Managing Website Redesigns

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If the website you own or manage is not meeting expectations, it is time to consider engaging in a comprehensive redesign process. While the notion of undertaking a project of this magnitude can seem overwhelming, doing some benchmarking and research, reviewing website analytics and performance metrics, and aligning that information with your objectives will make the redesign process much less cumbersome and result in a more polished, more effective final product.

While it’s not uncommon to grow tired of how a website looks, a more logical reason to take on a redesign project is that the site is not meeting its objectives. The number or amount of sales and leads generated is a solid indicator of site performance but there are others. Is time spent on site noticeably low? This might be an indication that the wrong visual impression is being given to users. Are you receiving feedback about users’ inability to locate specific content items? A website’s user-friendliness is a catalyst for overall performance — so inaccessibility is also a logical reason to take on a website redesign. Search engine friendliness (more on that later) is also a common reason for redesigning a website and is frequently the reason most sites start the process at all.

A formal redesign process will include a sufficient amount of audience research, taking into account an organization’s on-site marketing objectives, developing a wireframe, and establishing a fixed framework from which design elements can be applied and implemented in the future.

Audience Research and Benchmarking
While website analytics can tell us a great deal about how a site is performing now (and where improvements can be made), it often falls short when it comes to acquiring qualitative (not quantitative) data — the information that machines alone can’t pick up on. Human-powered solutions like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk can help gather actionable insights into users’ visual impressions of a website, the accessibility of any particular content item, or any other defined criteria. Survey software solutions are also valuable resources for acquiring existing user opinions about possible site improvements. Take it a step further by leveraging services like uTest, a company providing professional-level software testing services to identify what is working and what is not, in relation to your Web, mobile or desktop applications.

Formalizing Marketing Objectives
A website might be the face of your brand online but it is also the marketing engine. Getting a handle on what you and others within your enterprise expect from the site will aid in charting a course toward creating a final product that meets the needs of everyone and everything — including the bottom line. For example, conducting interviews with the sales and customer service departments might reveal a need for easier access to pricing or support information. The business development team could request that contact and lead forms be prominent throughout the site and connected directly to a CRM platform. Discussions with C-level executives might reveal that press kits, investor information and founder biographies are essential. As you can see, there are many marketing objectives so taking all of them into account at the outset will ensure a final product everyone is excited to support.

There are also some important considerations to make related to search engine optimization (SEO) that must be addressed during a formal website redesign. For many companies, SEO tends to be an afterthought and not included in the initial planning stages of a website redesign. At the very least, one should consider implementing a prioritized site architecture and a focus on ease of navigation. Making sure that:

• pages receiving traffic are placed higher to the root URL in your site hierarchy

• a sufficient number of pages are cross- or inter-linked

• top-level pages and pages aggressively being optimized are focused on conversion

• navigational menus for users are visible to search engines — through CSS or by having a text-based navigation menu in the footer of the page and on a sitemap

• the use of 301 redirects (should the structure of a site change dramatically) is managed and monitored closely

“Doing” the Redesign
Before handing over audience research and marketing objectives to your Web designer, it is important to take into account whether this is really just a redesign (i.e. a freshen-up) or if an entirely new software platform will be integrated. Should it be the latter, understanding the features and limitations of the selected solution and asking designers and developers for recommendations and guidance will prove to be extremely useful. For example, if you are deploying a new content management system (CMS), ask for input from your Web designer about the level of complexity in relation to creating new design themes and templates, or quiz the developer about challenges integrating new modules.

The next step in redesigning is often where most Web professionals immediately jump — the layout and wireframing. Only when you are armed with a sufficient amount of benchmarking insights and elements necessary to satisfy marketing objectives should you start working with wireframes and layouts. Web-based diagram tools like Gliffy can help layout the structure of a website and ensure that all the “pieces of the puzzle” are present before moving on to actual site wireframing. Some of the most popular wireframing tools include Mockingbird (gomockingbird.com), HotGloo (hello.hotgloo. com), MockFlow (mockflow.com), and a personal favorite in Pencil (evolus.vn/pencil/), a free add-on for Firefox.

Completely redesigning a website every few years might seem like a daunting task. But staying fresh in the eyes of your users and relevant to the employees that support your business is imperative. Understanding how all users (consumers and employees) use the site, how your site’s competitors stack up, understanding the underlying but required marketing objectives and getting started with the redesign with a layout and wireframing session will prove to shorten design and development time and ensure that your newly redesigned website make a difference to your company.

 
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1 comment

DarrylM 04-17-2010 11:52 AM

We are studying this in our Master's program, and I can say that what this article states echoes sentiments of the course.  I recently went through two redesigns, and did some user testing.  Very eye opening!  Thank you for running this feature.

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