-14 at 07

This process is known as Silo’ing. If you would like to read more about it I would recommend this article: http://www.bruceclay.com/eu/seo/silo.htm

Content Arms Race:

The more content your site has, the greater the number of keywords it will potentially rank for. Think about creative ways to add content to your site, eg, FAQ, glossary of terms, blogs, testimonials.

Exact Match Domains:

Using a domain that matches your primary keyword (exact match domain) e.g. www.brightonfuneraldirectors.co.uk doesn’t guarantee ranking but it certainly makes it easier coupled with lots of original content. Not having an exact match domain means significantly more effort needs to be placed on high quality content and relevant links.

Google Webmaster Quality Compliance:

Google will periodically conduct a manual review on your site. They have a set of quality guidelines websites should adhere to. These include:

* about page

* contact page

* terms and conditions

*private policy

* address and telephone number

* social profiles

Summary:

* Exact match domains make life easier.

* Use original keyword rich content.

* Do not keyword stuff, use variants of keywords.

* Dedicate specific pages to each keyword.

* Build supporting pages and heavily interlink content on your site.

I will cover online branding in my next post including social profile integration, schema and the Google Knowledge Graph.

As always if you have any questions, please leave a comment below and I’ll aim to answer within 24 hours.

Adwords for Funeral Directors

Friday, 24 October 2014

sussex-funeral-director

 

Guest post by Mark Sharron

For the second part of this guest post series on SEO for Funeral Directors I’m going to talk about Google Adwords.

Adwords is a Google’s Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising system. Adwords went live in early 2000 and has helped tens of thousands of businesses attract new clients. The system works by allowing business owners to pay to appear in the search index for desirable keywords.

Due to the nature of Adwords this article will be a little dry but I will do my best to supply you with actionable insights into how the system works and a number of useful considerations when setting up a campaign.

Adwords Overview

*  The idea behind Adwords is the person willing to pay the most for a specific keyword will secure a higher rank. Business owners bid on keywords (see the previous article).

*  Adverts are served for each keyword loaded into the system when a web user performs a search for that keyword. Each time a web user clicks on your advert, your budget is depleted based on the amount you have bid on the keyword vs your competitors bid.

*  The amount paid per click is equal to the next highest bid. For example if you were to bid £3 per click on the keyword “funeral directors” and your competitor bids £2 for the same keyword you will pay £2.01. There are a few calculations that vary this rule such as your quality score and account history (more on this later).

*  Google displays three Adwords spots at the top of the search index for the highest bidders and eight spaces in the right hand column on their first page of search results.

The main advantages (control)

*  Gain instant search engine exposure / guaranteed search engine exposure without having to invest the time in an organic SEO campaign. Typically within hours of setting up a campaign you will see an increase in traffic to your website .

*  Budget management. Set daily or monthly budgets that suit you. You only pay for each click. Your account is charged each time a web user clicks on one of your adverts. Keyword positions are determined by how much you bid on each keyword vs how much your competitors are prepared to pay.

*  Small learning curve. The system is user friendly and easy to master.

*  Track and measure performance; see how individual keywords perform. This makes adwords a great market research tool giving you a valuable understanding of what’s important to your clients. You can then configure your website to take advantage of this data.

The main disadvantages

*  In competitive towns/cities certain keywords can be expensive to bid on. Larger companies can easily dominate a market space. Be careful not to get into bidding wars.

*  If your campaign is poorly setup you will haemorrhage money with little or no return.

*  Once your budget is exhausted your adverts disappear.

*  PPC is generally less trusted than Google’s organic search by users.

*  Campaigns need a lot of attention when first setup to ensure they are configured optimally.

Setting Up Adwords

Campaigns / AdgroupsOnce you have completed your initial keyword research, you can load the data into Adwords

It is important to segment keywords into similar groups e.g. humanist funerals, traditional funerals, local, short-tail.

This allows you to tailor advert text to specific groups of keywords making your text more relevant to what a user is searching for. It also gives you the control to direct users to specific landing pages on your site. This will increase the number of people who click on your advert and serve them will relevant information increasing the potential they will convert as a client.

Ad-text

You have three lines of text per basic advert. This doesn’t give you a lot of space to work with.

