Websites are hard work, and they gobble up chunks of time faster than Pac-Man eating little white dots. The direct reward for that website effort is sometimes difficult to spot. And with a younger audience slowly taking the reins of many businesses, the demands on website function are higher than ever.
Almost 1 billion websites are housed on the Internet. After hitting the billion plateau in 2014, the number of active sites began to decline, but now hovers around 995 million, according to InternetLiveStats.com. With all that noise buzzing about, what makes a website stand out? What makes a good website? Why are websites important?
For starters, roughly 87 percent of Americans use the Internet. Chances are that most of your business associates spend part of their free time perusing the digital world. Having a website gives you a portal to reach them.
Beyond that, younger generations expect digital service to be a basic component of a business partnership. If you’re trying to appeal to — or work with — Millenials or anyone close to that age span you’ll likely need a website.
We spoke to two growers with dynamite websites about what inspired their website’s look and the importance of achieving peak functionality.
Lucas Greenhouses, in Monroeville, N.J., sports a user-friendly website. Visitors are greeted by a clean homepage with a white background. The Lucas Greenhouses logo and company name are nestled atop the page, attracting eyeballs and embedding themselves in memories. Below the logo and name is a menu of options, guiding visitors to where they need to be. It's a study in efficiency of space.
But the website has not always been so clean. The site has been remodeled twice, says Danielle Fleming, sales and marketing at Lucas Greenhouses. The first redesign occurred in 2007 and the second overhaul was completed this past winter.
Fleming adds that nearly 30 percent of the company’s visitors were coming from mobile or tablet devices. When Fleming and her team decided to overhaul the website, they needed to address these users' needs.
“Our site has come together over time. In the beginning we had a very basic site, which seemed to always highlight that it was under construction,” she says. “In late 2007, we launched a new site. It had a new look and allowed us to convey who we were, while giving information on plants, posting availabilities, photos, etc.”
But that site also became dated and a necessary evolution began again over the past 12 months. Fleming says Lucas Greenhouses worked with a web developer to complete a second redesign, which was launched in March 2015.
“Not only did we change the look of the site, but we added more functionality. Our site is now more focused on customers’ needs,” she says.
Fleming listed the most important changes to the site:
- The ability to target all three of the company’s customer types from the home page: Rooted, Prefinish and Finish.
- An easy-to-use customer portal where customers can obtain plant availabilities at any time of day or night.
- Fleming wanted to add a blog to the site so that her company could better share information with customers. “We like to partner with our customers in helping them succeed and this is one way that we believe we can help them,” she says.
- Every week, the company produces a video featuring 15 to 20 available plants. “We like for our customers to be able to see the quality and size of our product each week. With the launch of the new site we can now display our videos on our homepage as well as in our blogs,” Fleming says.
Lucas Greenhouses currently receives about 5,000 visits a month. Some traffic is driven by content regarding specific plants. Much of the traffic is repeat visitors, customers who visit week-to-week. To keep things fresh for their frequent visitors, the Lucas website team updates content regularly.
“Since coming back over and over again to the same initial presentation can get stale quickly, we work hard to keep it fresh by updating images, blogs and videos on a weekly basis,” she says.
Given the amount of time the company devotes both to its website and its social media outreach, it's obvious Lucas’ team sees value in maintaining and operating a high-quality, ever-evolving website.
“Quite simply, the website is always on, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, showcasing our product, allowing customers to gain information and interact with us easily,” Fleming says. “This also gives potential customers the opportunity to get to know us even before they pick up the phone, shoot off an email or take a ride. Often, before we even speak with them, they are already sold.”
Fleming also notes that it is much easier, and much more cost-efficient, to update digital information compared to print information.
“I don’t envision a time when print materials are no longer part of our marketing, but our site makes for a great complement to our print work,” she says.
Back to the roots
Evolution is the name of the game for websites. Altman Plants launched its first website more than 10 years ago. Then, in February of this year, the company refreshed its site and relaunched. Now, visitors are treated to a visually stunning website. The homepage consists of the Altman logo, a menu of options and then a large image of either a succulent or cacti (it rotates). The site manages to be both practical and beautiful, a balance rarely achieved.
Becky Drumright, director of marketing for Altman, says the site has undergone many changes in its decade plus of existence.
“The most significant change is the e-commerce addition; We now have an online retail shop," she says. "Altman Plants started as a mail order catalog company in the early 1970s, but stopped for many years to concentrate on our sales to big box stores. The e-commerce shop brings us back to our roots."
Visitors can easily search for a specific plant, peruse Altman’s vast array of succulent and cacti imagery and then easily finalize their order.
“Everyone can choose the variety they want out of a very large assortment and can purchase the new plants just coming to market,” Drumright says.
Beyond offering a vehicle for purchasing a wide variety of succulents and cacti, the purchasing portal also allows Altman Plants to track which plants are selling well or appear to be the most important. Altmanplants.com also provides gardening resources for consumers information on the company’s branded marketing programs, subscriptions to Altman’s newsletter and access to the company’s blog.
The ability to serve as both a retailer and a resource for prospective and return customers is vital. Offering easy-to-find and easy-to-use gardening tips, which can accompany any purchase orders, will almost always be appreciated.