September 2007

Honored To Be Quoted At Search Engine Land

Greetings from inside the SEOigloo!

I was delighted to be contacted recently by Christine Churchill, who is the president of Key Relevance and a very highly respected speaker at such conferences as Search Engine Strategies, Webmaster World Publishers Conference and High Rankings Seminars. Her experience and authority are truly impressive, and she is a valued author at the web’s best and biggest Search Engine marketing and news site – Search Engine Land.

I was thrilled to contribute my two cents to Christine’s latest Search Engine Land article, Time for a Site Redesign? The article offers 9 excellent things to consider if a business owner is debating whether their website needs to be redesigned to achieve greater Usability, greater conversions or greater professionalism. I hope you’ll check the article out. The insights it contains are timely and important, and I think Christine has developed a very good, thorough but brief checklist here.

If you, the small business owner, have achieved a solid understanding of basic SEO at this point in your career on the web, reading Search Engine Land will jump you up to the next level of skill with its serious, in-depth articles on marketing, search engine news and a variety of other subjects that are certainly important to your business. It’s one of my favorite places on the web! What an honor it is for me to contribute.

Replacement China from Robbins Nest – Before and After Website Redesign

Some months ago, we were approached by a family business that really interested me. The Robbins family have been purveyors of replacement china for 10 years from their Kentucky-based business. Their inventory is absolutely vast. If you are looking for a specific china pattern, chances are, Robbins Nest has got it or can find it for you. They struck me immediately as the the kind of devoted, conscientious small business owners who genuinely make customer satisfaction their number one priority, and this is the type of client it’s a pleasure for us to take on.

The Website Redesign Challenge
Like many small business owners, the Robbins had been doing-it-themselves for years, learning HTML basics in order to get their inventory online. Yet, as their business grew, their website got out of hand. It lost a sense of structure, causing Usability issues for human visitors, and, no doubt, making an unwanted maze for search engine bots. This is not an uncommon situation. A small business owner starts out with a small site…maybe just a few pages…but as the inventory grows, a lack of pre-planned architecture can result in a hodgepodge effect that is extremely difficult for the user to navigate.

The Robbins had been doing their best, of course, but realized that the issues with their site couldn’t be getting them optimum conversions. They wanted help with getting things cleaned up and organized. The key goal for me with this project would be to get their navigation into much better working order, eliminating menus that were appearing all over the place on different pages, and pulling all the eggs into one basket, so to speak, so that users could easily find what they want to find and go where they need to go with a strong, thorough, consistent system of navigation.

They also wanted a more professional presentation for their business. I had browsed around the replacement china industry in the past, searching for some American-made Franciscanware which I absolutely love, and I took note at the time of how little care was being taken by the top ranked companies to provide even a remotely charming presentation of what ought to be a very charming product – pretty china! I agreed with the Robbins family that some simple, professional design work would absolutely promote brand recognition and help repeat customers to know they’d arrived at the right place, hitting the site. The screen shot below will show you what Robbins Nest looked like when we first saw it.

Robbins Nest before website redesign

With an inventory as good as theirs, this company deserved much more than a cluttered, industrial-looking website and my husband I set to work by drawing up a list of our goals for the redesign:

  • Develop a system of navigation that includes all major site categories and is consistently placed on each and every page of the website.
  • Create a homepage and 6 templates to be used to format the 6 different kinds of pages present on the site.
  • Develop a distinct visual look for this company that sets them obviously apart from their competition.
  • Hand the pages over to the client for implementation throughout their website

Robbins Nest after website redesign

The New Robbins Nest!
The above screenshot shows the redesign we created for Robbins Nest. You can click the image to see the actual website. As you can see, we kept things very simple. Far from suggesting that they further clutter up their site with heavy graphics or other distraction, I simply wanted to infuse a bit of Robin’s-egg blue into the site, to continue their theme, and to create a logo that would be instantly recognizable and memorable. As most of my readers know, I’m a wild bird illustrator…so, seriously, if you’ve got a bird-related business of any kind, I’d like to work with you. This handsome American Robin perched on a nest of replacement china was fun to create and truly delighted the company. The navigation has been organized and now serves as a useful tool, rather than a game of musical chairs, and should instill confidence and comfort in the user. Overall, you see a more professional, usable website.

