The time has come. You’ve struggled with your dated website for years and finally decided to take the plunge into a redesign. It’s an exciting time with worlds of opportunity at your doorstep. You’ve evaluated a number of agencies and narrowed the field down to a few top choices. Let’s stop there for a second…
Of these two or three companies you may potentially invest large sums of money in, how do you know who the best choice is? Well Desmond the Director, you want someone who will collaborate, advise based on sound logic and expertise, and above all listen to you. Too often companies are not involved enough in their own website projects and ultimately lose sight of their goals and sacrifice their identity for a subjective design choice. That’s why it is important to know what actually goes into a good redesign? How do you know what changes should and shouldn’t be made to your site? What should the new look convey?
PAUSE…for a brief disclaimer. A large part of a website redesign project is the redesign. However, this post isn’t meant to focus on the creative brainstorming and iteration of the design itself. This is undoubtedly a major part of a redesign project and is deserving of its own blog post. But that must be for another day. This post is meant to focus on the strategy of the redesign project as a whole. So let us continue.
Let’s start at the beginning. Before you even start looking at other sites for inspiration, it’s important to know your baseline. How is your site performing currently? Any company who is worth their salt will start with an evaluation before jumping into making design recommendations.
There are a few main points to consider during the evaluation period.
Do you have conversions in place currently? Conversion-based sites are fairly new in the history of the web. So chances are, if your site is fairly old, it isn’t built for conversion. But take an audit of your site to identify what (if any) conversions you have. Do you provide a demo? A free consultation? An analysis? Knowing the specific offers you have, and what pages are being utilized by these offers, will help dictate what you need to accommodate for on the new site.
What is the current architecture of your site? Generate a full sitemap of your site so you know all of the pages you’re currently working with. There are a variety of tools that can help with this such as Screaming Frog, URLProfiler, or if you're using Google Analytics, that will work too. For a walkthrough of how to pull your sites URLs from Google Analytics, check out this post from WorkUp.
hat information falls on what pages? Then how do users get to those pages? Through this process, you may identify opportunities for improvement and increasing ease of use for your visitors. Do you have duplicate pages or pages that are no longer needed? Make note of what can be cut from your current site and you’ll have less to manage with mapping out the new site.
*ProTip: If you have run PPC campaigns in the past that utilize dedicated landing pages, see which campaigns performed best and note the top performing landing pages apart from the others. This may provide insight into A) The landing pages you should keep through the redesign and B) What on those pages resonated with your audience enough to make those perform better than the rest? There may be opportunity to include those benefits into the redesign strategy.
What is the current UI/UX of the site? First know what you want the user to do on the site. What is the desired action you want them to take? Then see if they are completing that action easily or if they struggle to get from point A to point B. This can be fairly subjective, but fortunately there are a ton of tools out there that can help you evaluate this. We use Lucky Orange to gather heat map data and user recordings to see how actual visitors are interacting with the site in real time. This data allows us to generate hypotheses about how we can improve on the UX.
After your evaluation, take what you have learned and use it in the formation of the strategy moving forward. Your website redesign should be 100% targeted at your users or personas. Long gone are the days of having a site that simply tells the world how great you are. You need to connect with users and let them know how you can solve a need they have. To be blunt, nobody cares what you do. So tell me what you can do for me.
Improve on the UI/UX – According to Krisztian Tarcsi “UI is how it looks; UX is how it works”. Both are mutually dependent on one another and work together to make your website as effective as possible. Look for opportunities to better the UI/UX by placing yourself in the end user's shoes. Are there opportunities for fewer clicks? If a product page takes 4 clicks to get to, is there a way to deliver that content sooner (with fewer clicks)?
*PROTIP: Consolidating pages and utilizing functionality like accordion menus, pop up and hover effects, etc. you can present more content in less pages while simultaneously increasing user engagement and time on site.
