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Building Accessible Websites for Nonprofits: SEO, Automation, and the Human Touch

In Conversation with Kevin Watkins

For this episode of E-Coffee with Experts, Ranmay Rath interviewed Kevin Watkins, Creative Director & Owner of Farewell Media, an Advertising Service Agency located in Bend, Oregon. Dive into the world of cutting-edge web design with this insightful conversation featuring Kevin. The discussion unfolds as the host explores the expert’s journey, unveiling pivotal moments, and delving into the passion that fuels the creation of accessible and SEO-friendly websites.

Watch the episode now for more insights!

AI and automation are tools that can be used to bridge the digital gap for organizations, providing them with more efficient solutions.

Kevin Watkins
Creative Director & Owner of Farewell Media

Hey, hi everyone. Welcome to your show, E-Coffee with Experts. This is Ranmay here, your host for today’s episode. Today we have Kevin Watkins, who is the Creative Director and Owner of Fairwell Creative Agency based out of Oregon. Hey, Kevin, how are you?

I’m doing well. How are you?

All good, Kevin. Thank you for taking your time and doing this with us. We finally meet.

Yes. Yeah, thanks for reaching out. There was a bit of back and forth to get here, but glad we could finally connect.

Absolutely. Kevin, I just wanted to understand more about your journey before we dive deep. What was that pivotal moment of a cause or an encounter that ignited your passion for building accessible SEO-friendly websites to empower community-based, community-focused organizations? And share the story with us. How did it all start? Where are you right now and where do you intend to move forward?

Yeah, definitely been a to get to where we are. I just started. I was at a video production company for six years before I started Farewell. Just doing it nights and weekends for a few years and eventually built up enough monthly clients to make the lead to full-time in 2020. Definitely, at the start, we were working with a lot of service-based businesses. Where we are in Oregon, it’s much of a resort town. Got a mountain there. It’s very popular for skiing. So There are a lot of people with money moving there that are upgrading their homes quite a bit. It started doing a lot of plumbing sites, painters, and construction. But as we grew, just figured out my passion wasn’t with me, and moved more towards nonprofits and community-focused organizations. So, yeah, different organizations that are just giving back to the community in one way or another. And, yeah, as we grew, we started offering different services and accessibility and creating ADA-compliant websites. It’s a big part of that because we do believe that the internet and websites should be accessible to all types of people, no matter their abilities. So that’s been a big push. And, yeah, it’s We’re great.

It’s great for SEO and also a good thing to do just in general. So we’re happy to be on the cutting edge of accessibility with our websites.

Brilliant. Kevin, doing SEO or working for nonprofit organizations has its challenges, right? When you approach a new nonprofit website project, what goes beyond those technical considerations? And then how do you tap into the essence of the organization, the soul, the very crux of it, and translate all of that into a digital experience?

We do a pretty thorough kickoff questionnaire and they’re going to figure out who their target audience is, what their mission is, and who they’re trying to help. We’re just trying to bridge the digital gap between what they know and what they don’t know, they might not know. So a lot of them have been… There’s a lot of hesitation with web designers. Sometimes there’s been a lot of people burned by them before when they start a website and then the developer disappears. Yeah, it seems so many clients just come to us and just have no idea where their developer went. It must be the number one missing person category out there. Because people just disappear. We’re trying to give a good name to designers and developers. With those nonprofits, some of the questions we ask are what they’re using for donations, and what they’re using for the management of their donors. A lot of them are paying quite a bit more than they need to handle donations and donor management. There are a lot of new tools out there. Honestly, it was a donation platform we use that’s completely free and is, yeah, light-years better than a lot of the traditional donation platforms.

We aim to just figure out what their website can do. Yeah, It can be a place to grab information, it can be a landing page, but if done right, it can save them a lot of time, and also be their donation management platform. It can do a lot more than just be a landing page.

How do you handle such a situation where the previous developer or the agency or whosoever they hired, disappeared and some budgeting would have gone into it as well? How do you handle such a situation?

It definitely is, When somebody’s invested money into a website and they didn’t get the return they expected, that’s a hard pill to swallow. But being able to really walk them through the sales process and show them the ROI they’re going to get, show them all the tools that they’re currently spending money on and all the labor they’re spending money on to keep their website up and running, and then showing them that they need all that moving forward, and likely within a year, they can recoup that. On top of it, they’re mostly outdated sites as well. They also get a fresh look. We can come up with an SEO strategy for them, improve their copywriting, and make it accessible because a lot of sites that were built two, or even three years ago even, weren’t using ADA-compliant strategies to build them. A lot of contrast issues. People who have trouble seeing can’t navigate it. They need to have websites that are accessible to all, especially nonprofits. They tend to care more about that than maybe a plumber or painter. But I don’t believe everybody should care about making their website accessible. Nonprofits are a bit of an easier pitch.

They tend to buy into that.

Absolutely. Nicely explained, Kevin. What does Webflow’s unique platform afford you that conventional CMS systems might lack? What is that USP? How do you find them? Most more useful or more user-friendly versus a conventional CMS system.

Yeah, we built in WordPress for a long time.

we all did.

Initially, yeah. But yeah, I was always looking for something better. Yeah, It’s Webflow, or I guess the pain points that I was addressing by switching were the plugin and theme updates. If you update a plugin, it could just shut down an entire site. A lot of our clients had difficulty navigating the dashboard While it might have been easy for me and you to figure out the WordPress dashboard, it was quite complicated just to get what you need. You need a page builder and then meet plugins, and then you have to update the themes. It’s just for somebody who’s not technically savvy, it can be a real challenge. Webflow has a back-end designer, which allows us to create anything we can design. If we can do something in Figma, we can do it in Webflow. WordPress is like that as well, but it takes a bit more. We just have found Webflow easier to build and design, and it’s faster. Instead of PHP, which could be a bit bloated, the output is JavaScript, HTML, and CSS, so it tends to run a bit smoother. And then the best part is the front-end editor. They’ve separated the designer for developers from the client-facing part of it.

