Southgate Coins, a leader in the sales of Carson City coins, started getting serious about establishing an Internet presence ten years ago (2001). Its owners, Rusty and Marie Goe, proved, over a two-decade period, they knew how to run a successful brick-and-mortar and mail-order business. They soon realized the World Wide Web presented a new set of challenges, some of them intimidating. Still they persevered.
“It wasn’t until the five-year mark that we considered giving up,” says Rusty Goe. “We went through three or four so-called Web designers or developers or whatever else you want to call them,” said Goe, “and all we had was a crude Web site that today would probably earn a high school student a C-minus in her Web design class.” To make matters worse, these so-called Web developers kept raising their service fees to where the Goes saw nothing but diminishing returns. “We asked ourselves why we should put out all this money for shoddy work,” remembered Rusty Goe.
At that time, around 2005, the Goes had invested a lot of money and many hours of their own time in their Web site project. Two big hurdles to overcome were the need to place images of coins offered for sale on the Web site, and the need to write interesting content for visitors to read. “I bought three different digital cameras and much peripheral photography equipment,” says Goe, “and I took online courses to learn how to take pictures of coins.” To increase content on the site, the Goes enlisted the services of selected employees to write Southgate Snippets, short articles that described the culture at the company’s store. The photo editing and word processing consumed lots of time.
One of the most difficult facts the Goes faced was the minimal return on investment realized from the increasing amount of money and time they spent on their Web site. “We had a mediocre looking Web site with maybe 115 inventory items displayed that no one was buying because we had such limited traffic,” said Goe. And the bitter reality in Goe’s words “was we were spending almost as much time on developing our Web site as we were running our brick-and mortar store.”
In summer 2005, the Goes hired yet another incompetent Web designer, who someone else recommended to them. This new webmaster demanded a higher fee than did any of the previous ones with whom the Goes had contracted, but claimed his services would cost less because he used what he called “open source” applications and he worked faster.
The Goes had learned the hard way that finding a Web developer is a punishing process. “It’s not like looking for a tailor, a baker, a grocer, an upholsterer, or a photographer,” says Rusty Goe, “all of whom you can sample their goods or services beforehand.” It’s rare, in Goe’s experience, to find a Web developer who has designed a Web site that replicates the rare-coin-shop concept that he wishes to emulate on Southgate Coins’s Web site. Goe said it would simplify the process if a Web developer showed him a Web site that looked and functioned exactly like the one he wants. “I could just say ‘I’ll take one of those please,’” said Goe.
The advantage Rusty Goe had when he and Marie hired the new webmaster in 2005 was by then he knew enough about Web design so he could tell the webmaster what he wanted Southgate’s site to look like and what user interface he needed. Goe even knew how to create a storyboard to show the webmaster what the redesigned Web site should look like.
Nevertheless, the project trudged along, taking five months longer than expected. The webmaster, in fact, never really completed the project, even at the time the Goes fired him, almost five years after he started working on it.
Yet because Rusty Goe had sketched a storyboard (similar to architectural drawings), the redesigned Web site looked much better than any of Southgate’s previous versions. And thanks to the Content Management System (CMS) that came with the Open Source application, the Goes and their employees could post inventory and content more easily.
Despite all the flaws in the Web site’s infrastructure, visitor traffic amazingly increased, but still not to levels targeted by the Goes.
Between 2006 and 2009, Rusty Goe learned more about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and how it affected Web site traffic. Unfortunately, Southgate’s webmaster knew very little about SEO, although he claimed to be an authority on the subject and charged a fee commensurate with an authority’s skill set. This so-called authority didn’t even know how important it was to place a descriptive title in the metadata in the Head section of a Web site’s HTML code, in spite of Rusty Goe’s pleading otherwise. For the nearly five years this webmaster managed Southgate’s Web site, he only had the word “Home” as its title in the metadata. Rusty Goe, soon after he fired this webmaster, changed the metadata tile to Carson City Coins – Rare Coins – Morgan Silver Dollars – Liberty Seated Coins – Southgate Coins. The search engines found the site immediately and started ranking it higher in search results.
Rusty Goe introduced Maya Roberts to the intricacies of Web development in 2009. Together, Rusty and Maya have been on a quest to find solutions to Southgate’s Web site problems and to improve its performance. Through trial and error, they have gradually fixed many of the bugs on the Web site. Maya has reached the point where she can communicate with the technicians at Southgate’s host provider, Web developers, and SEO specialists. Rusty Goe gives her leads to follow and describes the scope of projects he wants done and Maya works diligently to complete the tasks. Occasionally, Rusty contracts with Web developers (all out of state) to tweak certain components of Southgate’s site that are out of his and Maya’s expertise, and Maya supervises their work.
Rusty Goe laments that not one of the dozens of Web developers and SEO specialists he has hired on a part-time basis or interviewed has proved to be worthy of full-time management of his company’s Web site. “There are thousands of Web developers and SEO experts out there,” says Goe, “but all the ones I’ve encountered don’t know what they claim to know or charge way too much money for the services they provide. It’s a shame because if all service industries were similar to Web development, it would be hard to get anything done, and especially done the right way.”
Through it all, Rusty and Marie Goe have kept to the task of sharing their little spot in cyberspace. Just recently (March 2011), the Goes were pleased to see proof of their tenacity paying off as they saw average daily visitor traffic on Southgate’s Web site more than double from the low point it sunk to in mid-2010 after a series of bungled work performed by pretenders posing as Web developers. And thanks to Maya’s careful following of instructions and her enlistment of other Southgate employees, most notably Nicole Hoff, the Web site’s search ranking for keywords has improved dramatically, and its speed performance according to speed specialist Zoompf (zoompf.com), is equal to social media megastar Facebook. In fact, Zoompf, in a recent video, used Southgate Coins as a test case to demonstrate how in-house hard work can raise a Web site’s speed optimization from dull to dynamic performance. (You can view the video below.)
Rusty Goe says all he’s ever wanted to do on his company’s Web site is transfer to it the great service, diverse inventory, and friendly culture people experience in Southgate’s brick-and-mortar store in Reno, NV. “Hoffman at Zoompf captured the spirit of our company’s mission perfectly when he said in his video that Southgate is a great little coin shop where the owners and employees have fun at work,” said Goe. “When a non-coin collector like Hoffman can sum up succinctly what we’re doing here, by simply browsing our Web site, I know we’ve finally left our imprint on the Internet.”