CASE STUDY: NEW WEBSITE FOR CALIFORNIA DOCUMENT PREPARERS
We rolled out a new site a few weeks ago for one of my longtime clients, California Document Preparers, with neither a whimper nor a bang—a soft opening, if you will, because we wanted to make sure that everything was working smoothly. No splashy announcement or Facebook post, not so much as a press release. Just business as usual, which may be as it should be. It’s just a website, after all, and our site has proven to be a workhorse for us. I’ve been working with this company for nearly two years, writing a weekly blog, monthly newsletter and posting to social media several times/week. In that time, we’ve dramatically increased the quality and relevance of our content. Best of all, our web referrals have dramaticallly increased over the last few years, and we expect this new site will continue our upward trajectory.
This is a little accounting of our pursuit of a better website
The new site is more contemporary, more reflective of the business today, more in tune with their diverse client base. Information is better and more accessible. Our goal was that their clients would understand the breadth of services, their commitment to a high level of customer service. Responsive design is always a concern these days, and we tried to keep mobile users in mind throughout the project.
Anyone who’s had a website knows how this one goes . . .
A website is always a major undertaking; it’s expensive and time-consuming—and we already had our day jobs. We’d tried to retrofit the old site, but after a few lame attempts, we realized it was tired and dated, and our modest attempt at a facelift failed. Besides, it was built in Drupal; it was clumsy, with more complexity than we needed. A website has a shelf life, and ours had expired.
Ian stepped up to manage the website project
Ian Duncan, one of the owners of the Oakland office, became the de facto website project manager. He’s a smart, resourceful guy who understands technology and the process. He talked to a few vendors and selected AirTight Internet Services, in Walnut Creek. Our contact person was Jesse Dudan, and he and his team were truly our partners throughout the project. They were thoughtful, accessible and responsive. They really helped us think creatively about the best way to present information. They kept us accountable and on track.
We became extraordinarily “image conscious”
Today’s websites are colorful and visual, and Ian and I spent hours in pursuit of the perfect images for each page. We wanted pictures that were representative of the clients who walked through their doors. The problem? Stockphoto images tend to be of beautiful white people with dazzling smiles. It’s infinitely more difficult to find images that fit our client profiles, which are all over the demographic map–-gay couples, seniors, interracial couples, extended families of mixed ethnicity. Finding these became our particular challenge, and Ian and I spent many evenings comparing notes during our ongoing quest.
Rethinking content approach
We rethought our approach and retired most of our old content. We decided it was our job to explain how we worked with clients, identifying those practice areas we covered—we didn’t need to provide detailed legal information. We raised the elevation of our case studies and added images to make them livelier. We’ll continue these real-life stories about how we work with our clients.
Simplified navigation, making online products more accessible
Jesse and his team were invaluable when it came to helping us streamline navigation. In the old environment, we tried to show too much information—we wanted to open up cross-sell opportunities, showing relationships between our services, but this methodology probably backfired, making it more confusing for our users. Jesse and his team helped us think through our approach—especially for the online products that are available via our storefront: Deeds, Living Trusts and Business Packages. For all three of these products, we simplified the navigation, making it easier to purchase and download user workbooks.
It “actually ended up being fun”
Towards the end of the project, Ian confided to me that this is his fourth-generation website, and this experience “actually ended up being fun”. And it was fun. I think we became aware early on that we weren’t just building a new website, we realized we were creating something that was going to be exceptional. We’re delighted with our new site. It looks great, has the right amount of information, is easy to navigate, and is now in WordPress—we love its ease of use. A big shoutout to Jesse and the AirTight team for all of their help along the way.
I’ve worked on many web projects, and teaming with Ian and Jesse made this experience seamless. I helped identify images, wrote intros, footers and headlines as well as new landing page content. I’m with Ian–this project did “actually ended up being fun”. Best of all, this site has legs; it will continue to work for this client for a long time.
CASE STUDY: EDGE BOARDGAMES MOVES FROM JOOMLA TO WORDPRESS
It’s been a year or so since the owner of EDGE Boardgames launched her first website. This was an unfortunate project, a site that was badly planned, built and orchestrated, unable to meet the needs of its owner. Inexplicably, it took months to build this simple site. From its initiation, there was never any talk about what it hoped to accomplish, no attempt to identify its unique selling proposition. There was no discussion of the larger need—this is a retail site, and while we began with a single boardgame, but what should have been part of the conversation was how the site would accommodate the additional boardgames that the owner would be developing and producing.
Every business owner knows how consuming a website project can be
It takes considerable time to identify a template, refine a navigation schematic, develop content, identify, purchase and upload images. Meetings, review cycles. It’s a huge investment of time and money, and you hope that your site will last for at least a few years. Every website has a shelf-life, but to have to redo a site after little more than a year represents a lot of wasted time and money.
This site was built in Joomla . . .
