Be honest with yourself… your website is old, unattractive, and needs a major face lift. If it wasn’t, you probably wouldn’t be reading this article about website redesign.
I’m sure it was stunning when it first launched. And you might have some sentimental attachment to it. Maybe it was the first website you launched after starting your business and you feel sad about the idea of getting rid of it.
I understand that, really… I do. For years I kept the old rotary dial telephone at the family cabin because it had been there since I was a kid and it seemed wrong to let it go. But try getting through customer service voice prompts JUST ONCE using a rotary dial telephone, and you realize that it’s time for a change.
Websites become outdated much faster these days, and – more like cell phones than good, old fashioned rotary dial phones – they need to be updated regularly and completely redesigned every few years.
Therefore, it’s probably time to tackle that much-needed job of a complete website redesign. But, if you’re going to do it, you might as well take the time to make sure you do it right. To that end, I’ve gathered together what I believe to be the 6 critical steps you need to take to make sure your website redesign project is successful.
Step 1 – Establish your website redesign goals & objectives
One of the key first steps for any website redesign project is to establish the overall goals and objectives. What is it your trying to achieve with the redesign?
It could be that you simply need to move away from outdated content or update the look and feel of the website to match more modern themes. It could be that your moving from one platform to another, and want to take advantage of that migration to give the site a new and fresh designs. It could be that you need a website the is better suited to being able to drive organic traffic, or be easier to read on mobile devices.
Whatever your reasons, it’s important to understand and state them at the outset so that the entire team can work toward achieving those goals. You wouldn’t want to recreate your entire web presence, and then realize – too late – that you had missed one of the critical goals that you had in your mind but never expressed.
And, of course, it’s important to understand what you want potential customers to do after visiting your website. Do you want them to:
- buy online?
- call you?
- visit your location?
- make an appointment or reservation?
- subscribe to your email newsletter?
- fill out a contact form?
It’s important to understand the desired consumer behavior at the first stage of any website redesign.
Step 2 – Analyze your current data
Spend some time analyzing your website analytics to understand the current audience and how they are consuming your content.
|If you don’t have website analytics installed on your current website STOP READING THIS ARTICLE IMMEDIATELY and install website analytics.
Come back in 30 days when you’ve gathered enough information to make some reasonable data-based decisions about what to keep and what to get rid of.
Take a look at key pages, including which ones visitors are using to enter your site as well as which pages they visit next. Be brutally honesty about what needs to stay and what needs to go, but make those decisions in context. For example, if one of your best or most important pages is getting almost no visitors, is it because the content is not as valuable as you once thought it was, or is it simply not designed into the website in a way that makes it easy to find?
If one of your key pages has a VERY high bounce rate (meaning they hit the page and then immediately leave), will the website redesign help keep people on your site longer, or do you need to rethink that page and that content entirely?
Look into what IS working on your site? Are there particular pieces of content that are driving the behavior that you want to encourage? If so, keep them.
Look at the audience data, including their location and – very importantly – the browsers they are using. This will help you understand who you are designing for.
A little bit of time analyzing available website data can save you a lot of time and trouble later, and keep you from having to fix something you unintentionally broke because you didn’t realize how important it was. It can also save you a lot of time and trouble migrating outdated content that is not driving any value for your business.
“Read the directions, even if you don’t follow them.”
~ Mary Schmich
Think of your website analytics as a set of directions. You may disagree with what they have to say, and you may have a very good reason for doing so. But it’s better to understand the data and make those conscious decisions than fly blindly into making changes that may do more harm than good.
Step 3 – Develop your website outline
The technical term within the web design world is “wireframes”, but you don’t need to be that technical for your plan. It can be a flow chart, a PowerPoint org-chart, or just a set of sketches on a piece (or pieces) of paper. The goal here is to understand the overall structure of the content you want or need on your new site.
Decide the key themes and messages. Determine what needs to be omnipresent on every page (for example your phone number and/or office location). What keywords do you want your site to rank for?
