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How to Make Your Website Grow with Drew Barton

Posted by Greg Smith on June 4, 2020 at 8:00 AM

Spinning a New Web For Your Site

More business and purchases are happening online than ever before, given the fact that we can't go shopping to brick and mortar locations right now. That will eventually change but the gradual shift toward e-commerce shows no sign of stopping either way. Having an effective and well built web design and website are absolutely essential for your brand's success!

Recently, our CEO sat down with an expert in the field to chat all things digital, from what you need to know in building to the optimizing and what you should be looking for in a digital agency partner to help you along the way. In this blog, Hollywood Branded learns how to make your website grow from the expertise and experience of Southern Web's Drew Barton.


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A Little More About Drew

Drew Barton is the president of Southern Web, an award-winning digital agency specializing in web development and digital marketing solutions which he founded 16 years ago. He's also the author of The Buyer's Guide to Websites, the comprehensive toolkit for building and managing an incredible website from agency vetting and contract creation to development oversight, design input, and digital marketing.

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Interview Transcript Highlights

Question: What made you decide 16 years ago that you were going to start a digital agency and dive into the world of websites?

Answer: In 2001, I was the webmaster at CNN.com for about three years, and by virtue of doing that, people said, "Oh, you do CNN's website, would you do mine?" I'm not a really good person at saying no, so I said yes and I said yes and I said yes. Over time, I developed 20 or 30 clients, and my little freelance business on the side became a full venture into Southern Web that we have today.

It's been a journey from saying yes to, "Maybe we should say no to some things," and that's been the fun evolution of this business is to just watch it grow and be part of it. Being an entrepreneur and also helping other entrepreneurs build their websites and their businesses so that I can watch their businesses also grow.


Question: What have been the biggest changes over the last couple of decades with websites?

Answer: When we originally were building websites when I started the company, you didn't have the ability to make any edits yourself. So, all of your edits would have to go through a web developer. And then, we put in content management systems behind the sites, so that our clients, the website owners, could then update the websites.

And then, the mobile revolution happened, so all the websites we had developed previously were no longer any good on phones.Now, we're watching even more evolution happen with folks wanting to have an app version of their website, or they wanted just the small evolutions in terms of speed, in terms of search engine optimization, in terms of the practices of search from before in order to use your site to rank well will actually hurt you by today's measures. If you were gathering links, at one time, you just had to pay someone overseas to start doing link building for you.

Now if you did that, it would punish you terribly. And there's a lot of people that pay a lot of money now to clean up the errors from the past where they were actually paying someone, $5 in Asia to build links for them. Now they're spending more money to undo that effort because it was working. So watching these things change over time has been such an evolution. It really has been fun to watch because the things that you did in the past, like if you wrote these listicle articles five years ago. Like, five things you need to know about washing your dog, will now actually not rank in the same way.

So you've got to redo it and do 5,000 words on washing your dog or cat instead of just this 300 word article that we were just doing five years ago. So we're watching this evolution happen and it's really cool. It keeps moving and as long as it stays cool, that's the good things when you aren't keeping up with it and then you're just shaking your fist at the sky as to why I'm losing my ranking and why I'm not staying ahead. It's part of this understanding that it's never finished.This marketing piece is never finished, as long as you launch the website and you're done. It's going to constantly be tended to in the way you would a garden or your dog for that matter.


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Question: What is the life cycle of websites today? How often do you need to go in and tweak and reformat and reinvent potentially?

Answer: So there's a couple ways to answer that question. The first way is to answer it from the aspect of the Internal Revenue Service. The Internal Revenue Service allows you to depreciate the website every three years, every 36 months you're needed to depreciate your website in it's entirety. Which is cool, right? Now you actually have a financial reason as to why you need to revamp your website every three years. That's one reason.

The other piece is, thinking about it from the other standpoint of are you still doing the things that are on the website? More often than not, the things that we were doing in terms of product lines, in terms of service lines, we don't do those anymore.

We're not doing listicles anymore. And so the content that's on the website that was good in 2013, 2014 needs to be tended to, revamped, expanded upon because someone else is going to do it and do it better than you. And so I think that is one of the big evolutions that I've seen especially in the last couple of years with what we do, what we don't do in the past.

