The internet has made so many things simpler. For example, we can check the news or find sports scores instantly, quickly find videos on how to fix a refrigerator and easily buy all sorts of stuff online. The irony is that the web itself can seem dauntingly complex. You might think, “How does it all work?” and “How do I get my company in on the action?”

One thing is for certain: In order to sell your tree services these days, you need a website. The only real question is whether you’re going to build it yourself or hire a contractor to do it for you.

Self help

There are plenty of business websites online that are easy to spot as obvious do-it-yourself projects. For instance, there’s little content beyond a phone number and address, there may be spelling errors, just one blurry photo and the whole thing just looks generally unorganized. But there’s no reason that someone with even a little bit of familiarity with computers can’t create a basic, professional-looking website — if they take the time to do things the right way.

For those just getting started, WebsiteSetup.org offers a detailed, yet easy to understand (not too technical) guide to some of the key steps involved in creating your own website. Here are the highlights:

1. Select a website building platform (the most popular one at the moment is WordPress, which half of all sites online use — and it’s free).

2. Choose your website address (try to incorporate your company name and, to play it safe, go with a .com, .net or .org extension) and find a host (GoDaddy.com, for example, charges about $10 per month for a business site).

3. Set up and customize your website (most platforms, like WordPress, offer themes and templates to help get you started — others can be found through third-party providers like ThemeForest.net).

Glenn Butler followed a similar approach in building a website for his company, Streamline Tree Care in Portsmouth, Virginia.

Butler says that back when the internet was just beginning, he had hired a company to build him a website, but found the experience frustrating and limiting. For starters, he didn’t feel like he was in control of the site.

“I couldn’t go in and make changes, and it felt like pulling teeth to get them to make any change for me,” he recalls.

So this time around he decided to take charge of the project himself.

“I put the website up about three years ago, and I used WordPress to do it,” Butler explains. In order to learn how to use WordPress, Butler took an online course through Virtual Training Co. “I learned quite a bit through that, and then I just started in and figured it out,” he says. He’s an International Society of Arboriculture board-certified master arborist and has a degree in engineering, but this was his first foray into web design.

“Obviously, it wasn’t an easy process because this isn’t something I had ever done,” says Butler, “but I felt comfortable in trying it.”

Butler started by paying about $100 for a theme that gives his site a professional look. Although, he’s now considering the possibility of switching to a new theme that will work even better on mobile phones. “Since I built the site three years ago, the number of people accessing the web on a phone compared to a desktop computer has been huge,” he explains.

Next, Butler spent a lot of time studying other tree care company websites — those of national companies as well as his local competitors and others — to see what types of things they were doing. He says he was dismayed by the number of companies that would just copy and paste text from some of the large national companies onto their own websites.

“They were just stealing that material,” says Butler. “They just lifted text and photos. That was frustrating to see, especially since I’m sure people have now done that to my site.”

While it took some time to get comfortable with the technical side of actually building the site, Butler says he has found it much easier to create the articles that appear on his site.

“That just comes from my experience in tree care,” he says. And his experience has been that it’s the content of a website that is most important. Butler says the best way he’s found to share that content is to send links to prospective customers with whom he has already made contact.

“I send all of my proposals by email, so in sending that email I can usually pull up a few articles that I’ve written that I can send the links to,” he explains.

“That does a lot to help establish my credibility, where they think, ‘This guy may cost a little more, but he actually knows what he’s doing.'”

There are some downsides to taking on the job of designing and maintaining your own website, Butler acknowledges. For starters, it’s time-consuming. He tries to do what he can during the winter and rainy days, because it doesn’t make sense for him to take time off to work on the site.

“It costs me a lot of money if I’m not out in the field,” he says.

Then there’s the expertise that’s difficult to gain in making sure the site is being ranked highly by search engines.

“I do try to optimize the site for search engines, though I know there are some of my competitors who are beating me on some things because they’ve hired experts to do that,” says Butler.

“But I’m happy with my website — I’m happy with what it does for me.”

Bringing in the pros

Not every tree care pro also wants to be a website pro. Fortunately there are many companies that provide website design and maintenance services, with prices starting at several hundred to several thousand dollars and going up from there. You can find these companies in your local area, as well as online. One such website service provider is ContractorWeb.net, which specializes in building sites that can generate sales leads for contractors, including tree care pros.

John Rzeszutek, who operates ContractorWeb.net, says the process begins by filling out a simple, 10-minute questionnaire to collect basic company information. This includes company name, phone, address and so on. While this might sound straight- forward, Rzeszutek says, it’s absolutely essential to get this sort of information 100 percent correct, and to be consistent with it online, because it’s what search engines will use to help customers find you.

“For example, you don’t want to abbreviate words within the company name,” says Rzeszutek.

If you abbreviate the name on one page and not another, or use one phone number on one page versus another, the search engines might consider it a duplicate listing, which will have a negative effect on the ranking of that site.

The initial questionnaire also asks how long the company has been in business, what types of specific services are offered, and more.

“We then also ask if they have a company logo or any type of brochure or marketing material that we can get ideas from,” says Rzeszutek. “Then, we ask who some of their top competitors are [the rankings and links on those company’s sites are analyzed], what geographic area they serve and if they have project photos. From all of this information, we can build them a comprehensive website.”

Really working the web

Companies will have different objectives for their websites. Some see it as a fairly passive way to help customers find them. Others use the web to actively drive sales. One company that falls squarely in the latter category is Senske Services, which offers tree care, as well as lawn and landscape and pest control services at locations in Washington, Idaho, Utah and Nevada.

Senske set up its website a couple of years ago, working with provider Smart Solutions, which handles design, maintenance and search engine optimization (SEO). Making sure the site is picked up in Google searches is really what drove the design and content, explains Becca Presley, Senske’s director of marketing and communications. “People don’t necessarily search for ‘Senske;’ they search for ‘lawn care’ or ‘tree trimming.’ We want to pop up when that’s what they’re looking for.”

For example, the site includes pages for each of the company’s locations, and each page explains the specific services unique to that area. “It might seem a little repetitive, but the pages are just different enough that it doesn’t give us a low score,” she says, noting that it’s not enough to just cut and paste the content and change the location of, say, Seattle to Salt Lake City; to get better search rankings, you mix up the content a little bit.

Presley says that one key reason Senske has chosen to work with a professional website firm is that Google’s search algorithms are constantly changing and it takes real expertise to keep up with them: “It really is Google that rules our world.”

Presley is able to use WordPress to make regular updates and add content to the site without having to work through the website contractor. She does try to avoid making major changes, though, that might impact the way the specialists have set up the search engine optimization of the site.

The design of the Senske site is very active, with videos, limited-time discounts and prominent links to social media, as well as the basic information about the company’s services.

Presley says there’s always a need to balance the “digital brochure” aspect of a website (who we are, what we do, etc.) with the more active marketing communications aspect that tries to get people to take action.

One example of the latter: “On every page, we have a ‘request an estimate’ button. We’re always trying to get people to take the next step and convert them into a lead,” she explains. “We don’t want them to drill down on a specific page and then wonder, ‘OK, now what?'”

The company’s phone number is also large and prominent on all pages, and it’s a special tracking phone number that allows Senske to know if a particular call is coming in due to its website.

While the Senske website has proved to be a successful high-tech sales tool, Presley emphasizes that it is still old-fashioned customer service that leads to sales. For example, if someone clicks on a “request an estimate” button, that request is routed directly to the sales team so that a salesperson can call them quickly.

“We like get back to a customer within five minutes,” says Presley, “because if they’re online and requesting information, it’s on the top of their mind. If you don’t get back to them right away, they’re on to somebody else.”