reposted from The New York Times
by: Melinda Emerson

In my last post — The Problem Social Media Cannot Solve — I profiled DCC Waterbeds, a company that makes waterbeds for cows – yes, really – and that generously shared a tale of what went wrong when the owners hired a friend to build a Web site. This week, I’ve found two small businesses eager to talk about how they managed to build Web sites they love.

When Mackey Advisors, a 30-year-old financial services firm,
 decided it needed to overhaul its Web site, it chose to fix its branding first. “Our prior Web site was hard to update, the formatting was always wrong and was very static and not at all interactive,” said Mackey McNeill, president and founder of the 10-person company, which is based in Bellevue, Ky. “Not only did we need to update our Web site, we needed to update our brand.”

Mackey Advisors provides wealth management services to individuals and business owners, but it didn’t want to be perceived as just another wealth management firm. “We didn’t want to feel like stuffy white men in blue suits that want to tell you what to do with your money,” Ms. McNeil said. “We help people and businesses look forward with their money.”

In November 2011, Ms. McNeil chose Kari McNamara, a brand consultant buddy from her Vistage group, to refresh the brand and messaging and to revamp the site. “The first decision we made was to build a WordPress-based site,” said Sarah Grace Mohr, the company’s communications director. WordPress is an open-source development platform that has allowed small-business owners to manage their own sites (at least once they are set-up by a developer).

The consultant suggested a developer, Chris McMahon, to build the company site. “We trusted our consultant wouldn’t give us a poor recommendation,” Ms. Mohr said. But after getting the recommendation, Ms. Mohr did check him out. “I looked at half a dozen of his other client Web sites and spent a lot of time talking to him about ideas,” he said. “I hired him because he talked to me like a real person. He helped me pare down all my creative ideas to something that was more manageable and effective.”

Mackey Advisors invested $1,500, Ms. Mohr said, and got a site she and her team can update themselves, that allows them to interact with visitors, and that has the clean look they wanted. Plus, she said, it’s not like every other wealth management side: “This Web site is more light-hearted than the sites of other wealth management firms. We wanted people to feel comfortable and not intimidated to talk about their money goals or challenges.”

At the end of 2012, the company, which takes in $1 million in annual revenue, decided it wanted to learn how to engage more with Web visitors. It invested an annual fee of $7,000 in a package that uses a WordPress plug-in to add theHubspot software to the existing site. The software captures an e-mail marketing list from visitors who click on the site’s downloadable content. Hubspot also provides extensive traffic analytics to help determine which content performs the best. “Hubspot allows us to use our best keywords to create content, which helps our S.E.O. ranking and drives more visitors to our Web site.”

While its been just three-months since Mackey Advisors started using Hubspot, the results have been promising. “We’ve had a 25-percent increase in Web traffic since we started using Hubspot,” Ms. Mohr said, “and our interactions with qualified prospects are up significantly as well.”

Operating an e-commerce site brings with it a different set of challenges. Annette Giacomazzi got the idea to create CastCoverZ after her daughter Ellie broke six bones before the age of 12. Something of a daredevil, her daughter, now 16, always seemed to break something around a holiday. “It started with me sewing a little cover to match her Halloween costume,” Ms. Giacomazzi said. “She got so many compliments it gave me an idea for a business.”

Now, the four-and-a half year-old company, based in Hollister, Ca., has five employees and generates more than $500,000 a year in revenue. The company slogan is “Feel better, Heal better,” and that is what she wants her Web site visitors to think when they come to order a cover to decorate a new cast or crutch.

Two years ago, she invested $15,000 with a consulting firm, Web Marketing Therapy, to rebrand her company and re-think her online marketing strategy. She hired the firm after seeing the president participate in an online webinar. “My original logo didn’t represent what I wanted to convey,” she said. “I wanted something fresh, cheerful, and bold. The re-branding costs included new print design and printing of support materials.”

Next, she reviewed proposals from multiple vendors before deciding to pay $3,000 to a local developer, Joanne Barker, to build the site. “I chose Joanne because she listened,” she said. “She got me.”

Ms. Barker built the site and shopping cart with custom code, which can be a scary path to take because the code is only as good as the developer. And if you ever want to move on from your developer, you could be left with a mess on your hands, including being at the developer’s mercy for maintenance and updates. None of those issues concerned Ms. Giacomazzi. “I had a vision and she translated that into a rockin’ Web site,” she said. “And from an infrastructure standpoint, the scalability we’ve achieved has had amazing reliability. We’ve also had the ability to make changes in minutes or a couple of hours, which is what keeps us fresh and relevant.”

Two years later, however, she has outgrown her custom code and now plans to transition her site to the Bigcommerce shopping-cart system by the end of June. But Ms. Barker is not losing a client. “Joanne is building my site,” Ms. Giacomazzi said. “She has tweaked many things on Bigcommerce’s templates. This ensures that the CastCoverz Web site will not be an out-of-the-box Web site but have my stamp on it, with her signature.”

In my next post, I will highlight some alternative ways you can update a Web site.

To read the full article of The New York Times please click here.