From Google's standpoint, they're looking for who's the subject-matter expert on dog washing, let's say, since we've gone down this street of dog washing. If you're Google, having to look at who's providing the best content and is it someone that's actually provided essentially a copied version of Wikipedia, which would be probably the lowest version, they've actually plagiarized someone else's work.

Do you give it to someone that wrote five things you need to know about dog washing? Or do you give someone who's actually published the Encyclopedia Britannica of dog washing? It's going to be the latter, if you're Google you're going to say, who's going to give me the best information? Tell me something I didn't know before. And that person's going to get rewarded. It's really time consuming for businesses.

Because, before we did it, we did it with pictures and we put really pretty pictures. What would happen, anecdotally, is they just wouldn't put enough content on the page to make it rank well. And what we're finding is it's just so much content is required today.


Question: Do you think that websites today can be fully optimized and successful if they don't have this dearth of additional content being added to them on a regular basis?

Answer: If they're in any way in competitive space, no. But if they are the only dog washer in a small town of 40 people, they'll probably be okay. But if you're in any way competitive with anyone else in the space, then yes, you can't get by with, five words and a picture.

That's the thing, if you're altering niche, you're going to be okay. But if you're in any way not, which is the vast 99% of us. You're not going to get by with the dearth of information anymore. You've got to put it all out there in ways that you haven't before. If you're not an expert at it, to hire someone who is, whether that be in terms of video or content or social, whatever those pieces are, that you're not good at.

I'm not good at cleaning my house, I'll go ahead and say that. You don't want me to clean my house, I'll put it that way. So I hire someone that does that, and in the same case we'd like for our clients to hand over that expertise to us and say, "Okay, you can do this better than we can."

So we were talking about earlier, if TikTok is not your thing, find someone who is good at TikTok to do it for you. If you don't feel like sitting in front of a word processor for the afternoon and writing 3000 words on a subject matter that's important to the success of your business, to find someone that can do it. The key of success, it's actually delegation. It's proper delegation.


Question: What is it in a website, today that you need to have? What are the core parts of a website that you need to have that if you don't have, you're really missing out?

Answer: The biggest important thing to have is an understanding of who this website is for and understanding the persona that the website is directed to. All too often what happens is, the owner of the website confuses themselves for the persona that they're selling to. And that's a really dangerous thing.

So, what I'll always recommend doing is spending a little bit of time, write some columns on a sheet of paper. Go old school, get a pen and paper and then write on that paper who each one of the audiences are for your website. If it's, stay at home moms, great. If it's elderly women in Brooklyn, fantastic. That's what we're writing, okay?

And then, how they shop, do they call? Do they order online? What their particular habits are? Getting very clear on that before anything else happens. So how you're going to attract each one of those audiences together. And then putting together the plan so that there is a page of content that speaks directly to that persona. So if you are selling to elderly women in Brooklyn, you should have a page of content that speaks to her. That talks about her struggle and how your business, your solution can fix her woes.

And without that understanding of who that persona is, what happens more often than not is they copy the content from the old site, slap it in the new site and then try to fix it on the fly, if they even can. Instead of saying that which was there in 2014, 2016, 2018 is there and rest it's wary head. Because now we're going to give it time to come forward in this new way because my audience today is a little bit different, more targeted and hopefully more niche than it was two, three years ago. Or at least I have a better understanding of who he or she is.

Redeveloping the content really speaks to it, so that when you do search for that item in Google, you now have the content that makes you subject-matter expert to that persona. That's what's really important. And getting very clear on who that persona is, that's the big, big mistake I see with websites is, it's either a copy and paste old to new with a new design and they've just essentially moved over all of your content debt, your technical debt from the old site to the new one. Or just not getting really clear on how your business has changed and who your audience has changed, just a little bit.

And then I guess the third one would be the saying, I sell to everybody, which isn't true. Then thinking I've got to develop this website that's going to appeal to the masses. That's just not necessarily the case. That's not necessarily the case. Getting really clear on who those personas are.

I guess the fourth thing that I've noticed is all too often people really, really, really want to get into designing a new website. That design piece is so attractive that people will skip the homework step of developing the persona and rewriting the copy.


Check Out The Podcast!

Drew has so much great information from his experience in digital marketing, check out the podcast below to learn more about how to drive your business with digital marketing!

Every week we have a marketing professional on our show to share their tips, tricks and lessons learned from their professional experience. Check out some of our other podcast blogs from earlier this year: 

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Topics: Business Advice, Podcast Interviews