Line 1= 25 Characters
Link 2= 35 Characters
Line 3= 35 Characters
Line 4= Landing Page URL

The trick is making sure your advert stands out, the text needs to be relevant for specific search terms and the advert should direct web users to a relevant landing page. This ensures prospective clients find what they are looking for and convert. As mentioned above it will also lower your costs as your campaign matures. Have a look at how your competitors/indirect competitors have phrased their adverts and draw inspiration from there. SEMRush.com is a great competitor analysis tool and if you want to learn more about ad-copy “Cashvertising is an excellent read.

If you are fine tuning your ad text I suggest split testing. Try different adverts and see which ones get the best response.

Adwords Keyword Types

Adwords allows you to enter a variety of keyword types. These have no relation to the types of keywords discussed in my first post. These refer to how the keywords are formatted/how Adwords uses your keyword data to serve adverts. The types of keywords you can enter into Adwords are:

*  Exact match

*  Broad match

*  Broad match modified

*  Phrase match

*  Negative keywords

One of the most common mistakes business owners make when setting up an Adwords campaign is they use broad match keywords. Your campaign should be a combination of exact match and broad match modified. I will explain the differences below.

Exact match: [Brighton funeral director]

Exact match keywords are placed in square brackets. Adwords will only serve an advert when a user types the exact keyword. This gives you precision control.

Broad match: funeral director Brighton

Broad match keywords are loaded into Adwords in their natural form. Adwords will serve adverts for anything remotely related to the keyword e.g. undertakers Brighton, morticians Brighton or embalming Brighton. This means that your adverts will be served for a range of irrelevant keywords causing you to haemorrhage your budget on keywords which may not be relevant to your business and will not convert. I typically avoid using broad match keywords as it exposes my clients to the law of un-intended consequences.

Broad match modified: +funeral +directors +Brighton

Broad match modified keywords have a “+” symbol next to each word. Broad match modified keywords will serve adverts for any user search that contains each word in any order e.g. Cheap Funeral Directors in Brighton or cheap Brighton funeral directors.

Broad match modified keywords have advantages and disadvantages:

You maintain greater control than if you were to use a broad match keyword.

Your advert will be served for longtail variants of keywords you may have missed when researching which keywords to use

Adverts will also be served for irrelevant keywords such as a competitor’s brand or general queries with no commercial value e.g. how much do Brighton funeral directors earn?

I use broad match modified keywords for discovery of new opportunities but keep a very close eye on irrelevant keywords served, adding them to my negative keyword list (more on this in a moment).

Phrase match: “funeral directors Brighton”

Phrase match keywords are wrapped in speech marks and will serve an advert if the keyword is part of a larger phrase e.g. cheap funeral directors Brighton. Unlike broad match modified a phrase match keyword will not serve an advert if the words are out of order e.g. cheap Brighton funeral directors.

I typically use phrase match keywords when building negative keyword lists.

Negative Keywords

One of the most important functions within Adwords is the ability to add a list of negative keywords. Negative keywords are individual words or phrases that prevent an advert from being served.

There is a risk when adding negative keywords you may unintentionally prevent desirable keywords from serving adverts. Always test your “money” keywords still serve adverts after adding new negative keywords to your Adwords campaign.

A good first step when setting up a campaign is to list all of your competitor’s brand names and add them to your negative keyword list. This will ensure users searching specifically for competitors do not click on your adverts/waste your budget.

When a campaign is in its infancy I suggest monitoring Google analytics every couple of days and filtering out keywords that have no commercial value / adding them to your negative keywords list. As the campaign matures and your negative keyword list grows the number of adverts served for undesirable keywords with no commercial value will diminish. Be prepared to lose “some” money at the inception of any PPC campaign until you bring your negative keyword list under control.

Quality Score

Each keyword will be given a quality score. This directly impacts the cost per click. The Adwords quality score is related to the content on the page your advert pointed at and text used in the advert. Click through rate is also a determining factor in cost per click. Over time as your campaign matures, if you have a high click through rate the cost per click (CPC) will be reduced. Spend some time to ensure the quality score for each keyword is as high as possible.

Other Important Settings

GEO LocationAdwords allows you to set the geographic region your adverts will be served in. As a regional funeral director located in Weybridge you don’t want your adverts served in Glasgow. Lock your GEO location down to the area you cover and exclude everything else or you will exhaust your budget quickly.

Display NetworkThe display network will display your advert on 3rd party websites. Again this is a huge waste of money. Make sure it’s turned off or you will exhaust your budget.

