For part 2 of our help series we have an interview with Mathew Browne on what a small business can do to improve their web page and their search engine optimization efforts.
Mathew Browne is one of the leading web designers in the United Kingdom and provides design and search engine optimization services through his company MB Web Design! You can view his portfolio here and some SEO success stories here.
Mathew is 23 and got his start with web design at an early age, he won several national web design competitions before he had even finished school! He is a graduate of Computer Science at UCL and just finished a three year stint working in web and multimedia design at University College London. When he is not working he is posting on his blog or watching one of the big drama series Lost, Heroes, or Prison Break.
UK2: One of my favorite posts on your blog is a list of the worst nightmare web design clients you have had and why, why it is hard to design in this new medium that people don’t understand or undervalue. What is the single hardest concept you have to explain to clients?
Mathew: Good design sense is not something that can be taught, I believe. Sometimes I’ll encounter a client whose idea of a good layout or a complimentary colour scheme looks absolutely hideous on screen. “The customer is always right” of course, but I wouldn’t be doing my job as a professional if i didn’t try my utmost to dissuade them from their bad design decisions.
UK2: Ranking well in search engine results is often very important for a business, over the last few years have you found that your clients seem to understand what is involved in this better, worse, or about the same?
Mathew: Yes and no. I think that “SEO” has become a big buzzword for web designers and their customers. Business owners are grasping why they need SEO, but not necessarily how it works.
UK2: If a business owner called you up and asked you to explain why he should hire a professional web designer what would you say?
Mathew: I can rustle up a decent spaghetti bolognese, but I wouldn’t call myself a chef; I can knock out a decent tune on my guitar but wouldn’t call myself the next Jimi Hendrix. Likewise, someone can own a laptop and a copy of Dreamweaver, but that alone doesn’t qualify them to call themselves a web designer. When you hire a web designer, you’re hiring them because you want to invest your time and money into developing the best website you can. There’s an old adage that says “you get what you pay for”, a professional will always cost a lot more than an amateur, but professional prices get you professional results.
UK2: Ranking well in search engine results has become big business and helped you quite a bit, can you explain the basics of what SEO is to our small business readers?
Mathew: Search engine optimisation (SEO) is the act of getting your website appearing highly in search engine results for search phrases relevant to your business. Done well, SEO can lead to a dramatic turnaround in business. I practice what I preach – since my website started appearing on page 1 of Google search results for the phrase “web design”, the number of enquiries I receive daily has increased ten-fold.
UK2: Do you recommend that business owners learn search engine optimization or hire a firm or individual to help them?
Mathew: For smaller businesses operating in a specific location or targeting a niche, it’s possible for the website owner to do the necessary SEO themselves. However, when a large-scale SEO campaign is needed, you really need to think about hiring a professional to do the SEO work for you.
In either case, it’s always advisable to get a hold of a reliable SEO professional to review what you’re doing with your website. For example, you might think you’re a “freelance disc jockey”, but everyone else would be searching for a “wedding DJ”. That’s perhaps a rather unlikely example; the point I’m making is that a good SEO professional will tell you what keywords and key phrases are good to target and why.
UK2: You are very knowledgeable in the area of web accessibility, you’ve successfully pitched for business at the House of Commons on the subject, can you briefly describe what web accessibility is and why it is important?
Mathew: Simply put – web accessibility is the art of making web pages accessible to all users, not just the usual web browsers. In particular, catering to web users with disabilities, who might be not able to read a standard web page without special software. Web accessibility is a hugely overlooked part of most business websites.
UK2: What role do you think a blog should play for a business? Should they even have one?
Mathew: I can’t think of good reasons for not having one, put it that way. I find that industry-specific blogs are a great way for customers to get a better understanding of a business. Personally-written blogs are also a good way to put a face and a personality to a company. Although, for obvious reasons, you must be judicious about what you publish.
UK2: Should businesses hire freelancers or large companies for their website design and/or SEO?
Mathew: You can’t tar all companies with the same brush – there are some truly outstanding and affordable web design companies out there – but when you hire a company to do a website you must be aware that their cost will include the overheads that running a company incurs. Freelancers such as myself are usually able to offer comparable web design quality at a lower cost. However, hiring a freelancer has its drawbacks – turnaround time might be slower because fewer people are working on it, and a freelancer’s capability to take on large website projects is usually limited, unless they have subcontractors at their disposal.
From a personal perspective, I enjoy working as a freelancer. I enjoy the fact that I’m the person dealing directly with my clients, and I think my clients do too. Having said that, if a project is large I will have to recruit some fellow freelancers to help me out, but I’m lucky to have a good working relationship with some very talented individuals.
UK2: Thanks for doing this interview and do you have any parting words of advice, or anything else you would like to talk about?
Mathew: The #1 piece of advice I would give to small business owners is to shop around, not necessarily for price but for quality. If you’re looking for a knockout website, it’s not much use asking a web designer whose portfolio of sites doesn’t dazzle. Similarly, if you’re looking for SEO, find a freelancer or a company that performs well in the search engines for themselves and their clients.
Big thanks to Mathew for doing the interview with us and if you would like to check out his work just visit MB Web Design! He offers web design and search engine optimization services.