I recently updated the website for The Personal Plant Shopper, the business I run with my husband. Although I say it myself (!), I am very happy with the results. It was a really good exercise in how to update an existing website and I would like to share these lessons with you.
Why do you want to update your website?
Make sure you are clear about the reasons for doing it. In the case of The Personal Plant Shopper, we launched our first website in 2005 as a static site. We then updated it to a CMS system in 2011 and by 2016 we felt that it looked old-fashioned plus the CMS system was very clunky and it took a lot of steps to upload images etc. We also wanted our website to do different things for us.
Set your objectives
For us, we wanted to present The Personal Plant Shopper as an up-to-date business which could offer a full landscaping service to a client with our focus on the planting side. We believe that the type of client we want to work for might think that they need a garden design and finding a garden designer might be the first thing they look for. We also wanted to present our portfolio of work in the most attractive way but also being easy for me to add images in the CMS back-end. Lastly, although most of our work is still word of mouth or people seeing our vans, we also wanted to find more people through the internet. This meant that we needed a site which was visually appealing and gave people what they needed to know quickly whilst presenting images of beautiful gardens - a picture paints a thousand words!
Also consider what action you want the visitor to take. For us, it was to look at our portfolio and book a Garden Consultation Appointment.
Choose a designer AND a web developer
I always advocate using a graphic designer to design your website and then work with a web developer to build the site for you. A lot of companies cut corners and just work with a web developer to save money. However, a lot of web developers are technical people and are not creatives. Of course, if you use an agency, then you will get both but that will cost you more.
I work with Julie Lodge of Jamtastic Design and she came up with a great design based on a structure which I chose. I chose this structure because it allows the visitor to quickly scroll down and find out the most important things about us but it also has sub-pages for more detail and better SEO opportunities. She has designed flyers, quote templates and sign boards for us already and we have used some elements from those, such as the bee and colour palette. She also designed some new icons for us to show the services we can offer.
I then worked with Lorraine Cheney at Navitas Design, who works a lot with Julie and was able to build the site on a Wordpress platform using Genius which allowed us to have a custom-built design rather than using a template. The whole process went really smoothly and I am now able to manage the site myself very easily.
Decide on your page names
If you have an existing website, you will already have pages with urls. If possible, you want to try and keep these urls on your new site so that any links from online content will keep working. You can change the name of a page and keep the existing url or, as a last resort, you can set up redirects from the new page to the old one. It is worth checking in Google Analytics if it is on your old site, which pages are the most viewed, to make sure that you definitely keep those urls. But do remember to make your website pages logical and part of the overall customer journey. Also use words which tie in with your search strategy.
Have a logical structure
It is important to consider what you want the visitor to do when they land on your site. Consider that journey and create a structure for the website so that they are directed to the most important pages first with other pages for back-up. It is a good idea to include internal links to other pages for SEO anyway. And don't forget to make sure it is very clear what action you want them to take.
We wanted visitors to look at our portfolio and book an appointment which is why we had icons for both these on every page as well as links within the text.
The most important things: Words and pictures
When I am working on a website, I always write the copy first (if not all of it at least headings and sub-headings) and choose images. In our case as landscape gardeners, the photos are of utmost importance. If you don't have good quality photos, employ someone to take some or use a photo library. Using photos taken on a smart phone just won't work for large images which must be top quality. If your product doesn't really lend itself to photos, you could have some interesting graphics designed (like our icons) or buy some from an image library.
I always recommend having a professional to write your copy as Google still uses words for search results plus your words need to communicate quickly and clearly why the visitor should choose you and what you want that person to do next.
Don't forget SEO
I always decide on the meta tags for title and description when I actually write the copy. Don't leave it as an afterthought or decide to do it after the website is live - you won't! Other more seemingly important things will demand your attention.
Leave plenty of time for testing
However perfectly everything is planned, always allow at least a week for testing everything is working as it should. You will need to check:
- Spelling, grammar - ask someone else not involved - when you are so close to something you can easily miss things
- Links - check they are all working
- Forms - send tests to check
Planning is everything
When you are designing a new website, it is even more important to do all the things I have listed above to make sure that you keep your ranking in Google and present your organisation as the solution to the visitor's search but also don't create avoidable mistakes on the new website, which could alienate visitors.