CRT data and AnalyticsMake sure your Adwords account is connected to Google Analytics. Google have a guide on how to do this here. This will allow you to track the performance of individual keywords. Including bounce rates, time users spend on your website, which pages they look at and more.

Advert position: Both Adwords and Google Analytics will show you the position adverts are displayed for each keyword giving you the ability to increase or reduce your budget as required.

Bounce rate: tells you if a user has arrived on your site and left immediately. This could mean a specific keyword has no commercial value or your website landing page does not supply an internet user with the information they are looking for. It may be worth thinking about removing keywords with a sustained high bounce rate or reworking the page users first land on to better match the advert / keyword. Alternatively it may simply mean a user is landing on your page and only looking for your phone number. Exercise a little common sense and track the number of phone calls you receive if you remove a keyword as data can sometimes be a little misleading.

PPC keywordsIf you are using broad match or broad match modified you can see exactly what users have typed into Google to serve an advert. I suggest turning commercially viable keywords into exact match variants and filtering commercially unviable keywords into your negative keyword list. This will ensure unviable keywords are not served a second time and will free up your budget to focus on keyword that will attract web users to your site that stand a chance of converting to a paying client.

Summary

Adwords is an excellent mechanism to drive web users to your website and can work wonders if setup correctly. If you have any questions please feel free to leave a comment and I will do my best to provide an informative answer within 24 hours.

Guest Posts and Beyond: Search Engine Optimisation For Funeral Directors

Friday, 17 October 2014

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Guest post by Mark Sharron

Okay Charles, challenge accepted.  This will be the first in a series of articles where I share some insights into what the readership of this site (people who work in the funeral industry, mostly) can do to increase their search engine exposure.

To give you a little background on myself I have been working on behalf of a Brighton funeral director (Sussex Funeral Services Limited) for about 18 months and I’m proud to report during my tenure their brand has enjoyed an uninterrupted strong first page presence.

As business owners, if you get SEO right, the rewards can make the difference between a healthy balance sheet or struggling to attract new clients.

This article and those that follow will give you an insight into how Google and other search engines work including how tips on how to increase your search engine exposure.  I also extend an open invitation for any readers of this site/blog to ask me anything in the comments below.

Over the next few posts, I’m going to cover a range of topics and tie each of them back to the funerary industry. These include:

  • *   Keyword research / types of keywords.
  • *   Pay per click (ppc/adwords) advertising
  • *   Your website
  • *   Content marketing / onsite seo
  • *   Google local
  • *   Google organic
  • *   Link building (including guest posts like this one)
  • *   Analytics
  • *   Social media

Keyword Research:

The foundation of any SEO campaign is keyword research.   Thorough keyword research will either make or break an SEO campaign.  When I first engage a new client, the first thing I usually get told is “I want to rank #1 in Google.”  My immediate response is “What do you want to rank #1 one for?”  The most important first step in any SEO or PPC campaign is keyword research.

A keyword is any word or phrase that a potential client may type into a search engine when looking for your site or a competitor’s offering.

The trick to keyword research is understanding your market and the kind of language prospective clients are using when they search for a funeral director.

For example:

  • *   Your brand name e.g. Sussex Funerals
  • *   Funeral director Brighton
  • *   Funeral director Hove
  • *   Funeral home Brighton
  • *   Undertaker Brighton
  • *   Funeral director
  • *   Undertaker
  • *   Funeral home
  • *   Cheap funeral director Brighton
  • *   Affordable funeral director in Brighton

This list is a very small sample of potential keywords a prospective client may use.  The idea is to create an exhaustive list of funeral focused keywords and have your website rank at the top of first page for all of them.  The greater the number of keywords your site ranks for, the more prospective clients will find your site. More clients finding your website means more potential business.   To summarise, this is known as a “long-tail keyword strategy.” A long-tail keyword strategy is not about picking one specific keyword, rather an aggregate search volume strategy that targets hundreds keywords at once.

Different Types of Keywords:

Not every keyword is equal.  Some will attract more searches and will be harder to rank for; other keywords will be less competitive and convert more clients.  In the SEO industry we give different types of keywords names.  I personally group keywords into the following categories:

  • *   Short-tail keywords
  • *   Long-tail keywords
  • *   Branded keywords
  • *   Local keywords
  • *   Keywords with commercial intent

Short Tail: 1-2 words are a known as short tail keywords e.g. “funeral director.”  These keywords attract the most searches. They are more competitive/will be harder to rank for, and users landing on your site are in research mode, therefore a high percentage of visitors arriving at a website using short tail keywords do not convert into billable business.

