Archived Posts from this Category
Archived Posts from this Category
I’m utterly crazy about makeovers. Hook me in with a dull room or a dilapidated home that’s about to get a new lease on life, and you’ve got my eager attention. Those simple touches of new paint on the walls, a new front door or some pretty flowers in pots on the porch satisfy some beauty-and-order seeking part of me in a deep, delectable way. Add bigger windows for better light or knock out walls to make a living space flow better and I’ll cheer for you with gusto. Small wonder, then, that I embrace website redesigns with such keen pleasure and am always proud to show off the results of my work when we give a deserving website a much needed makeover.
When Joanne Comito of Dreaming Earth Botanicals asked us to review her company’s website, we identified several key functional issues that most deserved to be corrected. Our approach is always going to put human usability in the driver’s seat as the most critical requirement of a good website, dovetailed with good basic SEO. But this project offered an appealing opportunity to give love and attention to visual presentation, too. Dreaming Earth Botanicals is a respected purveyor or fine aromatherapy products – an inventory that hinges on customers’ sensory perceptions. Here is a group of users who will especially appreciate a warm and beautiful shopping experience, and beyond our goals of solving functional problems, we wanted to make sure that this website’s new look would speak to the pleasant sensibilities of its user base.
Above is a screenshot of DreamingEarth.com before. This is what I’ve come to think of as a binder paper website. Great care has been put into creating content, but the container of the thing contained has yet to branch out beyond vanilla. I embrace simplicity, but being unique and memorable in your presentation is critical to distinguishing yourself from competitors. Dreaming Earth Botanicals had yet to take steps to apply a distinct look to their website – something that users would recognize a second time. Their logo was cramped and fuzzy, their imagery was small and somewhat pixelated and overall, the site indicated to me a lack of confidence. A design should never look hesitant. It should look like you ‘mean it’, that you’ve jumped in with both feet, believe in yourself and are ready to do business. I wanted the new website design to exude bold confidence.
My little screenshot gives you some idea of the changes we’ve made, and I hope you’ll click through to the website to see the new design in action.
In addition to coming up with a more vibrant visual presentation, we needed to fix a couple of important errors in the original design. We were not altering any of the contents of the site; simply creating a new look for the overall website, creating an onsite WordPress blog to replace their off-site Blogger blog, and giving special care to the layout and contents of the site’s homepage. Additionally, we engaged to resolve troubles with the website’s navigation. Here is a summary of what we needed to do.
- As I wrote about in a recent post, old websites tend to develop navigational issues over time. New things get added, other things get left off and forgotten and the original system of navigation that was carefully planned out when the site was first built gets lost in the shuffle. Dreaming Earth had ended up with various menus that contained links to some pages, but other important pages were missing. Additionally, pages had been put all together in one long list, with no compartmentalization of different types of content. Navigation is the heart and soul of any website – I can’t overstate this. By bringing all important pages into a single navigation menu, broken up into comprehensible chunks headed with such titles as ‘Learn’, ‘Shop’ and ‘Service’, users can now navigate the portions of the site they are most interested in. Getting this figured out and set up was a big accomplishment.
- Another SEO fix that was badly needed related to an interesting portion of the original website that had been created to allow the business owner to add What’s New-type content to the homepage. Having fresh content on your homepage is a great idea, but unfortunately, the original designer had decided to couch this within a frame, essentially banning the bots from being able to read and index this content. We got rid of the frame and handed the keys over to Joanne, showing her how to update the content within a couple of HTML tags in the code of the homepage. Now she can make What’s New announcements on a regular basis and the Googlebot can see that she’s doing so. A super improvement!
- Using our copywriting skills, the homepage content was extensively re-written and re-organized to highlight key details about the business and important sections of the website. It now reads in a welcoming, informative tone and gives a sense of the experience and vibrancy of this terrific company.
