Wednesday 28 Jul 2010
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!