Changing Your Company’s Website

Coming from an IT background and having done a lot of research on search engine ranking techniques (including building my own testing platform for SEO) and having been the sole creator of a website that garnered thousands of visitors a day, I would like to share my views on changing your company’s website.

Often when people start out in business, the website is one of the first things they get for their new company. Typically this website will be relatively simple, built from a templated design, and be an adequate front face for the company.

After a few years your business has matured and possibly developed into something that you had not anticipated or intended – and that’s a good thing, you’ve recognised that you need to do what people want and take the opportunities that come to you. Your cake shop has become more of a wholesaler; your flower shop has become an online shop and is basically a delivery business; your computer shop makes more money from IT service than selling computers and you now spend most of your time doing HR tasks; or you bottle shop has transformed into a franchise model. Your website is now irrelevant to your business and is looking tired; you’ve decided that it’s time to change your website.

Planning Your New Website

The first step in deciding how your new website should look is to build a list of functional and aesthetic requirements.

Aesthetic Requirements

I won’t go into the aesthetic requirements too much, other than to say that those should reflect the message you want to convey and your brand, and to say that they should draw the viewer to the correct parts of the page, and encourage the viewer on a subconscious level to do what you want them to do.

There are several tricks to this, such as using pages in which the layout changes so users don’t become blind to adverts (Have you seen the mobile pop up ads on some websites? You can find the button to close the pop up before you’ve even read what the ad was! This trains the brain to block out the advert), or placing important text in positions where people’s eyes tend to go to.

If you operate an online shop (without making it difficult for people to find what they’re looking for) it’s a good idea to have some sort of dynamic nature to your website so it doesn’t appear stale and people are forced to look at other products. A common approach is to have some products advertised on the front page, which shuffle around a bit with every view. Another approach might be to visually change how some products are presented. Your web designer may be able to advise you on these things.

Functional Requirements

In terms of determining the functional requirements of your website, you first need to have a think about what your website is for. Is your website a elaborate business card? Is your website a community? Is your website a shop? Is your website aiming to convince people of something? Is the aim of your website to get people’s contact details? The aim of your website should be to support your business operations or strategy.

Part of this is deciding who the website is for. Is it to convince distributors that you have a lot of fanatical customers? Is it to convince customers to come to your brick and mortar shop? Is it to convince businesses that you are bigger than you are so you can go after bigger fish? Is it to sell your brand or ethos? You need to outline the goals of your website, then think about how you might achieve those goals before you ask a web designer to build your website.

I believe that a very important part of any business is how you advertise it. I also believe that it’s very important critical to measure the successfulness of all advertising you do, which includes radio ads, gorrilla marketing, pamplets, etc. Correspondingly, your new website will need the ability to measure that success. I recommend setting up something in your new website that enables you to set up new pages (or even single page websites that instantly redirect to your website), which count the number of people landing on those pages. This can then be used to measure the effectiveness and value of specific marketing campaigns which direct customers to those pages, in turn helping you do cost-benefit analysis of different advertising methods. This will help you funnel money into the right advertising channels and know how much money to spend on advertising. This will make you more efficient, grow faster and be more survivable and competitive than others in your industry.

On the subject of measuring success, it’s wise (and also very cheap – it’s just a few lines of code) to measure the success of your old and new website before switching over. Signing up to a Google Analystics account and Google Webmasters account is a great, simple, and free way to monitor the performance of your new website vs. your old one. From here you can also see what people are searching for, and how well your website performs in those search rankings. You can then use this information to apply focus to fixing those problems, such as writing articles about particular subjects, changing the structure of your website or page, or generating external links to existing articles, etc. This data is also useful as honest market research.

Implementing Your New Website

There are a few things to think about when making your new website go-live, and the associated risks should be managed the same as they are in any project. Part of this should be considering how you manage the change over (reducing any outages, ensuring that there is support during and after go-live), maintain any existing IP in the old website, such as subscription lists, usage data, text on sucessful pages, etc.

Another important thing is to ensure that all the pages in the old website have a 301 redirect set up, so that any links on the internet to those pages, are correctly redirected to the new relevant page, if that page location has changed. This is not only important for people clicking on links to your website from other websites, but also for the credibility (and therefore ranking) of your website in search engines.

Choosing The Right Web Developer

Finally I’d like to talk about choosing the right web developer. This is a tough task, because it’s really hard to know what you’re getting, especially if you don’t have an IT background. It’s also hard because web design businesses are actually a mix of several diametrically opposed skills: A web designer must be technically savvy at IT, but also artistic, and also good at talking to people in order to get the business and articulate the requirements. On top of this, a web designer should be business savvy to be able to understand your business, so they can advise you, and be proficient at each aspect of their trade and have fringe knowledge in things such as SEO and security. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone in my whole life that fits all that criteria perfectly, which is why the best thing is to go for a large web design company that has a multitude of skills to get the job done. Let’s talk about the sort of web designers that are out there, that might suit your needs.

There are a lot of very cheap web designers out there who have very little skill, and simply use and modify templates to give you something unique and pretty. These cheap developers come in two forms: local and foreign.

The advantage of hiring a foreigner is that they will be very cheap. You can get a website done for about USD$200 – USD$2,000. No matter what you pay these guys, you will get exactly the same thing (and they will probably lie to try to make you think differently so they can put the cost up). You’ll get a website that is OK but not quite unique and you won’t get anything other than basic functionality or existing out-of-the-box templates, shopping carts, etc. The support will be almost non-existent after they have the money and they will be terrible to deal with as the project takes more time. They may lie about what they will give you. Usually what they do is only a few hours work, configuring an existing website system that is freely available. If you want more customisation, they often don’t have the skill and will lie about the deliverables, then argue with you. All that said, this might be fine for a small business with basic requirements.

The advantage of a local is that it will be done with more care, you’ll get better support and it might be a little more unique. You still won’t get much beyond out of the box stuff, but they will have a more honest way of working. You will pay about NZD$1,000 – NZD$2,000.

Finally, there are more skilled web developers. These folk tend not to use out of the box systems and code the website from scratch. They may use out of the box systems, but they will have the skill and knowledge to integrate their own work into it and make it do things that the cheap web developer can’t. If you can afford to spend more on your website, it’s worth doing this, but it will cost you a lot more money but you will get a completely unique website that is fully customised to your requirements. You may end up spending upwards of $10,000.

Web design is a very big subject, and often very business specific. If you would like to know more or discuss any of this, please leave a comment below.

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