In conclusion, though DreamingEarth.com is a large website, the work of resolving the above issues and creating a new professional look for the business was by no means overwhelming. As a website designer, the most daunting aspect of being brought in to redesign a site is usually having to comprehend how the original was created. Dreaming Earth Botanicals employs a webmaster who makes updates for them, and he was able to help us figure out where various files were located. Once we understood the basic setup, we were able to work efficiently and confidently on the project and feel really happy with the end results of this work. Here’s what Joanne Comito has to say about her experience of working with us:
“Working with Miriam and Liam at Solas Web Design was such a pleasure, and such a breath of fresh air compared to other experiences we’ve had in the thorny world of web design and SEO. They were clear, direct, fast and obviously knew exactly what they were doing. I appreciated how patient and helpful they were with us, guiding us through the process and helping clarify what we wanted and needed for our business. They always kept us up to date on their progress, and were very responsive to questions and suggestions. We couldn’t recommend them more highly–they are just as knowledgeable and professional as they appear. They looked at our business as a whole (not just at our website) which helped them create a site that both search engines and customers like better.”
According to Joanne, user response to the new design has been extremely positive and with the better organization we’ve put in place, we would definitely expect to see an increase in time on site and sales. This project was a pleasure from start to finish and one we’ll be adding to our portfolio with real satisfaction!
At left is the redesign we’ve just completed for a very valued client of longstanding: Dawn Perry of CapeCodTreasureChest.com. We’ve been working with Dawn for years now, with a redesign of her original website being our very first work with her. Cape Cod Treasure Chest saw more than a 125% increase in sales after that first redesign and over the past few years, we’ve engaged in two subsequent redesigns to keep things organized and fresh. We are really pleased with this latest look for this great small business and when we presented the new look to Dawn, she didn’t hide her feelings from us:
OMG!!!! Love, Love, Love it!!!!
I can’t believe you’ve taken my simple request and turned it into something so great, even better than I had ever dreamed of….. You are the most fantastic designer.
I love the simple ease and flow of the page….. It was just so cluttered before…. It just makes so much more sense now….. I think this 3 columne format really is the way to go… So glad you suggested it!!!
I love how you used the dolphin tile and made it look like a wave with our name in the top picture….. So cool!!!
I can’t wait to see how this new design turns into more sales! I know my customers are going to love it…..
How’s that for music to any hardworking web designer’s ears? A sonata, indeed!
I thought it might be helpful to other small business owners if I gave a couple of pointers that will help you determine whether it’s time to consider a re-design of your website. Some people live by the mantra, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I can see the sense in that, but if a client like Dawn Perry had decided she was content with the ‘unbroken-ness’ of her first website design, she would never have seen that huge sales increase, nor the annual increases her company has continued to enjoy with each passing year, due to her commitment to running her business as well as she can, coupled with our ongoing diligence. Sometimes not being ‘broke’ just isn’t a good reason to stand still when a little activity can bring new, tangible rewards. If you’d like to reach for something beyond ‘good enough’, let’s take a look at my 3 Clues It’s Time To Redesign Your Website:
Clutter And Confusion
If you have any interest in architecture, you will doubtless have seen old American houses, built in a specific style such as Victorian, Arts & Crafts or Art Deco, onto which subsequent owners have added new additions and elements over the years; odd paint choices, that unbalanced second floor, that disharmonious new roof line, strange new trims, rooms that jut out at unpleasing angles, none of which were part of the original master plan when the house was first built. Websites can be very much like this. When a good website designer sits down to create her master plan, she’s got all of the elements of the website laid out before her: page count, top product focus, important content, photography, color preferences, etc. Out of this array, she creates a well-balanced system of navigation, layout and look for the website that encompasses all elements in a pleasing, functional manner. On the day of launch, everything is picture perfect.
Then time passes. New content gets created. Different products trend towards greater popularity, demanding greater focus. New product pages come into being. The client begins engaging in new marketing techniques such as blogging, video marketing or some other form of Social Media and attention needs to be drawn to this. Piecemeal, the webmaster/designer works to bring all new things into the existent design and for awhile, this works fine, but at some point, so much that is new has been fit in here and there that the overall cohesion of the original master plan is getting lost. That 10 product business that did well with only a top navigation menu now has 30 products and would really do better with a vertical side nav bar. That virtual business has just opened a physical office and needs to start putting robust energies into Local Search Optimization. That bare minimum original site now has 20 new pages of awesome content, deserved of a menu of its own.