Long Tail: 3+ words imply commercial intent.  4+ words there is strong commercial intent.  A web user is starting to narrow down their search to a specific product or service, e.g. “affordable humanist funeral director.”  Individual long tail keywords attract fewer searches but they typically have more value.  Ranking for a lot of long tail keywords is a lot easier in organic search and less expensive in Adwords.

Local Keywords: Local keywords can be a combination of short-tail or long-tail and generally have a strong commercial intent as a user is searching for a local service provider e.g. “funeral director Brighton” or “cheap funeral director Brighton”

Branded Keywords.  This is just your brand name e.g. “Sussex Funeral Services.”  In this case my client has used a local keyword as his brand name which gives his website an advantage when web users search for Sussex Funeral Directors.

Keywords with Commercial Intent: These are usually long tail keywords where there is a clear commercial intent. e.g. “cheap funeral director”, “budget funeral director”.  Users are again searching for something specific.  They are in buying mode.  You will find your competition knows these keywords have value and they can be quite expensive to bid on.

In the next article I will explore Google Adwords and considerations / tips when setting up a PPC campaign as a funeral director.

If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments section and I will respond within 24 hours.

 

 

Window shopping in Lubeck

Thursday, 7 August 2014

2014-07-15 10

 

Yeah yeah, it’s a rubbish photo, I know, I’m not blind. It’s the best I could do. It’s an undertaker’s window.

In Germany. Me and the missus have been holidaying there. This undertaker is in the ancient city of Lubeck. As you can see (through a glass, darkly) the display is a series of objects on plinths.  It’s eyecatching. There’s a sign asking people who don’t understand the symbolism of the objects displayed to pop in and find out. It gives a reason for people to go in before they absolutely have to. Brilliant, eh? Beats luring the bowls team in to buy a funeral plan (the condemned men and women had a nice cup of tea and a sandwich).

Well of course we had to pop in and ask about the display and have a bit of a gossip. I don’t speak more German than it takes me to order pils and buy tobacco, but my wife (the one with the brains) is fluent. It ought to have been a good opportunity for her to practise, but the undertaker who greeted us, Carsten Berend, insisted on speaking English.

We had a good chat, and might have had a better one if Carsten hadn’t been so busy. They cremate 80% of their clients. We talked about the reuse of graves, and he was surprised that something considered so normal in Germany is reckoned so unacceptable by British politicians. He told us that there are 30 undertakers in Lubeck serving a population just over 200,000. His is a high-end business. He expressed exasperation at the incursion of semi-trained, cheapskate opportunists, which of course is something we know nothing about in Britain. Their window displays are created for them by an arty marketing agency and change regularly. We never found out what the display above actually means. Very nice piece of work, though, even better than dusty tombstones and upside-down bluebottles.

You can see their website here. You’ll need Google Translate to help you work through it.

It may intrigue you to know what music Germans like to play at funerals. Here’s what they recommend:

Screenshot 2014-08-03 at 11

Yup, Germans are much more relaxed about beastly foreign influences than we xenophobic Brits. Some of the songs you’ve never heard of are worth a listen. Not the Mancini Dornervogel (Thornbirds) perhaps. Xavier Naidoo is interesting; here’s his Abschied Nehmen (Farewell). Gronenmeyer’s really good. Try Der Weg (The Way) and Halt Mich (Hold Me), with its searing sax.

Historical note. So many people wanted to live in medieval Lubeck that they built houses for artisans in the gardens of the merchants’ houses. Thy are reached through narrow alleys. The only planning condition was that that the alley had to be wide enough to convey a coffin. Here’s what they look like:

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Future funerals: technology to boost personalisation and sustainability

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Medica_2013_Safety_and_Quality_For_all_Generations_TUEV_Rheinland_ZoomImagelarge
 
Posted by Richard Rawlinson
 
Five generations living now are neatly labelled as follows:

Traditionalists (born 1925-45)
Example: great grandparents, born in the mid-1930s. Brought up during WWII, a culture of patriotism and waste-not-want-not. Faith in institutions and a job for life. Strong work ethic and stubbornly independent.
Slogan: Keepers of the Grail.