Joomla is clumsy and inaccessible. The so-called developer made a big deal about his crack team of developers and designers, but the “design” was amateurish and succeeded only in using up a lot of the site’s real estate. The bigger problem? The developer didn’t act as an adviser to his client: helping her identify the site’s goal and audience, a strong call to action for each page, making sure that her content was working for her. He didn’t follow any of the best practices that help a site show up in search engines:
- Doing keyword research, then weaving those words and phrases into the landing pages
- Filling out fields for metadescriptions and keywords
- Labeling images with the company name, then identifying alt tags
- Using H1 and H2 tags for headers and subheads
These are things we always do for our clients—they’re small things, but collectively, they add up to big things and make a difference.
A host of other problems, including access
Joomla feels like it hasn’t been updated in ten years—or maybe he just hasn’t updated his version!
- The text editor wouldn’t create bullets and it was very hard to manipulate text. I would have been happy to go in and update fields myself, but I couldn’t figure out how to get around in this application. I’ve been working in WordPress for four years, and I’ve worked in three other website platforms, so I’m pretty savvy, but this was elusive, and, in fact, Joomla isn’t known for its accessibility.
- While this site was built a little over a year ago, it was not a responsive design, and wouldn’t adapt to the array of digital devices on which users are viewing the internet these days.
- The developer was charging my client $150/month for hosting and edits, though she never made any. I hate this costing model, much preferring the pay-as-you go methodology so clients know exactly what they’re paying for.
- But the biggest issue? The developer disappeared for weeks, then months without anyone’s being able to get hold of him. My client is not a tech-savvy person and had no idea how to get into the site to make changes, and the developer left no backup person to handle these kinds of issues in his absence. This is simply not acceptable.
This site wasn’t working on any level
It didn’t take much discussion to decide that Joomla model wasn’t working on any level, and we needed to build a new site in WordPress that we could access and control. We worked with my longtime website collaborator, someone who is responsive, responsible and a problem-solver; he had the site up and running within a month. The ongoing cost will be significantly less than what she was paying before, but best of all, we can now easily make changes to the site–upload new images and files, add new pages and swap out text. It’s a relief to have this site back in in an environment where we own it, a responsive design that will be relevant and work for us for a long time.
Is it time to rethink your website strategy? Contact Top of Mind Marketing. We’re writers and marketing experts and trusted advisers for our clients.
A CASE STUDY: NEW WEBSITE FOR MICHELE MCKAY REALTOR
Michele McKay initially called me to help her with her profile that she was using on her marketing materials. Michele, who had been selling real estate for 6+ years, had also spent part of her career running a successful architecture firm and working in interior design. Unfortunately, her efforts to write about herself were uninspiring.
A new profile emphasized her commitment to her clients, high customer service ethic and, as a former architect, her love of houses. Her background means that she brings an extra dimension to every relationship—making sure that
the homes her clients buy are structurally sound and represent good value.
Time for a new website
Michele wanted a little print leavebehind of some kind, but before we began work on that, she decided that a website was more urgent. We looked at realtors were doing in this space, and for the most part, the examples were uninspiring. Many of the default sites that the real estate agencies provide for their agents are rudimentary and leave no room for individuality or creativity. For those realtors who had gone to the expense of building standalone sites, few were truly impressive.
As a former architect, Michele understands the power of good design
In this case, it translated to her brand, so she flew to LA for a photoshoot with a photographer whose work she admired. The results were stunning, and we ended up with a logo and a really dramatic picture of Michele that will distinguish her from the competition. Remember that realtors, in general, are photo averse. They often are using photos of themselves on their business cards and other marketing materials that are ten or more years old, so Michele’s new image is not only contemporary but dramatic. There are thousands of real estate agents in the East Bay community, and we want Michele to stand out from the crowd.
Working in Gutensite
After comparing options, we decided to work in a technology called Gutensite; it’s been around for more than ten years and is based right here in Walnut Creek. This platform is easy to use, stable and very smart. Best of all, they provide tech support. My job? Web and content developer and project manager.
We chose a template and began work on Michele’s site
While I had done one other site in Gutensite, there’s still a learning curve. Fortunately, Gutensite is right there to help. We worked through getting the MLS feed hooked up and were delighted that it automatically provides a breakdown by community—Orinda, Walnut Creek, Moraga and Lafayette—alleviating the need for the user to apply his/her own filters. We tried several templates, examining aesthetics as well as usability. We wanted to make it as intuitive as possible for our users to navigate through the site, and we ended up using a different template than that with which we had begun.
I refined content for Michele’s profile, added a page for Our Community and Working with Michele. We created a page for some of Michele’s great testimonials, and were delighted with the way that Gutensite automatically inserts quotation marks to make this a very attractive page. Another small change—the most important information on a website is contact information, but the design displays her email address and phone number in the lefthand column in very small type. I wanted more visibility. We added it to her logo so that it’s at the top of every page—much more accessible and it doesn’t detract from the overall design.