With thousands of different china replacements in stock, it’s unlikely that a small business like this could have afforded to hire us to implement the design throughout their great big website. Fortunately, the business owners’ HTML skills stood them in good stead here, enabling them to take our 7 pages and rework their pages themselves, according to the new design. They tell me they are 99% finished with the job now, and they must have worked like crazy to accomplish this in a couple of months’ time. Having experienced this family’s work ethic and business ethic first-hand, I would not hesitate to recommend them to anyone looking for replacement china!

Looking to the Future
I’m sure the whole Robbins clan would like a vacation at this point. They’ve worked very hard to get their website in shape, but now that they’ve achieved this goal and have a site that they can be proud of, the company needs to begin thinking about next steps. Though rich in products, the site needs links and needs to begin developing a new body of interesting reading materials in order to take a broader approach to doing business on the web. Products aren’t enough these days, with Google’s emphasis on content and links, and this business will benefit from pursuing the following:

  • Developing a library of articles about their area of expertise. These folks know china, and the history and lore surrounding china companies and patterns would make for exceptionally good reading.
  • Building a blog into the site would be super. Think of all the Q&A that would be associated with identifying old china patterns, caring for old china, decorating with vintage china, etc.
  • Starting to build up the reading materials offered by the company will naturally lead to the acquisition of voluntary links from readers, but will also provide something for the company to approach bloggers and siteowners with, asking those influential people if they’d be interested in writing about various articles Robbins Nest has published.

These are just a couple of suggestions that basically boil down to writing and networking – the two things all smart small business owners are learning are so important to success on the web these days. Paid advertising would undoubtedly be useful, too, but we tend to suggest the least expensive options first because we understand the small business budget.

For me, the greatest satisfaction in redesigning websites for small businesses is that I know, after working with us, they own a site that is ready to go. They can add to it, market it, take it anywhere they want it to go. What could be more valuable than this?

Do you have a website that looks behind-the-times or is functioning poorly for your users? Contact Solas Web Design today to tell us about your business.

My First Post At Search Engine Guide!!!

Greetings from inside the SEOigloo!

I’m very excited to announce today that I’ve been invited by Jennifer Laycock to become a contributor at the well-respected site, Search Engine Guide. This invitation is such an honor, as I have long felt that Search Engine Guide offers some of the very best reading for small business owners on the web. The authors are extremely talented and knowledgeable and include Jill Whalen, Stoney deGeyter, Diane Aull, Debra Mastaler, Ross Dunn and of course, founder Jennifer Laycock. It is thrilling for me to be in such fine company!

My first post, Blogs With Deep Roots – A Great Potential Use Of The Blogging Medium, was published today, and deals with the concept of using a blog as a fabulous vehicle for documenting and expanding your family’s genealogy research. Genealogy has become an intensely popular pursuit in the 21st century, with millions of searches being done every month by people looking for their roots. My article suggest ways in which a blog could be used to make research deeper, better and more rewarding.

Let me end by offering my sincere thanks to Jennifer for including me as the newest member of the Search Engine Guide family. I’ll do my best to be a good contributor!

Designing for Bay Area Local Search Means Contributing to the Local Economy

Bay Area Business - Ledson Homes
Greetings from inside the SEOigloo!

This week, we launched a website we’d design for a local Bay Area client – Ledson Homes. It’s just a simple little site, with the potential to do some excellent local growing over time. Ledson Homes is an amazing business. Rather than putting up cookie cutter subdivisions of endless, matching brown and grey houses (the bane of my neck of the woods), owner Steve Ledson designs and develops small neighborhoods of houses as they might have been built a hundred years ago. Each house is unique, with stunning attention paid to fine craftsmanship. You’d think you were looking at a Queen Anne Victorian when you step inside a Ledson-built home.