Baby boomers (born 1946-64)
Example: grandparents, born in early-1950s. Brought up in the age of post-war optimism, idealism and the questioning of authority, but also an era of competitiveness. Part of the social revolution that left their parents gobsmacked: human rights protests, mini-skirts, free sex, drugs and rock festivals.
Slogan: We changed things.

Generation X (1965-1980)
Example: Parents, born in the early-1970s. Brought up in a society with a rising divorce rate and working mums—latch-key kids, used to being left alone. Skeptical but resourceful, adapting as adults to the technological revolution. Hard-working and socially responsible. While boomers value teamwork, Xers prefer unilateralism.
Slogan: Work to live.

Millennials (1981-2006)
Example: Born in the mid-1980s, brought up with computers from an early age. Indulged by parents. A trait of entitlement balanced by concerns about the environment, recession and global violence.
Slogan: All about me (and the endangered tiger).

Linksters (2000-)
Example: So called because they’re used to being linked by technology, these teen and pre-teen offspring of Generation Xers and early-phase Millennials will enter the workforce not knowing a world without Google and smart phones, let alone microwaves. For them Diana’s death and 9/11 are historic events before their time, just as Edward’s abdication is to baby boomers or Kennedy’s assassination is to Gen Xers. As well as being tech dependent, they’re closely tied to their parents. While Trads, boomers and Xers don’t like to be micromanaged, Millennials and Linksters crave instructions about how to do things, welcoming mentors.
Slogan: Text me what to do next.

The caveat is that generalisations about generations are valid only to a point. After all, so-called Trads include octagenarians Michael Heseltine and comedy’s Joan Rivers. Baby boomers range from Vladmir Putin to Janet Street Porter. Both David Cameron and Johnny Depp are Gen Xers, with Millennials including Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and that jobless couple on C4’s Benefits Street.

Preamble over, let’s talk funerals. Sticking to the stereotypes, ageing Trads remain more likely to have a funeral in a church or with a priest at the crematorium.

Baby boomers, many of whom will be dying of old age in 20 to 30 years from now, look set to be more receptive to more personalised funerals.

Ditto Gen Xers, although some are more small c conservative than their parents. Thatcher’s children and all that, fed up with the way hippies threw away rituals and social conventions that benefit social cohesion. A nuclear deterrent and bras are good. The Saffy backlash against ‘trendy mum’ Edina in Absolutely Fabulous.

Tech savvy and eco-doomsayer Millennials look set to make green funerals totally mainstream when they start dying, aged 100-plus, around 2080.

What will our world be like then? Technology, rather than homogenising life, is allowing for greater personalisation. For example, retailers already email and text information to customers based on their previous purchases and demographic profile. No point in marketing bumster jeans and megaclub nights to a fogey like me, but I might be interested in an offer on dinner for two at a newly opened restaurant.

Personalisation, sustainability and technology: three keys to satisfying funeral planners of the present and future.

FOOTNOTE: Although global population is estimated to grow to over 9 billion by 2050, Jonathan Porritt’s new book, The World We Made, offers a surprisingly optimistic vision for an environmentalist renowned for scaremongering. Utopian rather than dystopian, his future is one of sustainable food supplies and renewable energy sources, where the rich are poorer—yet happier—and the poor are better off. People also manage their own health and die when they want. But that’s another issue.

 

Gloom is no mood for a chapel of rest

Monday, 17 March 2014

HGO La Boheme

Mood lighting: the death of Mimi in the opera La Boheme

Undertakers put a great deal of effort into making people who have died look good for when family members come to see them. There is, they feel, great therapeutic value in the experience of visiting someone who’s died, especially if they’re looking serene. They employ a range of cosmetic treatments to achieve a good ‘memory picture’. If the family is pleased with what they see, this reflects well on the undertaker’s duty of care. They are (relatively) happy customers.

But the fruits of the cosmetic work carried out in the mortuary are so often let down by the decor and especially the lighting of the chapel of rest. Most undertakers, when asked to demonstrate their lighting, adjust a dimmer switch — in other words they achieve the desired mood-effect not with light but with gloom. That gloom, taken together with the physical coldness of most chapels of rest, can make for a sub-optimal experience for the visitors.

Old fashioned tungsten bulbs, with their low colour temperature, shed a warm light at any intensity. But they’ve been outlawed, and undertaker must nowadays fit halogen and LED lamps with a much higher colour temperature — ie, a much colder white light. Result: it now takes even more gloom to mitigate their coldness in the chapel of rest.