If you look at your website and see that clutter and confusion have grown as a result of too many new elements having been squeezed in here and there over the years, it’s time to start from scratch with how all of this new ‘stuff’ is organized so that it is being presented in a balanced, usable way with prominence being given to the new things that have become important.
When we started our own company, a vast percentage of our clients’ customers were still using 800 width monitors. Except for a few hairy experiences with fluid width designs, we typically designed the main contents of websites to be about 760 wide. In 2010, something like only 2% of most of our clients’ customers still have these old monitors and on the ever-wider screens, those old sites look as funny as skinny neck ties from the 1950′s. At best, a vast deal of screen space is being lost. At worst, odd repeats of background images result, making a very pasted-together, unpleasant presentation of the business.
Take a look at your website on the newest computer monitor your can access and see how it’s displaying. If you don’t like what you see, a re-design that makes the most of the space and renders correctly on major modern browsers such as Firefox, Internet Explorer, Google Chrome and Safari is in order. While you’re at it, if your business has any type of mobile component, it may be time to consider having a separate stylesheet created for mobile devices. Times are a-changin’ fast.
Staler Than Moldy Bread
It is important to virtually every type of business to demonstrate alacrity – that quality of being on the ball, current, brisk, positive and ready to help. Brick-and-mortar concerns repaint their signs, wash their windows and refresh their stock and displays as a sign of business being alive and thriving. Cobwebs and dust-covered merchandise don’t inspire a feeling of lively commerce taking place. By the same token, tired color schemes, badly pixelated imagery, crusty old fonts and way-outdated design techniques including repeating wallpaper backgrounds, black-as-midnight drop shadows and that heavy canvas Photoshop texturizer effect can send a signal to your Internet users that your business has stagnated since you decided to take it on the web. I’ve run into some truly amazing examples of set-and-forget website design that could act as a showcase of website design principles circa 1995, and while it can be funny to see these kinds of things, having people laugh when they come to investigate your business is probably not what you’re shooting for.
Very often, though, a well-maintained website isn’t suffering from this type of extreme design antiquity – rather, it has just grown a little stale. I’m by no means tied to the idea that every site must have the latest web 2.0, 3.0, 40.0 look, for the sake of embracing fads. I like unique designs that show thought and care for user comfort, regardless of trends. But, certain developments have taken place over the past 15 years which truly do improve both the aesthetic quality and basic human usability of website design and being progressive in these areas is smart.
For example, the shift from the once-common light text on a dark background to dark text on a light background is a definite improvement; so much easier on the eyes. A leaning towards larger fonts has also created improved readability, in my opinion. Siloed menus are another example of a good technique for dealing with unwieldy amounts of content, creating shorter, more focused menus for specific areas of interest within a site. Better use of shorter paragraphs and appropriate header tags to break up copy into meaningful portions is yet another positive improvement I’ve seen. Some changes seem so small, they may go largely unnoticed, but the new ease they provide in the user experience is what counts, even if the changes are far from bold or flashy.
Compare your site to other websites you admire that have a really current look and function well. What is creating that good experience? How is the content being organized and presented? How memorable is the design, the logo, the masthead, the imagery? Would you immediately recognize and remember it if you saw it again, or does it look like everything else? Are your users being engaged? Do you ever receive positive comments about your design? Our clients do all the time and they write to us to tell us this, proudly. Could a bad design be adversely affecting your sales and other conversions? Could a new design refresh older customers’ interest in your business? Also of great importance, could a new design refresh your interest in your business?
On occasion, we have recommended a new design for existing clients, but for the most part, this work originates in the client coming to us saying that he (or his customers) is feeling a little bored with his site. There’s a growing feeling that things need to be changed up a little, given some polish and care. Our efforts can then make the difference between the ho-hum of business as usually and the ‘OMG!!!!’ of delight in turning on the computer every day to get cracking with everything you do to pursue success in the web business world. Maybe you just need some cool new fonts to modernize your look. Maybe it’s time to totally rework your navigation menus to bring order out of chaos. Maybe you’ve got to bid a fond farewell to that clip art logo you got during the Clinton Administration and go for gold with something gorgeously, professionally designed. Your re-design needs may be large or small, but your goal will be the same: to ensure that you are making the most of the opportunities the web is offering as a vehicle for doing business. Success and profits are waiting to be made – this I know – but your drive and determination are all up to you.
