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Ramp up Your Redesign Make your website's overhaul an event that attracts traffic--and customers.

By David Port

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Confronted with a dumbfounding 90 percent drop-off in revenue at his high-end, custom bicycle business in San Antonio, Texas, Kevin Saunders could easily have closed his shop and resumed a career in finance or aircraft component design. Or he could have put KGS Bikes into retrenchment mode, suspending its marketing and promotional activities until the economy rebounded, and with it, the market for bikes priced more like cars--in the $10,000 to $30,000 range.

Instead, Saunders did just the opposite--he came out swinging.

"I could have taken a breather," he says. "But instead I saw this as an opportunity to jump ahead of competitors who are crying in their beer. I decided to turn the website into a world-class site, to make the internet the center of the business and to really focus on social networking to attract people from around the world to the site. That, I believe, is what is going to put me ahead of the competition when things do turn around. Plus, I'll have a really strong social network and a world-class web site."

Saunders knew he needed to spend money to revamp the KGS Bikes site. But unlike many small to mid-size businesses, which overhaul their sites under the cover of darkness, with little to no fanfare, he recognized an opportunity to turn the relaunch of his site into a "happening." By making it an event, he could leverage the dollars spent updating the site to attract additional attention, traffic and ultimately, paying customers.

Using traditional and non-traditional public relations and marketing channels, he created a buzz around the site's June relaunch. What's more, he did it with no additional cash outlay beyond the $15,000 he spent to improve the site.

Turning the relaunch of a web site into a public happening--by making a dedicated public relations and marketing push to tout new site features, or by packaging the relaunch with a special promotion or the roll-out of a new product or service--is an often-overlooked but potentially rewarding undertaking for small businesses seeking new ways to get noticed.

"It's a positive opportunity to engage your partners and the public," says Rob Davis, vice president of business development at Akavit, an interactive marketing firm in Denver. "In most cases, though, it's a nonevent, because the average entrepreneur is so focused on everything else happening in their business, it's one of the last things that gets attention."

For Saunders, the relaunch, plus all the time he invested in the preceding months to build a presence and a following via his blog, an e-zine and social media vehicles such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, are paying major dividends. "Last year, I had this massive website that nobody saw and I was somebody nobody had heard of. Now, people who follow cycling think I'm some sort of rock star."

Saunders says his goal is to convert that newfound name recognition into a three-fold increase in site traffic within a year of site relaunch.

"As a business owner, you want to always be doing what you can to get people to your web site," explains Jay Bower, president of the Crossbow Group, a marketing and communications agency in Westport, Conn. Trumpeting the relaunch of a web site "is a good context in which to do that. You can do it with very simple tweaks to a site. Usually there's no need to fully reinvent your site or its navigation system, for example. So a relaunch can have a huge impact at a very low cost."

Ajay Goel figures the superficial site redesign his e-mail marketing software company, Chicago-based JangoMail, unveiled in June has already paid for itself with the additional leads it has generated. Simply incorporating a "free trial" button on each of the site's pages has helped yield a 30 percent increase in leads during the first month following relaunch. Bundling the relaunch with the unveiling of a new feature on the company's e-mail marketing platform also has helped the cause, he says.

Packaging a site relaunch with a product launch or a promotion can effectively enhance the impact of the relaunch "event," asserts Bower. "If you're a retailer, offering discounts on whatever you sell, or doing something like a one-week sale [timed with the relaunch] can draw people to the site. Really, whatever your business is, some kind of promotion makes sense."

There's no shortage of channels through which to create a buzz around a relaunch. For consumer brands in particular, says Bower, "you probably want to lean more on new Web 3.0 social media tools," such as by setting up a Facebook storefront or page dedicated to the site relaunch. Tirelessly working social media channels proved fruitful for KGS Bikes. First Saunders focused on creating a following on networks such as Facebook and Twitter. Then, having succeeded in building a solid following on each, he announced the site relaunch to his followers. "I think the social networking can be the difference between wasting your money and time and being successful [with a site relaunch]. The Internet is the great equalizer," Saunders says.

In a similar social vein, entrepreneurs looking to maximize the impact of a web site relaunch should consider using a communal approach to revamping the site, says Mike Michalowicz, author of The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur.

"Most launches go about it in the wrong way, where they try to emulate the opening of a restaurant," he says. "That might create curiosity, but it doesn't build community. A really powerful way to build community, and the customer loyalty that comes with it, is to involve existing customers in the process. Make it a communal design of the site, where you ask them a few questions about how to improve your site, so they feel like they have a stake in the outcome. It not only gives you a chance to communicate with people, it establishes instant loyalty if their suggestions are implemented."

Further, Michalowicz says, don't be shy about leveraging that community good will by asking Twitter followers, Facebook friends or allied bloggers to help spread the word about a site relaunch.

Social media may be sexier, but don't overlook traditional PR, marketing and media tools--print advertising, search-engine-optimized press releases issued on the Web and sent to media outlets via e-mail, etc.--in efforts to create buzz for a site relaunch. "There are plenty of sites you can use to send out a press release at little or no cost," Bower says, "and local newspapers are dying for content right now."

Search engine optimization is vital not only to drawing attention to a press release announcing a site relaunch, but to attracting traffic to the site itself once it's relaunched, says Davis. That puts a premium on consistently updated site content and key words. Goel says that one of the goals in redesigning the JangoMail site was to "show the search engines we have dynamic content."

Will it be worth your while as a business owner to take the extra steps to transform a humdrum web site relaunch into a "happening?" The determining factor in that decision usually is not money but time, Michalowicz says. "You don't have to break the bank, but you definitely need to break a sweat."

David Port

Entrepreneur Contributor

David Port is a freelancer based in Denver who writes on small business, and financial and energy issues.

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