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Meet Zonkey's Design Team 5 Minutes With Alex

Posted 01st August, 2013 by Aliysa

Hi Alex, thanks for your time. Firstly can I ask how you personally, and Zonkey as a company, came to be in the web design business?

Alex - I set up an IT support company, here in Bath, back in 1998 and originally we set out to just provide desktop and server support to small businesses in the area. As the business grew I started to specialise more in web design and, later on, as it became more popular, the SEO and web marketing part of the business. I left that company in mid-2010 and set up Zonkey with my current business partner, Jon, a few months later. I was essentially given the unique opportunity to start a business again from scratch, learning from all the things we’d done right and wrong over the previous 12 years, and we set about creating a company purely focusing on web development and SEO services. We started working with Tsohost right at the beginning and nowadays spend our time working with clients on their projects, leaving Tsohost to do all the technical server work, which saves us a lot of time.

We work almost exclusively with WordPress and Magento nowadays. We do some bespoke projects with Zend and we’ve dabbled with Laravel, but having spent years building sites from scratch we made the decision that there was no point reinventing the wheel on many projects - why not stick with WordPress and utilise all the great things it offers? We host a fair few sites on Drupal and Joomla, but clients love the list of functionality that WordPress offers, and they feel safe knowing that there is a team of thousands of developers worldwide working on it and that they won’t be lumbered with a bespoke CMS system that ties them to a particular developer. We spend a lot of our time rebuilding existing sites into WordPress due to its ease of use.

What makes Zonkey different from other web design companies?

Alex - Having run a fairly corporate style business for so long, it was a breath of fresh air to take things a little less seriously. Our website lists our favourite cider, it has pictures of kittens on it and we’ve interspersed quotes from the film Anchorman throughout the pages. On Klout we became recognised as one of the top 3 influencers across the world for Cider.

We do most of our work using a number of freelancers. Rather than employ lots of people and worry every month about salaries, PAYE and NI payments, we employ 3 full time staff and then we have 4 or 5 freelancers who we pull in for particular projects, as and when we need them. If we have quiet periods then we don’t need any of them and overheads are very low. When a big project comes along we can pull them all in and turn things around fairly quickly. They’re each very experienced in their own areas and we make the best use of that as we can. One of our designers works for an agency and designs for global companies during the day then works for us in the evenings on an hourly rate. Our developers have worked for major corporations on huge projects and now bring that expertise to our customers.

We don’t like to turn down any work that comes our way. Sometimes when you get the old “Can you write me a site like Facebook for £2,000” we have to come in with a reality check, but we generally try and take on everything we can. We’ve had many occasions where we’ve done a small basic site for £500 and later on the customer comes back to us with a budget of £5,000 for something else. We don’t even really advertise, nearly all our business comes through word of mouth or referral and that has to be the best way to run a business.

What do you believe to be the 3 most important elements to consider when designing a website?

Alex - We generally work with start-ups so a lot of our initial time is spent discussing with users what a website can do for them and what functionality they might be able to take advantage of.

  1. Content
    Content has to come out on top when thinking about a website because you have to be able to tell people about what you do in a fairly concise way; many people won’t read a lot of information. Whether it’s for a new website or when we’re looking at SEO and marketing for a site, our mantra is always to make sure you have unique, up-to-date and engaging content. Whilst this can be the bit that a lot of clients struggle to find the time to get sorted, it’s important that it’s done properly, as Google is taking more notice of your content now.
    Blogs are an important part of sites now, especially when you’re looking at the “unique, up to date and engaging content” rule, but we’ve learnt over the years not to sell the idea of having a blog or news section unless the client is willing to keep it up to date, or willing to pay someone else to keep it up to date. A website with a blog that has one post from 2012 that says “Welcome to our blog! We’re going to write loads of stuff here, so keep coming back to visit” is never going to impress a customer. If you don’t think you can keep it up to date, just leave it out. The same can be said for social media, but that’s a whole different topic!
    It’s not just the content itself, of course, it’s how the users find your content - having sensible navigation and a good site structure is important. We had a client come to us recently for a site rebuild and their Environmental Policy was the first link in their main navigation. Whilst this is obviously an important aspect of their business, it shouldn’t be prioritised over who your company are and what product or service you sell.
  2. Audience
    We try and build sites that have a good balance between what is right for the user and also what is right for Google, because at the end of the day an amazing site that no one can find is going to be a waste. Google has certain features that it likes to see in a site and obviously users have their preferences too. A single scrolling page website will be good for a user as everything is there in one place, but if you want that site to rank well on Google you’re going to struggle. Work out who your audience is and make sure you cater for them. If you’re rebuilding an existing site, you can interrogate the Google Analytics data to see how the existing site has been used and what users have been looking at the most.
  3. Responsive & Mobile Optimisation
    When looking at the Google Analytics stats of our customers it’s not unusual now to see 30-40% of users visiting sites on a mobile device (phones and tablets). We often find that as much as 80% of this traffic is just from iPads or iPhones so you really do have a specific audience requirement there that you can’t ignore. We explain to clients that new sites can come in two types: responsive and mobile friendly. Any good web designer who builds a site properly should at least ensure that their site is mobile friendly, meaning that a user can view your site on an iPad or iPhone and can see everything and navigate around properly. They might have to pinch and zoom to read text but essentially everything is there.
    Responsive design on the other hand is where the structure and layout of your site changes to suit your device and its screen size. Everyone in the web industry is now familiar with this and it has become one of the most important developments in web design over recent years. Responsive design is different to a site that has been built as a mobile friendly version; the same content is downloaded to every device, it just displays slightly differently - it responds. It might cost more money to get a good responsive site built, but if you don’t act soon then your mobile audience is only going to increase and ignoring this audience will be detrimental to the growth of your website. Over half the websites we build nowadays are responsive and I think that number will continue to increase for us.

As well as web design, you offer other services too. Can you tell us a little about these?

Alex - As well as site builds we also offer a number of other services mainly related to SEO and Web Marketing. Our own site says “A website without SEO is like a having a party without cake” and we always encourage clients to think about ongoing support and promotion for their sites if they can afford it. Some people might argue you don’t need SEO if your site has been built properly, but SEO is as much about monitoring your site usage and responding with changes and amendments as it is about writing unique titles and descriptions for pages.

We offer all inclusive packages that cover SEO, marketing, site updates, hosting, off-site backups, malware protection, Adwords management and social media. Some clients will just pick a few bits from that list, others will engage us to do everything. We do work with some customers who deal with their own SEO company or who pay separately for Adwords, but a lot of people like to work with the same supplier for everything.

We work with sole trader companies right through to global multinationals and we’ve worked on SEO projects for lawyers and recruitment agencies through to osteopaths and dog trainers. It’s never a dull day in Zonkey Towers.

Categories: Web Design, Meet Our Clients

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