How should you approach presenting your business on the web when your clients come to you via professional referrals, rather than from search engines? Such is the case for many types of businesses, including one of our most recent clients – Robert Grove Jr., DDS – an endodontist in Santa Rosa, CA. Endodontists are the specialists to whom your regular dentist refers you when you need a root canal or other complex oral care, and this arrangement dictates that the majority of my client’s new patients are simply sent to him, no website needed…or so it might at first seem.
Let’s reflect on this situation a little more deeply, and I think we can come up with 3 very good reasons why even non-search-engine-dependent business models should definitely publish the very best website they can:
Because of the way our society has come to use the web as a research tool, a kind of Who’s Who, chances are good that your professional colleagues and incoming clients will use the Internet to ‘check you out’. What impression would you like to make? In businesses that involve medicine, technology or valuable services, it’s important to present yourself as an up-to-date, trustworthy professional and having a well-designed website is a simple way to let anyone who looks you up know that you are on the ball.
2. New Business
Unless your business has reached its maximum growth potential and you are no longer accepting new clientele, a well-designed, well-optimized website will help new potential partners to find out about you. For example, let’s say a new general dentist moves into my client’s town and sets up a practice. He needs to have endodontists he can refer to in his new place of business. The dentist may well turn to the web to get a sense of who the practicing endodontists are in his area. A truly welcoming website which has been properly optimized for Local Search and invites new colleagues to contact the endodontist is an excellent tool for facilitating new, mutually-beneficial relationships.
3. Direct Business
Though the endodontist receives the majority of his clients through referral, there are occasions on which a new potential patient might contact him directly, without going through a dentist first. In such cases, how smart it is to have a high ranking, informative site that can put the patient in direct touch with the specialist right away. In addition to this, don’t forget about all those existent patients who may need to look at driving directions, call the office, fill out a form or accomplish some other task that a quality website can facilitate with such ease. A thoughtfully developed professional service website not only encourages business but it sees to the needs of existing, valued clients.
If these three reasons are making good sense to you, let me give you a little insider look at exactly what we did for Dr. Grove to attempt to accomplish all of the above goals.
Like many professionals in the medical field, Dr. Grove already had a website, but it had been built some years ago and was looking outdated. SEO efforts on the old site were minimal and usability issues involving the menu needed to be addressed. The most positive aspect of the site was that some care had been put into describing various aspects of the practice, explaining about root canal therapy and other important details. However, the website’s homepage was a splash page – a page without meaningful content acting as a doorway into the site. As you can see from the above screenshot, we put major effort into remedying this and the new homepage is now well-supplied with the most important data about this business:
-A complete menu listing all pages of the website that is consistently placed in the same location on all pages of the site
- Very prominent contact information including a Google Map
- An overview of the services provided by the practice
- A link to a new patient form that can be printed and brought into the office on the patient’s first visit
On the stylistic side, we took what was basically a plain blue screen with very small images and turned it into a showcase of the beautiful office this endodontist has created. A friendly image of Dr. Grove has been incorporated into the masthead and a squint-free photo of his comfortable waiting room will help new patients to know what to expect. We have also geared the homepage copy to reflect the extra mile this practice goes, seeing to the comfort of their patients. Having a root canal can cause feelings of anxiety, and we’ve done our best, with visual cues and user-centric text copy, to let the website visitor know he will have a calm, positive experience with this practice. The entire staff at this office was totally thrilled with how appealingly their practice is now being presented on the web.
Because this business is local in nature, we’ve taken special care to ensure that all pages are optimized for geographic phrases + service phrases. We’ve also taken steps to create local business profiles in major local indexes and to claim existent listings. As of my glance at Google this morning, Dr. Grove is ranking extremely well for this three major search terms. I’m seeing him in the #1 spot, though what you see may vary slightly depending upon your location. Gratifying to see.
And do these rankings matter? Yes, when you consider our three points, above, I think they matter very much. If you’re going to invest time and money in a website, why not do a good and thorough job and reap the incidental benefits of good rankings as well? An endodontist, because of his referral-based business model, is not facing the competitive game the way another type of professional might, but even so, why not make the very best possible effort to show that your practice or firm is conversant with the modern way of doing business? I can only see benefits from this approach.
