There are many good reasons to redesign your website. Here are a few:
- Your site design is outdated.
- Your site content doesn’t reflect your current business.
- Your competitors have newer sites that have given or may give them a competitive advantage.
- Your site is based on outdated technology, hampering its performance and compromising its appearance in modern browsers and across multiple devices.
- Your site is difficult to integrate with social media sites.
- Your site is difficult to update and edit, because it employs an obsolete or proprietary Content Management System.
- Your site is a difficult to update, because it’s coded with static HTML.
- Your site’s marketing performance is disappointing in terms of lead generation and ROI.
- You have no way to measure and evaluate your site’s performance.
Whatever your reasons for wanting a new website, the goal is a more attractive, flexible, manageable, and productive website.
Based on our years of collective experience helping hundreds of companies redesign their websites — and seeing some projects go very well, and others not so well — we’ve put together this list of ten key steps for a successful website redesign.
1. Clear Objectives
Think carefully about your goals, write them down, and prioritize them. Any project will go more smoothly if it’s grounded in clearly documented goals that serve as touchstones as the process unfolds. Everyone on the team — internal and external — must know exactly what the goals are, which are most important, and which are lower in priority.
Your goals should be measurable, realistic, and supported with the necessary resources. When we say resources, we’re not just talking about budget — resources include your time to make key decisions, and time for your staff to contribute to the project.
Reviewing your site and making choices among options takes time, so be sure enough time can and will be made available. If you’re not now willing or able to contribute time to the project, or are unable to completely delegate the decision-making to another person, we suggest you postpone the project.
2. Clear Responsibilities
Be very clear about how and by whom decisions will be made. While we do recommend asking for feedback and opinions, we don’t recommend decision by committee. Someone in your company should be empowered to make each necessary decision. If the project is large and complex, consider a shared approval matrix, in which each specific area — such as design, content, navigation, features, and technology — is assigned appropriate reviewers, commenters, and decision-makers. If your circumstances call for shared decision authority, you should create and employ an approval matrix. If you rely on outside help, make sure the company you hire is capable of creating a matrix. (If not, you might reconsider your choice of vendor!)
We also recommend avoiding decisions based purely on personal preferences. “I like green,” for example, is not a solid foundation for an important business decision like a website design.
Remember, your website is for your customer, not for you. That means your subjective feelings about the design are secondary. What’s primary is that your current or potential customers respond positively to your website and its content, that they find the site easy to use, and that they get what they want from it.
Approvals should be based on how well the design elements and content meet customer needs and fulfill your business goals. Do they support your brand identity? Do they promote your company’s message clearly and effectively? Guided by this priority, you should arrive at a strong and effective design.
3. Competitive Analysis
Let your redesign vendor know who your competitors are, and tell them what you like and don’t like about your competition’s websites. You may have website envy, and that’s okay. Just don’t become too attached to what you’ve seen. After all, soon your website will be newer than theirs.
Now is the time to take the lead. Remember, simply copying what your competitor does will only bring you level with them. Be smarter and use your investment to put your company into a competitive advantage.
4. Current Status
Document where you are now. This documentation will serve as a baseline for measuring how much value your investment in a new website provides. If your current website doesn’t have Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools connected to it, we recommend connecting them. While the site is being planned and created, gather data that provides insight into who your current visitors are, how many there are of them, and where they’re going within the site.
If your site already has Analytics connected, any web development firm you employ should be added to the authorized users of your Analytics account. It’s a simple step, and will provide them with full access to your historical data. Your new site should be then connected to your existing Analytics account, for ease of comparison of traffic and site effectiveness.
This will also allow your site developer to gain insights into traffic, search keywords, and preserve landing pages that are still useful. When your site is rebuilt, you will experience less disruption in traffic and fewer reductions in search rankings, and your customers will not find bookmarked links turning into “Page Not Found” errors.
5. Determine Audience
Make sure your website is a key part of an ongoing conversation with your customers. To make that conversation meaningful and relevant to them, you must understand your target audience, as deeply as possible. We recommend that you create, or get assistance creating, a persona for each key component of your primary target audience. These personas will guide the redesign work as your vendor focuses on elements such as design, features, and especially the content of your new site.
Personas also serve as a crucial component of a viable content marketing strategy. If you haven’t yet thought through your overall content strategy, now is a great time to do so, and persona creation is a great place to begin. Get external expertise developing content strategy, if you don’t have it already.
