Online overhaul

Departments - Formulas for Success

Learn from three companies what it takes to redesign your website.

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R.S. Walsh Landscaping features its best projects, like this one, on its homepage.
Photo courtesy of R.S. Walsh Landscaping

So how do you look these days – online? Can people easily view your website on their mobile devices? Do you offer content that shows your company is professional? Will people find you if they do a Google search?

These are important questions businesses ask today, knowing their websites are tools for recruiting talent and competing in a tough market. An effective site will help you attract the right kind of customers and position you as an industry leader. Chris Heiler, president and founder of Landscape Leadership says you can get a basic site done for $3,500, but that will fall short in many categories. A better re-design starts around $10,000.

Lawn & Landscape spoke with three companies that revamped and re-launched their websites to find out what they learned during the process.

Appeal to architects

More modern and more mobile – those were the two main goals underpinning the website relaunch at R.S. Walsh Landscaping in Fort Myers and Sanibel Island, Florida. “With more people using tablets and their cell phones, we decided to make a change,” says Lisa Walsh, vice president.

The previous site was focused on services. The new one highlights examples of the firm’s work with attractive image galleries. “We worked hard with a photographer to get great pictures of our jobs so we could make the site more visual than task-oriented,” Walsh says.

This focus was driven by the fact that R.S. Walsh employs talented landscape designers and architects. “The website is a tool to show the extent of our work and to set a professional tone,” Walsh says, adding that driving more business to the firm isn’t necessarily the goal.

But attracting top-notch designers is. “One of the first things landscape architects do is look at your site, so we wanted to expand our design division online and step it up a bit,” Walsh says.

Another priority for the new site was to walk clients and prospects through the design experience with R.S. Walsh. “People want more information and to know what they are talking about before they call you,” Walsh says. “We find that’s the case in our garden center as well.”

The website redesign began by surveying the competition and then getting referrals for a marketing firm to take on the job. R.S. Walsh went with a partner firm of the company that hosts its site now. “So, it’s a local company and they are a young, fun group that knows their stuff,” she says. “They made it painless.”

The sticker shock (around $17,000, though Walsh negotiated to $14,000) was a hurdle at first. “It seemed expensive in the beginning,” Walsh says. “But I realized why the more work that went into it and the more I saw that needed to be done.”

The website today is a far cry from the site that the company created just five years ago. “It’s a completely different look and it’s amazing how the website has progressed over the last five years,” Walsh says.

Simple icons on the design section of the site walk visitors through the process: initial consultation, site visit, landscape plan and implementation. Extensive portfolios give people easy access to beautiful images.

A menu at the top is simple, with sections for design, landscaping, garden center, about us and a contact page.

R.S Walsh wants to use its website to not only gain new customers, but also to recruit talented landscape architects.

As for measuring results, because of the firm’s goals, Walsh isn’t tied up in watching the numbers. But she does know from the feedback the company is getting that it’s getting traction.

“People tell us, ‘I saw your website and it looks great’ or we can see the Facebook responses we get about the site,” she says, adding that the company put out a news release about the site launch. “That generated some interest with our existing customers.”

However, most people in the area know R.S. Walsh, she says. The site is to help them know what to expect if they hire the firm, and to position it with a similar caliber of design firms. Walsh says,

“Now, the website is a good representation of what kind of company we have.”

Educate visitors

“I was flying blind,” Ben Collinsworth says of his online presence. The CEO of Native Land Design really had no idea how much traffic the site was ushering in, and whether people who visited stuck around long enough to consider buying services. Meanwhile, he recognized that his site was not built for mobile devices.

He also couldn’t easily update the site himself. “Our company has morphed over time, and whenever I needed to make a change to the site I had to contact the person who originally created it,” Collinsworth says.

Native Land Design needed a modern site that was less complicated, and more user-friendly. Collinsworth acknowledges the project “is a long-term play.” Unlike sales, measuring a marketing effort like this is not as simple. “You can’t say that for an investment of X you’ll get a close rate of Y and a return of Z,” he says.

Still, he knew that dedicating time and resources to improving his site was essential. “Otherwise, you’ll look archaic,” he says.

The good news is, website technology today levels the playing field in a way. Access to dynamic, effective website tools is not reserved just for corporate players. “Smaller guys have a chance to gain ground,” Collinsworth says.

As for the process, Collinsworth enlisted Landscape Leadership to guide the effort, and it included him determine what to keep and what to retire from his old site. Collinsworth estimates spending about six to 12 hours raking through the old site content and images, then pushing the “keepers” into a DropBox for the inbound marketing firm to use.

This is nothing compared to his last website effort in 2010, which he says took months and a lot of time, including content development.

If you have your information readily accessible and you have categorized your pictures, have an idea of the content and feel you want to convey, and know how you want the client to interact with your site, you could probably get something done within 30 days, Collinsworth says. “If you don’t have that information readily available, I would assume you should expect 90 to 120 days,” he says.