I’ve only seen one chapel of rest which uses additive colour  to light the chapel and, above all, the person who’s died. By mixing red, green and blue light it is possible to achieve a variety of effects (see pic below). If, for example, there is still evidence of jaundice in the face of the dead person, it is possible to counter that by careful colour-mixing. It works better than dimmed white light but leaves something to be desired if the quality of the equipment is not up to the job. It’s important to have the right kit.

Better still is to do what theatre lighting designers do and use colour filters. An actor of a certain age will always ask for pinky-lavender filters in the front-of-house lanterns because pinky-lavender flatters older skin.

Theatre lighting experts know all this. They know how to light human faces of all ages and, just as important, they know how to create mood onstage with subtle use of colour. Even to them, though, lighting a dead human face is likely to pose a challenge because the light does not encounter warm blood beneath the skin. They would have to experiment with their colour filters according to the age and condition of the dead person. They’d bring in ambient light from other lanterns in the chapel of rest. They’d crack it, for sure.

Shortly, the GFG will be working with a theatre lighting expert to transform the lighting in a chapel of rest. When we’ve done it, we’ll tell you what we did and show you before and after photos. If you’re an undertaker and you’re interested in a makeover in your own chapel of rest, do get in touch.

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How additive colour works

Peopling the undertaker’s window

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

robot-mannequin

 

Posted by Richard Rawlinson

The only dummy I’ve ever seen in an undertaker’s shop window is the reflection of myself staring back at me. I recently unleashed my inner window dresser, and suggested grabbing the attention of passers-by with moving installations: screens behind displays, with visuals chosen to complement the other props—eco-coffins, for example, accompanied by mood-evoking time lapse videos on a loop, such as flowers budding into bloom before shedding their petals. Life, death and rebirth, the beauty, frailty and eternal optimism of nature cycles.

The designer manqué is out of the closet again. This time, the prop du jour is the dummy. Mannequins are not just for fashion stores, darling. But I’m not talking about those creepily life-like, makeup-caked dolls of your high street’s Madame Boutique. I’m thinking mannequins of wood or cardboard, as charismatic as Antony Gormley’s figurative sculptures, their lack of facial features allowing you to project human emotion onto them, whether contemplative, melancholic or celebratory.

The rather chic example above is actually robotic. Imagine her standing over the soul-mate she’s just lost, bending down every so often to gently touch the lid of a natural wood coffin. Add the below dog to the composition, and they’re suddenly transported to a burial meadow, especially if the screen behind is showing green landscapes, and wild flowers decorate the set. Their body language becomes evocative, the faithful mastiff”s posture, so still and attentive, can easily seem mournful. The viewer’s imagination does the work when context triggers it.

mastiff-350[1]

Stylised mannequins of men, women and children could be rearranged into many scenarios. Releasing a dove into the air with a model dove in flight hanging from the ceiling on invisible thread. Balloons would suffice, too. Or urns, their carrier about to scatter their ashen contents. A mother and child mannequin (forever Madonna and Child), when propped with poppies automatically conjures up the feeling of loss of those killed in war.

You could become ever more airborne. Stairway to Heaven, anyone? But the point is that prospective customers might be attracted by depictions of funeral situations with which they can empathise. Mannequins become us.

Gormley Crosby

Antony Gormley sculpture on Crosby beach

Window displays that move

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

 

Posted by Richard Rawlinson  at his eye-watering best

The multiple windows of Harrods, and the eye-watering budget for the displays in these windows, are a far cry from your average undertaker’s window onto the high street. However, moving installation is perhaps one trend any retailer can take from London’s leading stores.

Last Christmas, Harrods windows became Orient Express-style train carriages filled with mannequins modelling the latest seasonal partywear. Behind these beau monde passengers, passing scenes of a Winter Wonderland rolled by the carriage window—video screens creating an illusion of movement along the railway track.

A flat screen at the back of an undertaker’s window could perhaps engage passers by. An uncontroversial video for said screen could perhaps be one of those time lapse videos on a loop: the rising and setting sun; flowers budding into bloom before shedding their petals; the ebb and flow of the tide; a race through the seasons—winter, spring, summer, autumn. All these natural scenes are appropriate, too, provoking thought about life, death and rebirth, the beauty, frailty and eternal optimism of life cycles.