Once you’ve got the outline put together, review the pages and determine what core message you are trying to convey with each page. This will help you identify overlaps where you may be saying the same thing in too many different places. This also applies to SEO optimization, you don’t want 5 or 6 pages all targeting the same key phrase, as that will confuse customers and search engines alike
Recently, I worked on a project to update the design, content, and framework of the Deluxe.com/eChecks website. We wanted to layout the content to cover some key areas, including an overview of the product, how it worked, and the key features & benefits, but we also wanted to target the product’s speed, ease of use, and convenience as well as the cost savings compared to alternatives.
Those goals helped inform the overarching wireframe structure. Here’s a small snippet of that wireframe document. Obviously, there was more to this site than the three pages outlined below, but I can’t give away ALL of my secrets in one post. If you want to checkout the final product, visit Deluxe.com/eChecks.
You can think of this as creating your own set of directions based on what you know about your business, your current website, and your customers.
Step 4 – Pick your platform & BUILD
Even though you are going through all of this work now, it won’t (or shouldn’t) stop here. You need to go into this project with a clear understanding that your new website is going to need updates, design changes, and redesigns more frequently in the future than it did in the past. With that in mind, pick a platform that can easily handle significant changes easily.
Rather than hard-coding everything, I highly recommend a content management system. I’ve seen some really great, professional-looking sites built on WordPress, SquareSpace, and other popular platforms.
The nice thing about a content management platform is that you can update the theme of your site (the look and feel) fairly easily, and all of the content automatically transfers over to the new/fresh look.
Here are some of the best CMS platforms that I have worked with in the past:
But don’t take my word for it… do your own research and pick the one that works best for you!
Once you’ve picked your platform… Build… Build like the wind! Or, have someone else build it for you (probably better). Don’t be afraid to make minor tweaks along the way, things always look different live than they did on the planning sketch pad. As long as you follow the overarching strategy outlined in the earlier steps, these changes should be small and easy to execute.
Step 5 – Complete an exceptionally thorough QA of the site
Set up several touchpoints through the process where you can do a thorough Quality Assurance review of the site. Check to make sure you have the key elements reviewed and corrected:
- Proof read all text
- Make sure all links work. On a smaller site, you can do this yourself by simply clicking on every link. If you have a large, complex site you can use a tool such as Xenu to do a crawl of your site and identify any broken links
- Confirm that all images are loading properly
- Review SEO tagging (index tags, follow tags, title, description, etc.)
- Use different browsers & devices to make sure it displays correct across them all. Tools such as BrowserStack (https://www.browserstack.com/) can help with this.
- Force a URL error (e.g. yourdomain.com/testing404page should create a 404 on your site) and check the 404 page to make sure it matches the new design
Pro Tip: The answer “But it works in Chrome” is NOT an acceptable response to a bug reported in one of the other browsers.
As part of the QA process, you’ll want to create a complete redirect file that maps any old, outdated URL to the new URL. For many of the pages, this will be a one-to-one match up of old content to new content, but any pages that are being permanently retired should still be redirected to the most appropriate page on your new site to avoid having people hit a 404 page.
A quick review of inbound links through Google Webmaster Tools will also let you know of any pages that have external links pointing to them, these are particularly important to 301 redirect to their new home to pass as much of that link equity as possible.
Step 6 – Plan for the next iteration(s)
Before you launch your new website, it’s important to have at least a rough idea of what you want to do next.
After you’ve gone through all of this work, you don’t want to let your new website become stale or you’ll end up having to tackle the entire project again sooner rather than later. By establishing a set plan of new pages, tests, image updates, seasonal changes, etc.; you can make small, iterative changes over time and keep your site fresh for years to come.
If all of this seems overwhelming, don’t worry… take a breath… you can do it!
You may need to get help, but with the right team, you can execute on all of the above and come out the other end with a website that will really reflect your company goals and resonate with your current and potential customers.