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.


Common Mistakes Startups Make

I Am Starting A Business So I Need A Website

This is something that I used to hear all the time from people starting businesses, back when I used to run an IT company. They would come up with an idea, or have the beginnings of a business but didn’t feel that they had a proper business without a website. I believe that this is a logic fallacy stemming from the line of thinking that because successful businesses have a website, you need a website before you can be a successful business.

Now I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have a website. To be clear, I absolutely think you should have a website for your business. However (unless your business is focused around web business), you should be aware that it’s probably one of the least important aspects of a business.

The second thing about websites that I’d like to dispel is the idea that a website will get you lots of free business. It won’t. For a website to get traffic, you need to advertise the website. You also have to build a method to convert sales. This is beyond the scope of this article, but the takeaway is that a website is not what makes a business.

Religion, Babies, Politics And Pets

What do religion, babies, politics and pets have to do with business? Absolutely nothing, and it should stay that way! A big mistake that people make when producing public facing materials for their business is to include these things. I can tell you that there is no faster way to half your customer database than by pressing a political or religious allegiance. It’s just not necessary and will cause you to lose customers.

Another common mistake people make is to pick the thing they love the most in this world and expect that others will have the same positive feelings when they see baby pictures all over their website or their cute dog on their marketing material. Don’t do it! Resist! It’s a great way to instantly lose credibility and make you look like an amateur.

Not Measuring Effectiveness

Not measuring internal success of a business is a very common mistake. People often let the jubilation of all the sales coming from that big trade show hide the fact that it just wasn’t efficient – the event cost $3,000 to attend and you made $5,000 profit, but you forgot to add in the $3,000 of staff time to prepare and attend the event, support costs of the new sales, amortization of the event equipment, etc. When you consider all the costs associated with those new sales, the venture was not profitable.

Another common mistake is not measuring the cost of advertising. How do you know that the radio advert you paid for returned a profit? Did those new sales come from the radio advert or a Google search? People often pass off the cost of advertising as soft benefits and say that you can’t measure the value of having the brand out there. Another argument is that sales often come from multi touch points so you can’t measure the value of any particular media. For example a customer heard a radio ad and decided to buy when they saw a flyer from the company they felt they knew because of the radio ad.

There’s certainly some truth in this, but you should be doing your best to measure it. Ask customers where they’ve heard of you; give them discount codes that relate to particular adverts; if you’re big enough, create a new phone number, website or URL to monitor the success of that new TV ad. Organize your advert campaigns so different media over lap and measure the success of a campaign that includes multiple media types rather than a particular advert.

Measuring the effectiveness of your adverts is important because this will make your business more efficient. If your business is more efficient, your products can be cheaper, and if your products are cheaper you can be more competitive, put more money into efficient growth and be more resilient in a downturn (imagine your competitors indiscriminately cancelling TV, radio and web ads because they’re trying to save costs, while you know exactly what’s earnings accreditive and shouldn’t be cancelled).

No Financial Modelling

You see an opportunity to grow the business at the cost of raising capital from an external source. You could get an investor. You could get a bank loan. You could do nothing for a year and grow organically.

This decision is often made with feeling rather than with maths. For example, people don’t want to get more debt so they get an investor and lose a percentage of their business. Some people don’t want to lose a share in their business, so they do miss out on the growth.

Financial modelling is the best way to work out what course of action would result in the largest gain in the value of your share in the business. Financial modelling should be used throughout the business, including working out how a change (voluntary or otherwise) might effect the business.

As time goes by, I’ll add more articles about these subjects with more detail on each subject. Stay tuned.