This company certainly qualifies as a local business, providing local housing. Their site can evolve from a brochure-like informational property into a valuable resource for local information, real estate information, tourism, local history, architectural tips, historical buildings. They can register with Yahoo and Google’s local business centers, other local directories and niche sites…really, there are almost limitless possibilities.

I was thinking today about how much I enjoy the opportunity of developing websites and doing SEO for local businesses. There is an odd paradox in the IT world I puzzle over from time to time. I’m only 34 years old, but in my lifetime, I watched the older generation of skilled American IT workers lose their jobs and homes when the companies they had loyally served downsized and outsourced to foreign countries. This trend, and the advent of the Internet, has created a new spirit of entrepreneurship in the IT community. We don’t want to work for 10, 20, 30 years for a harried boss who doesn’t respect us and is going to fire us when he’s instructed to by his overlords. We don’t want to be sent upon our merry way without having accrued the old-fashioned perks of seniority, a retirement package or any of the goods of respect that used to be held out as incentives to loyal workers. So many of us have gone into business for ourselves, and have discovered that even the grind of 16 hour days and no set ‘weekends’ beats the heck out of office labor that may terminate at any moment.

Yet, for the most part, the structure of working for someone else’s economy remains with us. Most of our valued clients are out of state – not local. Though the money we earn from this does contribute to the local economy when we go food shopping or buy clothing at a neighborhood store, the end product of what we’ve developed for the client generally goes to contribute to the national or global Internet economy – not the local one. This is what makes it awfully nice when we take on Bay Area clients who are offering local goods or services. A home purchased from a company like Ledson Homes means that the new homeowner will not only be supporting a local developer, and all of his craftsmen, contractors and office workers, but also that the homeowner will be working, living and shopping here in the SF Bay Area.

The Internet has created strange new distances and dealings, both between human beings and in the business world. Once upon a time, I’d grow apples and give them to you in return for you shoeing my horse which I bought down the road from a farmer who also helped me plant my apple orchard. Now, an inventor in Vermont pays me, a California web designer, to build his site so that he can sell his weather monitoring systems to people in Spain. The circle has gotten so wide and…virtual. But when I design a website for a gourmet olive grower in Marin, California so that he can provide relishes to local restaurants where local people go to dinner, I get a unique sense of satisfaction from the contract.

Of course, I’ll be telling him to get Yelp reviews and to get into Google maps, and make every possible use he can of the national and global Internet, but in the midst of all these big dealings, both I and the client can enjoy a special feeling of hometown pride, knowing we are doing something that will be of service to our neighbors.

Good SEO/Bad SEO, Good Designer/ Bad Designer – A Generalization Problem

Greetings from inside the SEOigloo!

Within the SEO community, a general groan goes up every time someone announces that Search Engine Optimizers are crooks, snakeoil salesmen, spammers, scammers, etc. This problem seems to arise repeatedly because of:

1)The genuine ignorance of the author, very often excusable
2)A wish to show off
3)A legitimate complaint against a bad company misrepresenting itself as a legitimate SEO firm

This last item is a serious concern within our industry as we watch trusting people get ripped off by unethical companies that have no right to be billing themselves as SEOs. So, there is certainly truth in such complaints, and there is also good reason for legitimate SEOs to cry foul when they see themselves being lumped in with the bad guys. We know the up-til-3-in-the-morning work we put in every week, and the measurable benefits our clients see in their profits because of what we do. So, on the one hand, we’ve got the Good SEO/Bad SEO debate that rears its head again and again in our line of work.

On the other hand, we’ve got similar generalizations going on about web designers, but I haven’t seen as much talk about this, so I thought it would be worth posting about. Continue Reading »

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