Collinsworth’s keep-it-simple approach made all the difference, as did narrowing the focus of the site. “We want to capture the commercial market and so our goal is not to get thousands of click-throughs to our site, which a residential lawn company might want,” he says.

The focus is on targeted blog posts and social media, and content categories that matter to prospects. “The better you know your clients and what they are looking for, the easier it is to optimize your website so the right people can find you instead of just having a lot of random people,” Collinsworth says.

So, what’s important for getting commercial clients to the site? “Look at competitors’ sites in your market and see what you can do better than them, and make that information easily viewed on a mobile screen,” Collinsworth says.

“Look at competitors’ sites in your market and see what you can do better than them, and make that information easily viewed on a mobile screen.” Ben Collinsworth, CEO, Native Design

Meanwhile, blog content educates the public, defines Native Land Design’s market, elevates its professionalism and builds in key words for search engine optimization. For example, search for Austin commercial landscaping and Native Land Design is the first result.

Native Land Design’s social media is tied in with the site. It’s an overall strategy where the website is the foundation, the blog provides information and social media engages visitors. “Social media is a way for us to get feedback and to highlight a new project or a help-wanted ad,” Collinsworth says.

Following the relaunch of Native Land Design’s site, Collinsworth found it interesting that in the first six to eight months, 60 to 70 percent of traffic was from employees and associates. “That includes people who were coming in to interview with us, our employees’ families,” Collinsworth says. “We find the site is not just for getting work, but also for attracting and retaining good people.”

More than a brochure

When someone you just met hands you a business card, what’s the first thing you do to learn more about the company? You go online, right? And based on what you find, you form an initial opinion about the operation – perhaps its size, its level of professionalism, its capabilities.

That was exactly the problem for Level Green Landscaping in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. David Sine, business development manager, remembers when he was applying for a job at Level Green.

“I went to their website and I thought, ‘This seems like a really small company run out of someone’s basement,’” he says.

“Well, that couldn’t have been further from the truth. It was a multi-million dollar, full-blown professional company, but the website was not conveying that.”

Sine joined the firm two years ago, and last year the company embarked on a complete overhaul of its online presence. Level Green turned to its peer group for advice on who to hire to help with the process. It enlisted green industry inbound marketing firm Landscape Leadership and from there, an education process ensued.

The marketing budget needed a sizeable increase to accommodate this project and maintain a more robust site, including regular blogging and a social media presence. “It can be hard to calculate the return you’ll get on a project like this, but ultimately it comes down to, What if we don’t do this?” Sine says. “What happens long term?”

Level Green’s main marketing focus prior to its website re-launch was its vehicles. “We spent a lot of money, in a sense, on keeping our vehicles clean and detailed. Our trucks are very visible in the D.C. market,” Sine says. “But we didn’t spend a lot on other branding and marketing.”

Level Green set a three-pronged goal for its new site: to recruit talented employees, to highlight its professionalism and skills to clients, and to position itself as an industry thought leader. “We want to be a source of knowledge whether or not a prospect decides to use us,” Sine says.

With these objectives in mind, Level Green worked with the inbound marketing firm to identify how the site should function and which features it would need. One was a job application. “Now we can reach out to applicants with very little delay and it’s a more streamlined process,” Sine says.

For several months, Landscape Leadership dedicated time to getting to know Level Green and its culture, and building a framework for the website. “Once that was done, we had to fill it in with content and photography to build out the site,” Sine says.

The site includes a blog so Level Green can educate clients and prospects – and the articles also guide people to the site. Case studies highlight its work. On the home page, visitors can click a box to get a professional consultation.

Ultimately, the website evolved from an outdated online brochure to a dynamic business development tool.

Because the site is built on the platform HubSpot, Level Green gains access to important analytics like monthly website traffic. “We get alerts on our computer that provide live feedback,” Sine says. For example, Level Green was on the schedule for a college recruiting fair. Once the lineup of companies was posted, he saw a spike in traffic. “This information really helps reaffirm to the owners that the site is a landing bed for everything else we do,” Sine says.

As for learning how to use the new tools, Sine says that Landscape Leadership works with Level Green on an ongoing basis to manage back-end functions. “We had a meeting today where we went over aspects of the customer relationship management tool,” Sine says, adding that this is another aspect of HubSpot that makes the site more than just a place to visit online. It’s actually working for the company.

Today, when Level Green employees hand a business card to prospects, they urge prospects to visit the website. “We say, ‘Please check out the website,’” Sine says. “Before, it was like, there’s a website, but you don’t have to go to it. Now we want people to check out the project galleries, read the customer reviews. The site allows people to learn about the company at their own speed, at their own convenience – and it looks great!”