How I commissioned a new website

Jane LeeJane Lee runs Dexterity, a PR company working with small firms and IT companies to get them coverage.

When her old website grew tired, it was vital that the new site met all her needs. Rachel Miller finds out how she did it

Many small firms find that they outgrow their website at some point. New products and services, a change in branding or simply a desire to put right all the things that don’t work — there are many reasons to commission a new website.

For Jane Lee, there were two main drivers. “I had decided to slightly change the direction of my business in 2009,” she reveals. “Since 1994, I have specialised in technical PR, working predominantly with small firms. I realised that I had a lot to offer to small businesses in all sectors and wanted to reflect that on my website.

“Secondly, I was really fed up with the old site,” she adds. “I was beholden to the designer and it was hard to update myself. I also wanted to add new features to appeal to clients and new prospects.”

Writing a website specification

Commissioning a new website presents a golden opportunity to get everything right — but to do that you have to do your homework. “The most important thing I have learned is to get your specification document right in terms of how you want your site to look and what sections you need,” says Jane.

Jane Lee was clear about her objectives from the start. “The website had to be easy to update myself in terms of content. I wanted it to reflect my style — proficient, professional and personal. It had to be clear and easy to navigate and be uncluttered with a no-nonsense design.”

Another important factor was that it had to support mobile platforms — by offering a column view — so that anyone browsing on a smart phone could easily view the website.

The Dexterity website is a business-to-business brochure site aimed at existing clients and new prospects. So crucial elements are contact details and testimonials.

“Before, we only had contact details on one page but now the telephone number and email address are on every page, with a link to follow me on Twitter,” explains Jane.

“Testimonials are also very important to prove my credentials.” So Jane has included a testimonial quote from a client or journalist on every page, as well as a fuller collection of impressive testimonials on its own page.

New content is highlighted on the home page by a 'stop press' box that spotlights the latest articles added. The 'coverage' section also gets updated regularly. This is where Jane features links to recent examples of news stories, articles, blogs, reviews and case studies that feature her clients, and showcases how she can achieve great coverage for the small businesses she works with.

All of this is pulled together with a strong positioning statement and a personal touch. The home page features a picture of Jane and a handwritten 'Hi, I’m Jane Lee'.

“People like to know who they are dealing with,” says Jane.

Designing the website

Choosing the right web designer and host is critical if you’re to get the right results. “I had already worked with a couple of web designers before as part of projects for clients. I knew their work so I talked to each of them. They both suggested the same platform — WordPress — and their quotes were fairly similar.

“In the end, I went with Chris Dicken of Random River, says Jane. “He’s a one-man-band and we had worked together well in the past. He could start straight away and offered a custom design. And he already knew that I was a very fastidious person!”

It’s important to establish exactly what the designer will do, advises Jane. “Be clear about what is and isn’t included, especially what’s not included. If SEO is an important part of your site, particularly if you are business to consumer, then you need to make sure it’s part of the equation of the web design. Also ensure you get a design that can be viewed on mobile phones.”

Jane chose a new host for her website — a local service that also offers IT support. “I wanted good support; to be able to speak to someone in England and get through straight away. So I didn’t want to go for a large host, even though a lot of them are very cheap. I know the person hosting my site and I get a personal service.”

Search engine optimisation

One thing Jane did not plan in advance was search engine optimisation. “I realised to really optimise my site I needed to talk to an SEO expert. Ideally I should have done that when designing the site. But because SEO is not critical to my site, it was left until later.”

That approach may have worked in her favour, as Jane explains. “I am now using Google Analytics and it means I’ve been able to let some stats build up so there’s a benchmark to measure against once the pages are fully optimised.”

The website went live in December 2009. So, did it live up to all its promises? Jane was delighted with the site and has had an overwhelmingly positive reaction from clients and journalists.

However, she did have to change one thing. “The 'useful Information' section became a victim of its own success,” she says. “I was finding lots of good material to add so it got to the point where it became really unwieldy so useful content is spread across the site now.”

But that’s a good sign — after all, no website (or business) worth its salt should ever stand still.

This article was first published in February 2010.

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