Are there conversion paths set in place? - Your website should guide the user instead of leaving it up to them to figure out how to navigate your site. Setting conversion paths in place will allow you to segment your audience and guide them to the specific content that is most meaningful to each group. Doing so will increase conversion rates by connecting users with what they want quicker and easier.
What is most important? – Identifying the most important information is crucial because this should have the highest visibility on the new site. Use this to generate “Pillar Pages” that act as your top level, highest impact pages. Then break off into subpages that support the main pillar page by providing deeper dives into specific areas of the general topic.
Think about scalability – You don’t want to have to go through another redesign in 3-4 years. So take some time to think about future needs of your site. Do your service offerings evolve or change? If so, then you’ll want to account for additional pages, links in navigation, etc. Will your page have a progressive form? You’ll want to account for this in the design so that as your marketing efforts change, the website is built to accommodate those changes.
Opportunities to further engage the user? – Try to identify areas where your website is lacking on user engagement. One good area to focus on is with resources. If your website doesn’t have a resources section, this may be a value prop that your audience will really respond to. Many of today’s users are seeking information and want to be educated prior to making a commitment. Jeremy Smith with Jeremy Said put it eloquently when he said
“Education sounds boring, stiff, formal, dusty. Yet education is one of the most overlooked and undervalued forms of conversion dynamite.”
That is because users know when they’re trying to be sold, and most don’t enjoy the feeling. However, on the contrary, users who feel empowered to make their own decisions do so with more confidence and determination because the feel confident in making the right choice after weighing their options. Providing resources such as eBooks, white papers, blogs, calculators, infographics and more, can really empower your user to educate themselves enough to make a final decision to convert.
After we have evaluated our current site, put together a strategy and plan of action for the new website and made it through the design phase, we arrive at the last step to put everything together. There are a few major areas to consider with the strategy of your redesign project.
Choosing the right CMS- Often companies need to have some sort of control over their sites. Even if you will only be performing minor updates to the site once a quarter, it will save you a ton of frustration if you make sure to build the site in a Content Management System (CMS) that is easy to use and supplies the functionality you need. There are many CMS out there, so evaluate carefully. Is open sourced with a library of available plugins important to you? Or is having marketing capabilities like email marketing, workflow automation, etc important to your business? In which case you may be better suited for a Content Optimization System. Thinking beyond the website is necessary to make sure you find the right solution.
Building to have scalability – As mentioned before, your website will need to grow along with your business. Choosing the right CMS will make this much easier as it will make growing your website easier. Don’t close yourself in by having a limited number of page templates or coding the pages so that they are not easily updatable. Keep the mindset that everything should be easily editable by even the most novice users. By keeping your code clean and building in efficiencies with your CSS and scripting, you can easily replicate elements of the site without requiring heavy developer involvement.
Use Best Practice – Not all designers are created equal; and not all developers are created equal either. It is important to find both that understand the current state of the industry, technical functionality and user experience. Unfortunately we still see sites that don’t think it’s necessary to be mobile responsive. This is completely unacceptable in 2016. Following best practice when building a site will reduce outlier scenarios that can end up costing tremendous amounts of time and money.
Continuous Improvement – As I’ve written before about continuous improvement, don’t ever assume that your website is finished. You should always be evaluating and improving as time goes on. Once your new website is live, it’s important to monitor your analytics to test the effectiveness of your site. If you added a CTA section on your new homepage, see how it’s working. If you’re not getting the results you anticipated, then try an A/B test to see if slight variations have a higher conversion rate. Over time you can build out additional content on your website until it becomes a “HUB” of information. This will help with your SEO rankings as your genuine, educational approach toward presenting relevant content that is meaningful to your users, shows that you are a valuable source of information in your industry.
Over the years companies realize that there are many different ways a website redesign can go. Even if it is not the best experience, you can still end up with a decent looking site that performs fairly well for you. But in today's economy, it is foolish to squander your investment on something that doesn’t completely dominate your goals and objectives. By taking a little forethought and collaborating with those who have the expertise needed to drive results, you can end up with a better site than you thought possible, that performs far better than you could have even expected.