This Gutensite template is image driven
This template is ideal for anyone who has a portfolio of his/her work. For Michele, we used a beautiful photograph of one of her properties on each page. We also imported little thumbnail images on the Community page. We added a blog—Michele thinks she can commit to writing a blog once/week. It doesn’t need to be a tome—rather, whatever is going on in the news that’s relevant to the housing market—tips for selling your home, economic information, community events and activities. Lamorinda is where Michele grew up and came back to live, so her knowledge of the local landscape is an important asset. We added two blogs to get started, along with a couple of images.
Domain Name: MicheleMcKay.com
Michele bought several domain names from GoDaddy, and I orchestrated the domain name transfer, with some help from Gutensite’s tech team. This was the final step; michelemckay.comis now live.
The results/what’s next
We’ll continue to tweak the site, including adding sales activity. Both Michele and I are delighted with the results. Working with Gutensite has been a wonderful partnership, and I know that if I run into any problems, they will help me find solutions. Michele’s site is clean and elegant. It will serve as a wonderful backdrop for the houses that Michele will be listing and selling. Best of all, the site’s design is timeless—its style is simple and stylish and should stand Michele in good stead for some time to come.
Are you a realtor, confused about website options? Talk to us at Top of Mind Marketing. We’re working with a growing list of realtors to build websites that adapt to their needs.
The Company: California Document Preparers
I began working with California Document Preparers in October 2014. Legal document preparers, their clients are representing themselves in an uncontested legal matters; their most popular services are uncontested Divorces, Deed Transfers and Living Trust packages. They provide an important service, helping their clients recognize considerable savings on routine legal matters.
- They have three offices in the Bay Area, each owned independently, but they market collectively.
- The company’s website, social media, newsletter and any print or other advertising benefit the group.
- California Document Preparers has been in business for 13+ years and each business has experienced steady growth.
- Their brand is their people—they are committed, smart and personable, providing an extraordinary level of customer service.
- They had been doing a twice/weekly blog, but the blogs were not necessarily relevant, timely or compelling, and were not posting these blogs or anything else to their social media sites. There were a lot of missed opportunities.
Project scope to include social media posts
I contracted to write a weekly blog, post it to their website and Linkedin. We also wanted to get more mileage out of that blog by posting excerpts 2x/week to social media sites: Google+, Twitter and Facebook. As part of this project, I updated their social media sites, creating banners and fleshing out the About fields to reflect their business and make better use of their keywords. We decided on just one blog/week rather than two—for a small company, producing one quality blog is a commitment.
Working together: streamline communications or it’s not going to work
As with most of my clients, CDP doesn’t have a lot of time for marketing meetings, brainstorming sessions and lengthy review and approval cycles. If our relationship was going to work, it was critical that I come up with blog topics, develop them, review them with the owner of the Oakland office, then upload and distribute across social media. In the beginning, one of the owners would send me brief snapshots that I could develop into stories that would illustrate how CDP worked with their clients, but as I began to get more comfortable with the company’s services, I came up with my own blog topics and developed them for review and posting.
I try to focus on topics to draw attention to the California Document Preparers’ wide range of services.
- For some blogs, I develop actual scenarios that bring people into the offices of California Document Preparers. Sometimes these take the form of cautionary tales—“this is what happened to this client—if you don’t get a Living Trust or whatever, the same thing can happen to you” sort of theme.
- If there’s something going on in the news that is relevant for California Document Preparers, I try to leverage that for a blog topic. Examples: Joni Mitchell’s illness and her Conservatorship, legal battles over the estates of Robin Williams and B.B. King.
- I try to leverage seasonality: January is divorce season; Prenuptial Agreements are on the rise, and we promote these as the summer wedding season approaches.
- The California Document Preparers website didn’t have anything about their team—which is really their brand, so we created an About page with a description and image of each team and added this to the main navigation bar.
- We realized from our Google Analytics that our audience wanted more information on our California Document Preparers team, so we began featuring an Employee of the Month along with that person’s picture. We also post this across social media and get a significant response.
- People may/not read anything else on your website—but they will read the About section, Testimonials and Blogs. People want to know about the people with whom they are going to be doing business, so we began repurposing several of our great Yelp reviews each week to the Testimonials page.
Things that I do to help raise our SEO value and clickthrough rates.
- Create crisp, attention-getting subject lines for blogs and newsletters
- Identify and deploy keywords/phrases liberally throughout each blogpost
- Write metadescriptions
- When posting images, labeling each image with California Document Preparers and the keyword
- Repurpose content. Our blogs fuel our monthly newsletter and our 2x/week social media posts
Results: Web Referrals up 50%
It’s not been a year, but website referrals are up nearly 50%. This is in large part to our steady, focused content marketing strategy. Our newsletter’s open-rate continues to increase and last month we had 176 click-throughs—a new record for us.
We’re planning a homepage facelift, leveraging California Document Preparers’ brand: it’s people.