At the same time, the relatively low competitive aspect of this industry in this town dictates that such a business need not go to tremendous lengths to do well on the web. In contrast to the steps we recommended to this client, we have another client who is a mobile notary public. She does get some referral work, but much of business comes from direct client contact. In her case, we are always encouraging her to continue adding new content to her website, to answer more questions and provide more information than her competitors are bothering to do so that she can continue to outdistance them in the search engine results. She’s got to work a little harder to succeed. An ethical, skilled web design firm will advise you helpfully as to what efforts are appropriate for your business model, your industry and your region of the world.
I hope this article has helped you to think about your own local focused business. Are you doing all you can to showcase your professionalism, foster new business and take care of the needs of existing clientele?
Is there a saying, motto or quote that so jives with your groove that you’d love to have it immortalized in a work of art you can hang in your home or office? Giving a corporate award and need a really handsome, laser engraved presentation piece? Looking to have an exquisite wood gift handmade for you by a skilled craftsman? Meet George Beck, your on-call woodworker, owner of Fishers Laser Carvers in Fishers, Indiana and our very latest website design and Local SEM client!
I felt like I made a genuine connection with George Beck the first time we spoke to one another in the Fall of 2009. As he told me his personal story of retirement from a lifetime of service to corporate America and his dream of sharing his first love – woodworking – with others, Garrison Keillor/Lake Wobegon came to my mind, utterly convincing me that George was not only the ‘real thing’ when it came to being a craftsman, but that he was going to make a truly fine blogger. My instincts were right and as this client began delivering his product descriptions and basic business content to me for the development of his website, I found myself charmed with his take on wood, his take on work and his overall take on life. Anyone ordering a wood plaque, sign or wood gift from Fishers Laser Carvers will be purchasing something that has been made with a level of thought and care we so seldom encounter in today’s marketplace.
What I Learned From This Client
Because of our green leanings here at Solas Web Design, we were impressed with George Beck’s commitment to using reclaimed and saved American hardwoods in his woodworking projects. This is an eco-friendly practice that makes sure nothing is wasted when a tree is felled for human use. Beyond this, George taught me how to look at wood a little more deeply. He studies the grain, color and pattern of a given reclaimed wood piece, and what he sees often suggests to him a matching quote or saying. It’s fascinating how the grain of one plaque can suggest a starry sky while another looks like wisps of smoke, clouds, water or some other design element that the woodworker can then enhance, play with and embellish with a suitable engraved saying. Wood tells stories and George Beck is helping people to read them. Busy people looking for a way to slow down, relax and notice the small things in life will enjoy the stories associated with each of George’s works and I certainly enjoyed every conversation I had with this gifted and thoughtful man during the website development process.
My Favorite Things About This Project
I love the personable tone of the website we’ve created for Fishers Laser Carvers. The design and its contents should leave no doubt in the mind of the user that they’ve arrived at the home base of a real person, a real craftsman whom they can contact for custom woodworking. Nothing corporate or distant here. I’m rather fond of the fact that I found some cherry wood to use as the nav menu buttons…George loves working with cherry. I like the simplicity of the overall layout of the site and I’m very thrilled about the depth of content being provided on the various pages. George is really happy with the finished site and told me,
“I think we have built a really neat web site that we can both view with much pride. I think it tells my story and continuing message of simplicity quite well.”
George’s ready-made plaques and signs can be purchased from anywhere in the US, as can his services as a custom woodworker, but this business has a good local component as well. George is our very first client in Indiana, as it happens, and Fishers is a suburb of Indianapolis. Basketball and racing are local passions and by working to get George’s site ranked well locally for his laser engraving and woodworking services, we’ll be increasing his chances of picking up business in his own corner of the world. Sports teams, corporations and organization all need signs and awards and my Local SEM colleagues will be interested to hear that it took less than 2 hours for Fishers Laser Carvers Google Place Page to appear after I had created his listing in the Google Local Business Center. Pretty swift! With ongoing efforts, George will be able to position his business as the place to turn to in the Hoosier State for the very best in plaques, awards, signs and wood gifts.