So the editor and workflow are really easy for our clients to use. So it’s as easy as filling out a form. Very simple point and click. So it’s got the ease of a Squarespace editor or Wix editor, but also the power and no limitations that you get in Webflow and also WordPress, but just that combination of ease of use for our clients and then being able to create whatever we want.

Kevin, while visual appeal is important, how do you ensure that Webflow websites don’t fall into the trap of templated uniformity? Because every brand has its message, has its own digital identity. So extend your approach to creating unique digital identities that reflect each organization’s spirit, message, or brand image.

Yeah. So Webflow does have a very robust template library. A lot of them look really good, just like WordPress and Squarespace. And you can tell when somebody’s using a template. I can spot a DB menu from a mile away in WordPress. But yeah, we do fully custom. We start with the kickoff questionnaire. We don’t use templates. We build out the color palette, and fonts, based on different feelings and the different identities that we want to portray. A lot of work goes into choosing fonts, colors, styles, and hero layouts. We do that all from scratch. We start in Figma, and then Webflow allows us to move over to development faster. We tend to… Something we’ve moved towards is we present the homepage design in Webflow directly. We stopped showing any mockups in Figma because there’s so much movement and feeling and different things that you can do online that are harder to convey on the static file. I know we could have animations and interactions and things like that. But the time we spend creating Figma animations, we could just be building the site and Webflow at that point. To me, all of our websites are completely custom.

I think there’s a place for templates, especially for somebody who’s trying to get a website that’s published on the budget. But when you’re going for that more professional look that conveys your brand, then that’s when you probably want to start talking to a company like ours that can make it unique and stand out in the sea of templates out there.

That is a good pitch, I must say.

Yeah. I’ll refer people to Squarespace or Wix or templates all the time. If I feel like it’s not in their budget or maybe they’re just starting and they just need something up to get going, then I think, yeah, those template sites or Squarespace sites, that’s great. It’s a good starting point. But when you are ready to take that next level as an organization, that’s when more custom design and development can come into play. It allows us to do more back-end third-party integrations as well. You’re not just getting a landing page, but you’re getting an asset. One of the taglines on our website right now is to make your website an asset, not an expense. We find different ways to utilize a website that people might not think about.

Then you talk to Kevin about all of this, right?

Yeah, exactly.

Great. Kevin, the last one, I cannot let you without asking this one because it’s at the forefront of everything that you guys are doing, not only in the digital industry but overall in our lives. Talk to us about automation. Automation is powerful, but at the same time, we all talk about that human touch, which is very crucial. How do you strike a balance between automated processes and personalized human-centric elements in your website design?

Yeah, AI and automation are here, and they can speed up the workflow. What we’re trying to do is, again, bridge that digital gap for these companies. They know AI and automation exist, but they don’t know how to best utilize them. The more we can utilize it as a company, the more we can do for the same amount of money. What used to cost somebody may be quite a bit more, if we lean into AI and automation, we can pass that time savings and money savings onto the clients. We’re leaning into it, and we’re not afraid to talk about it. Our clients are quite tickled when we show them some of the crazy things we can do with image generation and automation. But really, we’re passing the benefits of that technology onto our clients. We’re that middleman for them when they might not have the time or knowledge to research AI tools. As far as AI and design, quite honestly, it sucks still. It’s not quite there. That human touch is important. Otherwise, you’re going to get a real cookie-cutter website, which, as I said, it’s fine when you’re starting or you just need something up.

But yeah, it takes a lot of prompting. It’s a skill set. Especially nonprofits, they’re busy out helping their community. They don’t have time to play around with AI and automation all the time.

That’s why we are here. So they don’t need to be doing that.

I see it as just the latest tool, right? We didn’t have the Internet or Google or all these other things before. But you adapt and take advantage of the technology. And we can use that technology to help these organizations, help others, and even better.

Lovely. Kevin, thank you for the insights. But before I let you go, I’d like to play a quick rapid-fire with you. I hope you’re game for it.

Yeah, let’s do it.

All right. What was the last Google search, Kevin?

Oh, jeez. Probably the companies you were telling me about before. Yeah, I think I’m googling you, to be honest.

Yeah, that is a good one. A couple of guests have already mentioned this. All right, that’s quite honest. Love it. Moving on, what did you do with your first paycheck, the first paycheck of your life?

When you started working back in high school. I probably bought a video game. I was really into, I guess, PlayStation 2, maybe at the time. It was probably a Final Fantasy game or an RPG. I played a lot of those. Candy Magic.Yep. Some nerdy, I’m sure. Maybe some Pokémon cards. Those were hot.

All right. Your celebrity crush?

Probably has to be Scarlett Johansson.

Okay. Where do we find you on Friday evening, Kevin, after office?

At home with my two small kids and wife. But after they go to bed, I’m probably playing around with the latest AI tool trying to learn JavaScript, or playing with something. Then, yeah, as a parent of two young kids, you won’t find me out on Friday nights with Terry Austin, usually at home resting.

All right. No further, Kevin. Thank you so much for taking your time. I’m sure the audiences listening to us would have benefited a lot from the insights that you shared. But I appreciate it, man. Thank you.

Great. Thanks for having me. Appreciate it. Glad we could finally connect.

Great. Lovely.

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