There are also videos of ageing faces morphing from baby, toddler and teen through to the various stages of adulthood. The time lapse video could become synonymous with FDs, rather like those woodland scenes now ubiquitous on FD websites, even those not specialising in eco-funerals.

The eye-catching screen could set the scene for props in the window, too. A time lapse nature scene would be harmonious with displays of, say, wicker and cardboard coffins and urns, generously festooned with wild flowers and foliage.

A display of sleek modernist coffins and urns could be set in a more minimalist backdrop with the screen showing the numerals of a digital clock’s hour, minutes and seconds ticking away. Again, it says something about time passing. Traditional coffins could be accessorised with more formal floral displays beneath a screen of flickering candles, evoking a mood without risking health and safety. A film of poppy fields might serve as the prerequisite WWI anniversary display.

Undertakers’ window displays market not just funeral products and services but brand personality, meaning the display brief is wide open to creative and conceptual ideas.

A window with a lonely coffin and mean flower arrangement in a single vase says, no imagination. And when it remains unchanged for months at a time, it says, no effort, which could be construed as apathetic service, even when this is not the case.

Creative and changing displays attract attention in themselves and also make people anticipate the next visual surprise. It’s worth investing in an artistic window dresser and the props that are the tools of his/her trade in order to build awareness and identity of brand.

Good windows can stimulate sufficient buzz to even inspire media attention, thus doubling up as PR as well as direct marketing to consumers. Even publicity initially criticising a window as controversial can turn into a plus, giving you the opportunity to explain its positive message. Never any harm in thinking out of the box.

A few videos:

Seasons

Flowers

Candles

Poppy fields

Digital clock

Wonderful world

41 years in 60 seconds

How full-service and niche undertaker websites use words

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

words-598

 

Posted by Richard Rawlinson

While many undertakers’ websites offer useful information for those planning funerals, they’re understandably not impartial, being the marketing platforms of commercial companies. Compare and contrast, for example, these words from both mainstream undertakers and specialists in their given niche (simple funerals, woodland burials etc).

A full-service, family-run chain says this of direct cremation:

Direct cremation may be the least expensive but we’d advise that it’s not for everyone. There is no ceremony at the crematorium. The funeral takes place at a time and date to suit us. This pared-down service is designed for people who want minimum fuss and who may wish to have a larger ceremony at a later date.  As funeral directors, we are conscious that the evolution of traditional funeral rites reflects our need as human beings to bid farewell to a life with a degree of ceremony and communality which helps us to bear our loss.    

A direct cremation specialist says:

Using my service removes so much of the stress from an extremely difficult time, and provides the family with their loved one’s ashes, complete in solid wood casket, for whatever style of farewell they may then wish, and at a time and location of their choice.

A traditional undertaker says this about embalming:

Embalming is a temporary preservation process which is required where the deceased is to be buried overseas. It is also advisable in the following circumstances: where there is to be viewing; when there is going to be a delay between the date of death and the funeral; in times of exceptionally hot weather. Whether or not embalming is appropriate in any particular case is a matter upon which we would be pleased to offer you advice.     

Green undertaker scarcely mention embalming at all, except perhaps as an aside:

[Woodland burials] offer an ecological alternative to traditional burials and are sometimes but by no means always less expensive. The land is managed with the environment in mind and the land is reverted back to woodland or meadows. Instead of a traditional headstone, sometimes a tree is planted with a plaque and environmentally friendly coffins made from materials such as bamboo, wicker or cardboard are usedThe body is not embalmed with harmful chemicals.

A large funeral director says this of humanist funerals (a slight bias towards the less exclusively-atheist civil celebrants perhaps?).

The term ‘humanist funeral’ is often used to describe a non-religious funeral, or one which may have religious elements, but is not led by a religious leader. In fact, a Humanist funeral is essentially atheist rather than agnostic or multi-faith. When the congregated mourners are of many faiths or the deceased was an agnostic, the most fitting approach may be to use a civil, non-religious or secular celebrant. These celebrants are open to the inclusion of readings, prayers, hymns and music which derive from any spiritual or religious traditions relevant to the deceased and the congregation. 

Meanwhile, an undertaker somewhat renowned for its religious funerals seems keen to make clear its diversity:

As a company, we represent no single culture, race, religion or nationality and will assist you in whatever requirements you have. Should you need help in finding a religious or non-religious celebrant to conduct the funeral or advise you regarding a religion that may not be your own, we will gladly help. We warmly welcome people from all cultures and all religions or none. 

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