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Planning for a Website Redesign

Posted on 10.18.2006

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By Bret Fencl

Like so many others out there, you long ago realized the importance of having a website. Your site has been up and running for a couple of years now, but some things have always bothered you about the design and functionality. Many times it’s the little things, such as a non-tech savvy customer not being able to find the checkout button, or printing out customer reports that don’t give you quite the information you were hoping for.

What’s more, your site is getting older and looking outdated. Some of the pictures, text and features need to be brought up to speed. It’s time to take action, so why not just fix everything at once?

Make a Checklist of Changes
Along with your list of changes, spend some time working with the people in your company who use the website the most. Ask them what they like and don’t like about the site. Ask them if they have encountered any functionality problems or concerns. I personally would not base my opinions on what friends and relatives say about the website — they may have a slightly biased view. I would be more concerned with the employees who have handled the tech support for the site, as they may have the most insight about the concerns of your website visitors.

Weeks in advance, start putting together a complete list of items to be fixed or updated with a clear and complete explanation of the problem and/or required changes.

Compiling Information for the Redesign
At this time you should start compiling information for your Web designers to work with. Not having the proper information together when the process begins can cause major delays in the redesign process. Take a close look at all pages in your site for any outdated information. Having the essential elements together when the process begins should make the entire process smoother.

I have had many clients take months to give me needed information for completion of a website. By the time we get back to the redesign there can be mass confusion on what has been done and what is left to do because everyone has been away from the project for so long. My recommendation is to plan ahead so this does not happen to your project.

Here is some information you may want to start gathering for the redesign:

1. New pictures/images
2. New products
3. Updates in contact information
4. Privacy policy updates
5. Terms and conditions updates
6. Text for any new pages
7. Changes in payments or shipping
8. Requirements for new shopping cart

Adding a New Shopping Cart System
Many website owners and e-tailers look to add new shopping cart systems to streamline the buying process. It’s important to list all of the requirements that you expect from the new system. There are many choices of shopping carts so make sure the one you choose will fulfill your needs.

Here are some things you may want to check for:

1. Payment system compatibility (i.e. PayPal, Authorize.net, Linkpoint)
2. Accessibility of customer information and reports
3. Easy cart loading. (Spreadsheet or one item at a time.)
4. How many product photos for each product?
5. Does the cart make thumbnail images automatically?
6. Can you add HTML to product descriptions?
7. Shipping modules (i.e. UPS, FedEx, USPS)
8. Can the major search engines spider the site?
9. Will it produce necessary feeds? (i.e. Froogle, Shopping.com)
10. Can you email newsletters and coupons to previous customers?
11. Can you test it on a demo site before buying it?

Be Careful to Avoid Update Problems
When redesigning a site there are some potential pitfalls that can hurt your site. I have seen some large sites fall fast in the search results after a site redesign. They sometimes must pour thousands of additional dollars into their paid search advertising accounts just to stay afloat. Because of poor planning these site owners had to learn the hard way. Here are few potential pitfalls to watch out for when redesigning your site.

Renaming Pages or Extensions
The number-one problem that can kill traffic on even the best and largest of sites is renaming all of the pages. If you have an older, established
site that enjoys good rankings and good quality traffic from the natural (free) search engine listings, then you will want to avoid renaming your pages like the plague. Changing your page extensions from widgets.html to widgets.php or widgets.asp can result in your free traffic coming to a screeching halt. Over the years, many sites naturally link to internal pages of quality websites, and therefore you are giving up all of the natural linking that may have made your site popular in the first place. Yes, you can add 302 redirects to the new extensions and pages, but why risk it?

Redesigning the Site in Flash
Flash has become a hot tool. Many think that designing with the trendy software will attract a younger, hipper crowd. While this may be true, they still have to be able to find you. My recommendation is to use Flash in moderation and not lose the HTML of the site, which is part of what makes it fare well with the natural search engine traffic.

If you run MTV.com, for example, then you would already have traffic because of TV and mass media exposure — therefore, a Flash redesign may not affect your website traffic. If you are a three-year old company without major media exposure you may want to examine the situation closer before choosing a full Flash-based website.

Session Strings in URLs
Before adding a new e-commerce system, check if it uses session strings in the URL. Usually it will look something like this:

http://www.example.com/cart/widgets.php?id=fa9cfdad07a3ea058540d10dcc7

Check if the Web designer has a way of ensuring that the major search engines don’t index the pages with the session strings. I have seen websites get thousands of these pages indexed and then the natural search traffic drops because of duplicate content issues.

Proper Preparation is Key
Proper preparation can save you both time and money, as you can see. Have everything you want and need precisely laid out before you start looking for Web designers to bid on your project. It will be much easier to compare bids when everyone is bidding on the same project list for the site redesign. If all of the Web designers have to make their own decisions on what your site needs, the quotes may no longer be comparable, and may very well be as different as apples and oranges.

About the Author:
Bret Fencl, President, Fencl Web Design.Com, LLC, www.fenclwebdesign.com


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