I’m not just an SEO, I’m also a Business Experience Designer

I’ve gone by a lot of different names and titles over the years due to my interests and career choices. In some cases, they haven’t completely matched what I was actually doing. But that’s the nature of the work that I do and the diversity of the online space. It also reflects the big changes in how we work.

When I started off working at Diggy in 2007, I joined the company at an interesting stage of its growth and had to start from the ground up. Diggy was a web design agency that also offered hosting, domain and SEO services. Diggy opened its doors in 1997 and was famous for its logo and a huge electronic billboard up on Petrie Terrace in Brisbane. I applied to be a web designer at the Springwood office and was offered the job with great promise of one day managing that office. I accepted the job and was more focused on being a web designer for Diggy’s impressive portfolio of clients than a manager of the office. This was my first real gig designing websites at a commercial level.

As it turned out, I didn’t actually get to start off in web design – I had to first learn and understand  how their company operated. I had to work in sales which was an experience that filled me with every emotion you can think of. The sales process involved calling business owners to update their listings in Diggy’s business directory and then talk to them about getting a new website or updating their existing one. I had mixed results (I talk too fast + people hate telesales!) but it taught me plenty. I learned how to pitch these services to businesses in a way that made sense to them – not because they needed to be cornered with clever sales spiel but because not every business owner knew enough about the internet as a tool to help their business – and this was in 2007! Some people simply said they’d get a younger member of their family to design their website but then I countered with ‘would you let them also perform your brain surgery?’. That often went down like a lead balloon but the point stuck. You need to trust the professionals who can not just design a website and give you an online presence, but also provide you with a website that is geared towards sales, bookings and inbound queries. But for many business owners, they felt they simply needed to have a basic presence and that a website was one of those things that you ‘set and forget’.

After about 2 months of a life changing experience in telesales, I moved up the ladder and into the manager’s seat. Talk about a baptism under fire! I inherited a centre (as we called them) which was poorly managed for too long due to a lack of continuity. Cleaning up the client list wasn’t easy, especially when trying to upgrade and upsell clients still on grandfathered hosting plans. Some clients were actively receiving services but hadn’t been invoiced for it for a long time (even more money being lost). But the cherry on top were the clients who weren’t receiving what they were paying for and had failed to notice for a long time. – this was just one big problem waiting to happen! Those calls were not fun because it was very hard to explain ourselves. A lot of people simply opted to never deal with us again. I blame this on not having enough to bargain with but also because I didn’t have the smarts to overcome any objections back then.

Back in 2007, telemarketing was still highly active and business owners were being relentlessly bombarded by local and international calls offering website design and SEO services so this didn’t make my job any easier. And boy did I cop it! I persevered because I knew there was light at the end of the tunnel and by facing the challenge head on, I would come out a better person and my professional life would be all the better for it.

During my time there, I received a mix of death threats, a varied range of verbal abuse and even had one irate gentleman turn up to the office in a fit of rage, ready to strangle me. It wasn’t a pretty time but the experience was worthwhile because I surprised myself the most – I was able to take a huge level of responsibility (the highest in my professional life at the time) and come up with the goods. I spent time meticulously going through every single client’s records and working out next steps and a plan for the future. I felt a phone call to each client was the best way forward and started with that. Admittedly, the hardest ones to deal with were cases where they were receiving services but were not being invoiced for it – in some cases, for at least 6-8 months!

When I wasn’t cleaning up the client list and getting our finances in order, I sought out new business and chased leads from whatever inbound emails came my way. I particularly enjoyed coming up with new web design proposals for clients because I was given freedom to design as I pleased. We weren’t doing things like flat or responsive design and Pinterest style websites weren’t a thing so you can imagine the styles we were going for at the time.

For most clients, the proprietary Diggy CMS sufficed but we had a developer on hand for more technical requirements. I churned out websites on a fairly regular basis and found time to work on side projects and for community groups I was part of. It’s fair to say my design skills improved exponentially.

It’s been many years since I worked at Diggy and many of the websites I had designed during that time have naturally been re-designed to better suit the needs of the business and to match current trends. I did have a “bad” habit of designing websites with a “blue” theme where I had complete control of the design of the website – in fact, the team once tried to ban me from blue altogether!

I really love the online space so my passion was felt through my work and through explaining the web design process to my clients every step of the way. Each project involved requirements gathering at a basic level which then turned into mockups and wireframes using good ol’ pen and paper. Some projects allowed me to come up with digital mockups but as most clients were small businesses who weren’t too fussed, we opted to go with simple wireframes. There were no iPads back then and smartphones were slowly coming to the fore, so the experience was still not entirely focused on being device agnostic.

A key difference in my work was my attention to how a business operated and crafting the right online experience to complement that. I’ve never been one to simply put up a website and think it’s good enough. I always designed with a practical mindset. Would a tyre disposal service really need a ‘monthly specials’ page? No, but they would need to have an easy to use enquiry system and to have their contact details made prominent. I factored this into meta data and in the site design. Some companies don’t need to have their phone number plastered everywhere but given my client was always on the road and rarely had access to email during work hours, ensuring his phone number was prominent was a clear priority.

And this is why I like to think of myself as a business experience designer. It covers everything I learnt from my time in telesales to designing an online presence which contains content that is highly optimised for discovery and ultimately conversions. But I go one step further: I analyse the data. Seeing how visitors interact with the website. How many conversions are we missing out on? What could we test on the site to improve time on site or conversions? I never stop asking questions and I remain curious with an insatiable desire to achieve the best. Because I leave nothing to chance or simply saying ‘who knows?’. That online presence has been a labour of love and it needs to be looked after forever and ever. And if you don’t bother maintaining it and optimising, you’re doing yourself and your business a great injustice.

For me, it goes even further than this. Because a business experience designer is immersed completely in how a business runs, my recommendations cover everything from the sales funnel, to how everything gets done internally to handle deliverables for clients to the warm fuzzies after the job is done. It varies with each business but a lot of the issues everyone faces are exactly the same. Classic issues are with websites where they blame the designer for poor execution, the marketer for poor strategic vision and the IT guy for poor handling of the server. But really, you just didn’t put things in place to better monitor how everything works and your expectations were perhaps unrealistic and unbalanced. Emphasis was placed incorrectly and it just leads to poor judgement and ultimately poor reactions to the problem.

Sometimes it’s a simple fix but other times it requires a huge overhaul – but whatever it is, it’s something you need to approach with an open mind and with the belief that this is best for your business.

I may not have been given this title in an official capacity but when I look back at my decade long foray into the field, I can’t help but think: here I am. My name is Jaaved Khatree. And I’m a Business Experience Designer.