You might think the most important qualification to look for in a Web designer is technical ability, but it’s not. Certainly, you’ll want someone who can handle the technology, says Dan Kalman, director of operations for Lee Co., a heating, cooling, electrical, and plumbing contractor in Nashville that recently redesigned its Web site. But it’s just as important to find someone who understands your business and who will work with you to design an effective site — especially from the perspective of marketing and advertising.
That’s what most impressed Kalman and the Lee Co.’s redesign team when they hired a Web designer. The designer had seen the company’s print and television advertising and, after saying that they should have a better-designed Web site, showed the committee his improvement ideas. Team members liked what they saw. What attracted them and ultimately made the redesign a success, Kalman says, is that the designer “understood what we provided as a company.” Not a lot of people understand the hvacr business, Kalman says, but the designer was able to speak intelligently about it. Most important was that he understood that, at its roots, “Our end of the business is a retail business.”
But the success of the Web redesign doesn’t rest with the Web designer alone; it depends on the working relationship the company’s Web design team establishes with the designer — and that starts with you. “You need to know what you want,” Kalman says. “It’s important to establish boundaries. And you also need to find someone you can be honest with.” Someone to whom you can say, “It doesn’t match my business,” when the design doesn’t suit your needs. “Web people can be kind of finicky, like artists,” Kalman says. “For some of them it’s going to be ‘my way or no way.’"
Where to start
Lee Co. got lucky: Their Web designer found them. Chances are you won’t be so fortunate and will need a strategy to identify candidates. The easiest way to start your search is to enter “Web designer + your city/state location” into any major search engine. You also can find Web design services at local ad agencies, Internet professional organizations, and other business groups. Another method is to identify the Web sites of other businesses that you think are especially well designed and that include features you want, and find out who designed them. Often, you can find a link to the Web designer’s site on the home page.
Before calling a designer for a face-toface meeting, take some time to evaluate the sample “working” Web sites the designers have online. “See if it mirrors what you’re trying to do,” Kalman says. “Envision your company name in place of the company name on the site.” By reviewing samples, you can choose a designer who is most likely to design a site that captures your company’s personality — that conveys to your customers the type of business you run. Finally, you should pay particular attention to how quickly and efficiently their Web sites perform in the “real world,” rather than in a jazzed up presentation in your office on a hotwired notebook PC.
If costs are a concern, ask the candidates whether they are willing to work from a template or a pre-designed Web site that can be customized. A basic template costs $30 to $150. (For a look at some sample templates, check out All- WebcoDesign.com (www.allwebcodesign. com) and TemplateMonster.com (www.templatemonster.com). You also can keep costs low by agreeing up front in writing with your Web designer how many pages you want, what you want on each page, and how much the designer will charge to modify each page in the future. Figure $45 per hour to start for basic Web site programming. A simple eight-to-10 page Web site, designed from scratch, shouldn’t take much more than 15 to 20 hours to create and post to the Web.
Finally, have the designer detail his or her specific technological skills in writing. Generally, every Web designer will have basic HTML programming skills. However, depending on your needs, you also may want skills statements regarding graphic design and layout, copyrighting, CGI scripting (for interactivity such as shopping carts), JAVA/Shockwave (for animations) and database programming.
Promote it, and they will come
Once you have a Web site, you have to get people to go to it. Customers will go to your site if — and only if — they know about it. Lee Co. has had success just by highlighting its Web address in all print, radio, and television ads. With the old site, the company didn’t get any requestfor- services; with the redesign and by prominently featuring the Web address in traditional advertising, Lee is getting five to 10 requests each week.
Other companies have had success promoting their sites via tried-andproven Web-site-promotion strategies. Among the most popular and most effective are the following (for additional strategies, see the online version of this story at www.hvacrbusiness.com)
1) Search Engine Listing Software: Seasoned Web users turn to search engines such as Google (www.google.com) and Yahoo! (www.yahoo.com) to help them find specific information quickly. Given the great power these search engines have to steer thousands of Web cruisers to specific sites, it makes sense to use a search engine listing program, such as WebPosition Gold 4 Pro, from WebTrends (www.web-positiongold. com), which focuses on getting your site placed high up on the Web’s top search engines.
2) Professional Search Engine Listing: If you’d rather subcontract your search engine listing, you can find any number of Web?savvy firms that can help. For more information on how to work the search engines to your benefit, check out SearchEngineWatch (www. searchenginewatch.com).
3) Paying for Search Engine Placement: Hvacr firms with more marketing funds to spend might want to opt for paid search-engine placement. Under this scenario, your firm appears as a highly placed sponsored link in search engine returns when someone searches for an hvacr contractor in your area. One of the most popular sponsored links plans is AdWords (https://adwords.google.com/ select/Login4), run by Google.
4) Renting Exposure on an E-mail List: This is probably one of the easiest — although maybe one of the most expensive — ways to promote a Web site and company services on the Web. One way to use this technique is to buy an advertisement in an established e-newsletter that links back to your site. Another way is to rent use of a targeted list of emails, to which you e-mail information about the services you offer, much like you would deliver a printed direct mail piece to a targeted list via postal mail.
5) Web Directory Postings: Many independent sources provide directories of specific businesses to help Web users find and get to their sites more quickly. Do a Google search for the hvacr directories, and get your site posted on as many as possible.
6) Start An E-Newsletter: Interesting and informative company newsletters are a time-honored way to establish an ongoing relationship with current and prospective customers. E-newsletters bring that tradition to the Web — and are much easier to create, distribute and manage. Every site should have an enewsletter.
7) Add A Send-This-Page Option: A new twist on one of the most reliable forms of advertising — word-ofmouth — a send-this-page option enables site visitors to e-mail your home page, or any other site page for that matter, to a friend with just a few mouseclicks. Your Web designer should be able to create a send-this-page tool for your site in a matter of minutes.
Joe Dysart is a speaker and Internet business consultant based in Thousand Oaks, Calif. He can be reached at: (805) 379-3673 or firstname.lastname@example.org. His Web site is www. joedysart.com.
Patricia Panchak is an editor, writer, and public speaker specializing in management and manufacturing issues. She can be reach at email@example.com
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