I’ll be having one last heart-to-heart with George about the various components of Local Search. We’ve listed his business in all my favorite local indexes and now it’s time to talk about user reviews, citations and the like. After that, we’ll be here for anything Fishers Laser Carvers might need in the future, but right now is a really satisfying moment. Today represents the culmination of a lifetime of one man’s dreaming, 2 years of hard work on his part to develop his business plan and several months of steady going on ours to create a website for him that should welcome visitors with warmth and sincerity. I’m really honored to be part of such a special project and hope you’ll keep Fishers Laser Carvers in mind if you’re ever in need of a really friendly and totally professional woodworker.
What about your dream business? Ready to take it on the web? Solas Web Design can design your site from the ground up, edit or create your copy and walk you through the essential steps of Local Search Marketing. We love working with craftspeople and companies that specialize in the Made In The USA and green-oriented products. Let us help you tell your story on the web.
At Solas Web Design, we make no secret of our green sensibilities. When we’re not hard at work in the office, we’re hard at play on our organic micro-farm, working towards our future goals of total self-sufficiency. We’re deeply invested in the pursuit of an eco-friendly mode of living and our ears really prick up when a new client comes to us and tells us how his or her small business fits into the better green world so many of us are trying to build.
I was totally delighted to hear from soapmaker, Jackie Barth, several months ago. Jackie has been making natural bar soaps for years, enjoying healthy success at trade shows and fairs. Jackie had come to the decision that she could improve her life by cutting down on the miles she was covering to bring her hand made soaps to customers by creating a place for them to shop with ease and pleasure online. This week, we’re celebrating the launch of Dragonfly Soaps on the web and if you lean towards natural bar soaps, we hope you’ll pay this new website a visit.
Our Favorite Aspects Of This Fun Project
We were absolutely thrilled to learn that a professional Rodale Press photographer, Thomas MacDonald was going to be handling the photo shoot of Dragonfly Soaps’ beautiful products. Professional photography really brings out the colors and textures in the bar soaps and that addresses one of the main challenges in selling items that have such sensory, tactile appeal. Mr. MacDonald had become a fan of Dragonfly Soaps’ handcrafted bar soaps after trying them and this partnership resulted in some of the prettiest product photos it has ever been our pleasure to utilize in website design.
Visual website design needed to play a supporting role in the project – stepping back and letting the products shine through while the site navigation did the legwork of getting customers to whichever category of soaps they might like to investigate with as few clicks a possible.
Our absolute favorite part of the project was the copywriting. Jackie sent us a whole wonderful box of her handmade soaps and then put her faith in us to write the copy that would give a clear sense of the benefits customers would enjoy from each unique bar of soap. We really had a ball describing the natural, botanical ingredients and bringing to life the romance of soaps like Lemon Chiffon, Jasmine, and Oatmeal Almond.
Each product became a chance to write a mini article that would be the next best thing to holding one of Dragonfly Soaps’ bar soaps in one’s own hands and by the end of project, Jackie and her business partner were calling me the J. Petermen of soaps and the Queen of Copywriting. I’ll take those compliments with much pleasure! Is the copy for your website’s products or services engaging, informing and entertaining your customers? Today’s a good day to ask yourself that question.
We are truly proud to do our best for a company that operates on a green scale of ethics. Dragonfly Soaps handcrafts their bar soaps in small, careful batches. Nothing toxic is created or disposed of from their workshop. They donate the ends and scraps from their soapmaking process to worthy charities and their packaging and print materials are printed on recycled paper. Their product is Made in the USA and simply lovely. When we understood these details about Dragonfly Soaps, we felt totally confident that we were the right match for their project and we look forward to continuing to work with Jackie and her team towards success on the web.
Do You Run A Green Small Business?
Call us up at (707) 981-7943 and tell us your story. We build SEO-based websites, offer copywriting and local search marketing services to you. Most of all, we get to the heart of what your business is all about and help you discover the most effective way to present the benefits of what you are offering to your clientele.
Our blogging has been on the light side for the past month or so because we’ve been so busy working for our wonderful clients. We’re excited about launching DFSoaps.com and have a handful of other big projects underway at the moment, but we definitely have time to listen to what you’ve got to say about your green small business and we’d love to hear from you!