There comes a time when a business looks hard at its website and lets out a groan of dismay. Your website is out-dated, out-moded, and out-competed and it doesn’t take a genius to see. Your own customers may have been telling you to get it together and, whether you are listening or not, it doesn’t diminish the truth that something must be done.
Technologies change, businesses change, customer tastes change, and (maybe most important of all) the Google algorithm changes. The dynamic nature of the internet and the marketplace make for a hot stew of constant alteration and modification and you do not want to find your business left behind as the world charges forward. What served you well when you first built your website may actually be hindering your growth today and strong managers know that they need to constantly adapt as the winds blow.
Don’t expect that the process with be completed overnight. Redesigning a website is a complex process, even for the simpler sites and you should expect that your redesign could become a months-long process. It is also a resource-draining undertaking; small companies with limited capacity should proceed with caution, but should not be daunted by the investment of time and manpower that is needed. Just be smart about it, plan carefully and methodically, and follow these steps to wring the most productivity from the process.
1. Review your current site.
What do you like and what don’t you like? Start the process with a long, hard, critical look at your site – the layout, features, functionality, content, and visual elements. Do you like the interface on some pages but not others? Is the written content strong and appropriate? Do you have the features your users ask for? Are there others that are under-utilized that you can dump? These are the questions to ask as you preform your review, page-by-page-by-page.
The idea is that you should hang on tight to the parts you like and those that work well, and be ready to jettison those that don’t. By hanging onto the good bits, you allow yourself and your designers to focus on the parts that don’t make the cut.
2. Look hard at the competition.
First and foremost review your competition’s sites for design ad content; have they built attractive, functional sites? Is your experience with navigating or using their sites positive? Learn what you can through a detailed tour of your competitors, and consider how you can leverage those learnings.
But wait, there’s more: in addition to the dive you take into rival websites, have a look at some of the data underlying their business. Use Alexa to analyze their website ranking and traffic; use Topsy to better understand their social media presence and strategy; Quantcast can help with analysis of traffic and demographics; and Hubspot’s Marketing Grader can be used to analyze their marketing funnel.
3. Know your audience.
You think you know them pretty well, right? No you don’t. Take the time to define your audience and your users; stay completely focused on the fact that you are creating a new version of your site for them. If you’re not sure about what they are looking for from your site and what their pain points are, ask them. Create a simple survey using an online tool (we use SurveyMonkey – thanks Dave Goldberg) and use the learnings to help guide your process. I you can understand your users, you can create a new version of your site that will delight and benefit them on every visit.
4. New functionality? Hmmm.
Accessibility is the name of the game and your site can definitely improve from its current state. Ask yourself if your site well organized and are users able to find what they seek? Do the features you offer correspond to those your users are looking for? At this point in your planning, you should be thinking as hard about what to remove from the site as you are about what you can add. Keep in mind that one of your goals should be to make the site visually engaging, but (more importantly) easier to navigate, simpler to update, and capable of generating leads and conversions. Make it user-friendly and they will use it!
5. Go to the data.
Websites are a merry mix of features, visual design, massive amounts of code, and written content. And every website in existence has parts that work. And parts that don’t: from poorly written or outdated content, to glaringly bad usability, to UI bugs, to broken links. The good news is that there are wonderful (and free!) tools out there to help you assess the parts that are working and those that are failing. Google Analytics can give you page-by-page historical data on number of visits, bounce rates, length of page visits, page domain authority, etc. Google Webmaster Tools can be used to understand how your site is performing against competitor’s on key search terms and can also help you to find those code errors, broken links, bad headers and more. Review this data regularly and apply the learnings to your redesign planning.
6. Make a timeline.
Unless yours is a large company with tons and tons of resources you’ll have to allow time for the redesign process to play out. Like many smaller companies, your resources and capacity are of limited quantity and careful planning is mandatory to ensure a smooth and successful process. Make sure you have the right person in charge of managing the entire process (probably you, boss) and work with the team to align the project with the myriad other efforts you have underway, including day-to-day maintenance, customer service, marketing and, oh yeah, sales. The idea is to develop a timeline with specific goals and markers for each stage in the process as well as defining a tentative launch date.
Generally speaking, the planning period may take 1-2 months, the design phase another 2-3 months, and finally 2-3 months for building, coding, and user testing. This rough schedule will be completely dependent on the amount of capacity you have available to devote to the project as well as all of the imponderables, improbables, hiccups, bugs, and bumps (in other words, the inevitability that things will go wrong). Finally it is up to you to determine your own priorities in the muddled mix of speed, cost, and overall quality.
7. Think about the future.
Goals. I know, I know. I always talk about the importance of establishing specific goals when working with your team. In the case of a website redesign project, nothing can be more important – not just timeline and launch date, but other goals need to be defined, both qualitative and quantitative. For instance, what is your specific goal for improving traffic to the site? What about conversion metrics? These are quantitative results that can be easily and accurately measured. More qualitative ambitions can be defined around user experience, ease of navigation, and feature sets. By defining your goals from the beginning, you will give your team a destination and help them to draw the roadmap that will get them there.
8. Also, look at the near-term.
Finally, as you go through the process keep your eyes open for early opportunities and quick wins. For instance, you might identify a feature that your users love and might be able to do a quick update on that part of the site way before you are ready to launch the new site. Short-term fixes are the low hanging fruit that you should be prepared to grab as soon as you see it.
Photo, Wikipedia: Historic drafting board with double parallelogram.
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