You’re a small business owner.

You know your company, your product and maybe your industry inside and out, but when the subject is developing and managing a website or social media sites for your business – not so much. Someone starts talking about SEO, responsive design or content marketing, and your head starts to spin.

You’re not alone.

“Most small businesses don’t necessarily know what questions to ask,” said Laine Mendenhall-Buck, senior project manager at website development company Visionary Service Inc.

Help is available. 

We looked at three organizations that have dealt with the same questions you may have and we asked local experts and website developers for their solutions for businesses’ websites.  

Blank Children’s Hospital

Website Developer: Blue Compass Interactive LLC

What they needed: When its parent hospital rebranded itself as UnityPoint Health, Blank Children’s Hospital needed to switch its URL (the “uniform resource locator,” or address on the Internet for its website) from blankchildrenshospital.org to unitypoint.org/blankchildren in order to fit into the UnityPoint brand. Blank decided to build a new website with the new URL. From a marketing standpoint, Blank wanted to affiliate itself with the UnityPoint brand while at the same time differentiating its own brand as a premier children’s hospital and a thought leader in children’s medicine. From the standpoint of search engine optimization (SEO), or how easily computer browsers can find a particular website, Blank wanted to make sure that Google wasn’t directing people to the old site.

The solution: Blue Compass built Blank a new website with a focus on strong SEO. The website also needed to work well whether people were viewing on a computer screen, their smartphone, or on a tablet. 

First, Blue Compass had to make sure that all links to the old site redirected to corresponding pages on the new site. That would ensure that a Google search wouldn’t lead a user to a page on the old site that is either outdated or doesn’t exist anymore. When you switch websites, and particularly URLs, “Google either needs to catch up quickly and realize that, or you need to hold Google’s hand and make sure your user experience is in the forefront of your mind,” said Cary Coppola, CEO and co-founder of Blue Compass.

Previously Blank had a mobile website and a desktop version of the site. The new site has responsive design, which meant that Blue Compass had to make sure all the mobile site links redirected correctly as well. Once the redirecting process was done, Blue Compass actually notified Google Inc. of the changes.

Social media also was a big part of the strategy surrounding the new site. Blue Compass helped Blank set up a system to use Facebook, Twitter and even Pinterest to drive traffic back to the site’s articles and content. 

Leaning Tower of Pizza

Website developer: Visionary Services

What they needed: Ankeny-based Leaning Tower of Pizza had a website from the 1990s, and wanted both a graphic update to the site and wanted its site to be mobile-friendly. Owner Kevin Harrington also wanted an easy way to manage content on the site.

The solution: Visionary built desktop and mobile versions of the website. Both versions contain the same information, but the mobile version condenses website options into one area, and also makes a point to include the restaurant’s hours on the homepage. “It allows his clients and a lot of prospective employees, who are younger, teenagers or college age, to be able to navigate through the site pretty quickly,” said Laine Mendenhall-Buck, senior project manager with Visionary. Even though the desktop version and the mobile version are different, Harrington can update both in the same content management system.
Another important element, Mendenhall-Buck said, is continuity in the look of the site. Visionary took special care to make sure the desktop version and mobile version look similar artistically even though they are designed a little differently, and both incorporate the feel of the restaurant space itself into the site. 
Visionary also helped Leaning Tower of Pizza set up a Facebook page to share specials, promote job openings and sometimes just display pictures of food.
“You can’t just have a website alone and assume people are going to find you,” Mendenhall-Buck said. “You need to reach out to other areas where you might be able to reach a different audience, or really it’s the multiple touch point. ... So we worked with Kevin on ways to help with that.”


Civil Design Advantage LLC

Website developer: QA Graphics

What they needed: Grimes-based Civil Design Advantage, a consulting firm that specializes in civil engineering, landscape architecture and land planning, was operating a blog-style website. CDA wanted to update its Web presence to make it easier for employees to pull up the site on a tablet or mobile device for client meetings. It also wanted to be able to manage and update content more easily. 

The solution: QA Graphics built a responsive website to allow CDA to have a mobile presence. A key element of the site is the ability to pull up a portfolio of projects that CDA has worked on. “Now they can use it in the office, they can have clients come to a meeting and easily pull it up on a tablet or on their phone,” said Sarah Erdman-Lewis, director of marketing at QA Graphics. QA also developed a content management system for the company that makes it easy for CDA employees to update information, change pictures or update the company’s portfolio.
QA helped Civil Design Advantage get signed up for Google Analytics, a free service that allows companies to see website traffic and gain an understanding of how people are finding their site, (via search or social media, for instance) and where, geographically, visitors are coming from.


Frequently Asked Questions:

How do you best develop your website for a mobile platform?

When it comes to mobile development, you’ve probably heard the terms “app” and “mobile website,” but maybe haven’t heard of “responsive design” and “adaptive design.” Here’s what you should know about these terms. 

Responsive design: All three development companies interviewed for this story use responsive design extensively. Responsive design essentially means that a website has one design that adjusts to fit whatever screen size it is being displayed on. If you are on a mobile phone, all the elements are the same as the desktop version, but the format automatically adjusts for the screen size. This is helpful from a maintenance standpoint, as companies only have to design and maintain content for one website rather than separate desktop, mobile and tablet versions. Users get essentially the same experience no matter what platform they are on. 

Adaptive design: Similar to responsive design, adaptive design allows a website to adjust to different screen sizes. The big differences involve how the site is coded, but for a simplistic view, here’s what you need to know for your business: An adaptive site allows you to adjust different elements within the site, such as how each medium displays photo sizes. It typically allows for a quicker load time. Cary Coppola, CEO and co-founder of Blue Compass Interactive LLC said that Google likes adaptive sites. As a result, Blue Compass plans to switch from responsive design to adaptive design on sites it designs. 

Mobile websites: A mobile website is a website that is coded and formatted separately on a mobile device. Three years ago, that was the way to go, Coppola said. Today, there are still some specific functions of a mobile site, particularly if you want a completely different function on your mobile site than on your desktop website. But increasingly, responsive design is replacing mobile sites.

Mobile apps: An app is downloaded to a mobile device. Both Coppola and Laine Mendenhall-Buck, senior project manager with Visionary Services, said they typically won’t recommend an app for companies they work with.


How do I get my website found on Google?

When building and updating your website, search engine optimization (SEO) should be a strong consideration. There are a lot of ways to improve your SEO rankings, but here’s one important thing to remember. Google likes websites that keep up with the times. Google likes responsive design, and will increasingly like adaptive design sites, said Coppola. Using the newest technology shows Google that you are willing to keep up with the industry trends. Also, updating your website with content such as blog posts helps keep you near the top.


What does this stuff cost?

Prices vary depending on the level of customization and functionality on the website. The website development companies interviewed for this article charge anywhere from $2,000 for a new website up to $7,500.