6. Prepare Materials
Organize your assets for the new website. Do you have quality content assets that will be available for the new website? For example, bring together your photography; new and reusable brand elements such as a logo, key messages, and tagline; any written materials you’ve created; customer testimonials; awards, certifications, and achievements; and information (photos, bios, etc.) about key staff members.
We believe that website content is more important than the nuts and bolts of the website itself, which is really just a delivery mechanism. Many firms put their entire budget and time into the wrapper, leaving an empty shell, starved for resources. Don’t let that happen to you.
7. Solid Foundation
Build on a solid technological foundation. This is why we recommend building your site on a platform that enables constant updates. We’re huge fans of WordPress as a solution for many businesses and organizations. It’s easy to use and manage, and it’s supported by a vast user community. Our clients also rely on a professional WordPress framework (our fave is Genesis) with a professionally-coded, professionally-supported theme, custom-tailored for their organization. The framework itself gets regular, automatic updates from the publisher, which means compatibility and security issues are resolved for you.
For ongoing SEO, we recommend using an SEO-optimized platform, and SEO tools (we like Yoast SEO). Genesis is search engine-friendly right out of the box and there are numerous SEO tools that are easy to set up and configure. More importantly, SEO today demands a well-executed and carefully targeted content marketing plan. Such a plan will pay big dividends if it is followed, if the results are measured, and if regular updates and revisions are grounded in those measurements.
Beyond the software technology, make sure your site is hosted by a strong, reputable vendor. Look for a vendor with a strong track record for reliability and customer support. There is no more helpless feeling than seeing your website go down during a critical announcement, product launch, or peak buying season. Your website vendor will certainly have suggestions, but our advice is do NOT use a hosting service operated by your developer. We’ve not seen a development company anywhere that can deliver hosting as reliably as a specialized hosting company. And they likely won’t offer 24/7/365 support with live technicians who can actually make things happen.
Another tip: don’t choose a hosting company based on price. You’ll get what you pay for. Cheap hosting generally means your site is on a server with thousands of other websites, and it’s possible for any one of them to take down the entire server. If your budget allows, we recommend a CDN, or content delivery network, which means your site is actually located on dozens of servers in different geographical locations. Ask your development partner for more information on this type of cloud-based hosting.
8. Be Social
Keep in mind that your website is a key element in a broader system. We’re talking about your other online presences: social media pages, email marketing, and any other communication channels you use to connect to customers or track them. Make sure you consider all of these in your planning.
Your new site should integrate with all of your social pages (think sharing tools and RSS feeds), your CRM and lead generation systems (landing pages, contact forms, and gated content), and your email marketing tools (MailChimp or ConstantContact, for example). If you haven’t begun using any of these, a good web partner can integrate them seamlessly into the new site.
9. Responsive Design
Choose a responsive, HTML5/CSS3-based design. Why? Because a large and growing proportion of all website visitors rely on mobile devices (e.g. smart phones and tablets). The right design base can eliminate the need to develop a new site for new mobile devices.
10. Plan Updates
Plan for regular, consistent content updates to your website. This is last, but not least. A site that isn’t updated regularly won’t rank well on search engine results pages. And it won’t appeal to customers. Your website should be at the active center of a vibrant content marketing strategy. (That’s assuming you want to attract and retain lots of visitors looking for your product or services.)
Preparing and following a content plan will give you and your team a clear path to follow. A reputable firm can provide professional assistance in creating new content, monitoring your progress, and helping adjust your content plan for better performance over time.
By following these steps — and remembering that continuous improvement is your goal — you’ll be rewarded with a web marketing tool that will yield valuable returns on your investment.
So remember these ten key steps to take when you consider a redesign:
- Clear Objectives. Clarify and document your goals for the new website.
- Clear Responsibilities. Decide ahead of time how and by whom decisions will be made.
- Competitive Analysis. Study your competition, but don’t plan to simply copy them.
- Current Status. Use analytics tools to document where you are now.
- Determine Audience. Create detailed personas of your target audience.
- Prepare Materials. Organize your content assets, and plan how and by whom the content will be created.
- Solid Foundation. Build the site on a proven, well-supported CMS and a choose a reliable hosting provider.
- Be Social. Integrate the new site, from the start, with all of your other online presences and tools.
- Responsive Design. Use responsive code, so your website will work on the devices of today and tomorrow.
- Plan Updates. Create a content strategy and plan, and begin to work that plan, so the new site stays fresh and yields better and better results over time.