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Has Your Business Outgrown its Web Developer?

Sometimes the website -- and Web developer -- that was right when you started your business is no longer the right fit as your business grows and needs to add new functionality. Here's how to tell if it's time to move on.
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OperationsInc is a human resource consulting firm with a lot of expertise in HR management, and a variety of content on its website. Recently, the site launched a blog, and something interesting happened: it came up with a very strong ranking in Google searches. Though pleased at the blog’s success, company president David Lewis began to wonder: “Why weren’t we showing up well in searches for our other content, instead of just our blogs?”

To find out, Lewis hired a website design, development, and marketing firm to do a review of its website. “He said, to put it bluntly, that the back end of our site was an absolute mess,” Lewis recalls. The site had little search engine optimization, and the search engine “spiders” that crawl the Internet looking for keywords that help them identify sites, weren’t able to see those keywords on OperationsInc’s site.

Lewis knew it was time for both a new Web developer and a new way of looking at his company’s website. “In the past, we really thought our website was out there for information purposes. Now we see that it’s valuable and important to be easily found on the Internet.” So Lewis hired a Web development firm to help better OperationsInc’s search rankings, and though the project is still underway, he has already seen traffic increase. The company has no complaints about its previous Web developer, he adds. “Our needs had changed, and they weren’t able to bring it to the next level,” he says.

When to move on

Moving to a new Web developer is a natural progression as a business establishes itself and grows, adds Elissa Pignati, co founder of ByBaby, which offers ceramic handprints of babies and children. Though only a few months old, the site has already progressed from its original Web designer to a new one who integrated it with Yahoo! shopping cart software. “There’s a first level, when it’s just good to get yourself out there and see how your website works,” she says. “We needed to be in that phase when we were testing out our product. But you have to think ahead to the next level, and part of that is to budget both some money and some time to focus on your website.”

How can you tell if a new website designer would benefit your company? Try asking yourself the following:

Does our site help us meet business goals? “Sometimes I talk to a client and they say they aren’t happy with the look of their site, or the brand,” says Josh Katinger, president of Accession Media LLC, which is currently reworking the OperationsInc site. “I ask them to tell me their business goals.” Katinger recommends working with a developer, who can focus on your company’s objectives, rather than a designer who will mostly be concerned with the look of the site.

How do we measure our site’s effectiveness? “Is the site working to bring in business, and can we prove it? That’s really the bottom line -- either it does or it doesn’t,” says Brian Chernicky, director of marketing at RealOnlineMarketing.com. To find out, his company tracks a variety of statistics: how many visitors come to the site, where they come from, what search terms people use to find the site, and how these change based on different marketing campaigns.

“Statistics allow businesses to measure the effect of investment they’ve put into their site,” Chernicky says. “It’s all scientific and quantifiable -- or at least more so than any other marketing vehicle.” Nonetheless, he notes: “You’d be surprised by the number of professional companies that don’t gather any stats on their sites.”

Does our site convert visitors into buyers? “We see some clients who are already getting traffic, but not generating leads or sales,” Chernicky notes. “Why? It might be because the site doesn’t look professional, or has no benefit-driven sales message. It may have content that says, ‘Our company is great,’ when it should be about how it can really help the visitor.”

Once visitors arrive at your site, “Your design and conversion funnel have to take over,” Katinger says. That’s why it’s important to present visitors with a call to action of some sort, such as filling out a contact form or calling an 800 number. And that call to action should be present on every page, he adds. “People obsess over their home pages, but given the prevalence of search, every page on your site can be the first one a visitor sees.”

Tracking how many visitors are converted to sales leads is an important measure of a site’s success, Chernicky notes. His company does this by comparing traffic figures to how many contact forms were filled out, and by using a special Web-only phone number to identify those who called after visiting the site.

Does our Web developer bring us new ideas? Ideally, your Web developer should be offering new ideas and new features on a regular basis, Katinger says. If you’re busy running your company, it’s unlikely you have the time to keep up with the constant barrage of new features and opportunities on the Internet, but your Web developer should.

“You may not take the ideas, but it’s the sign of a good developer that they’re offering you the option,” Katinger says. “It shouldn’t be all you saying what features you want.”

Last updated: Oct 1, 2008

MINDA ZETLIN | Columnist | Co-author, The Geek Gap

Minda Zetlin is a business technology writer and speaker, co-author of The Geek Gap, and president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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