What Our Web Design Firm Learned Redesigning Our Site
:: By Brad Shorr, Straight North ::
What happens when a Web design firm redesigns its own website? I polled the key players – project manager, lead designer, lead developer, production manager and content manager (me) to gather whatever insights I could. Here are key takeaways – information that should be useful to agencies and perhaps other businesses as well.
FOLLOW YOUR OWN RULES
We have a very well-organized and detailed process for website design projects – one which we tended to ignore at every turn on our project. If nothing else, the inefficiencies this caused validated the virtues of our process.
To use content as an example, our process calls for editing at several specific times over the course of the project; these are coordinated by our project manager and the designated point-person on the client side. Despite our best efforts to adhere to this, we just couldn’t consolidate input, control its timing and keep it channeled. On an almost daily basis, people offered critiques, suggestions and specific edits – many of which were in conflict with each other. Needless to say, this bogged down content production and made staying on point difficult.
Bottom Line: Every business thinks it’s unique; that the normal rules don’t apply. They do! This same issue of ignoring our own rules impeded design and other aspects of the project as well. All we accomplished was making a complex, arduous task more complex and arduous.
Best practices for Internet marketing change regularly. During the recent months when our project was underway, changes were coming fast and furiously. In particular, the need for responsive site design forced us to change our thinking on a whole host of fronts, from navigation to content structure to the steps of the process itself. For SEO, major updates to the Google algorithm required us to think very differently about internal linking structures and keywords.
While we tend to assume clients will naturally want to follow best practices, we quickly found that thinking differently and abandoning old methods are easier said than done. Even the most forward thinking among us had reservations about placing key information below the fold, doing away with optimized footer links and reconsidering a number of other things that we regarded as conventional wisdom.
Bottom Line: Everything changes. No matter how valid following precedents may seem, organizations must question everything all the time. But questions are just the beginning; from there, organizations must make personnel aware of strategically and tactically necessary changes, discuss them amply, and build consensus around new approaches. We were able to do this effectively on our site project, and even though it proved incredibly time-consuming, it was time very well spent.
ARTICULATE A CLEAR STRATEGY
This was my third agency redesign project – but only the first one where the partners communicated a very clear and very strong vision for what they wanted. “We want the website to scream such and such. This is our target audience and this is what we want their experience to look like when they visit our site.”
Direct, clear and emphatic communication about the strategy for the site made the design and content jobs easier, plus we had a crystal clear understanding of when we were veering off track. And considering the multitude of input sources (see the first section), giving the creative personnel a clear vision became all the more important.
Bottom Line: For strategic issues, nothing replaces direct, active and specific involvement from company leadership. On a tactical level, creative talent needs room to maneuver, but without a strategic framework, they can easily maneuver themselves into a corner.
DON’T WAIT FOR PERFECTION
When is a website ready for launch? This proved to be an exceedingly difficult question to answer. On the project management side, the tendency is to check boxes and move on. On the creative side, the tendency is to tweak and tweak forever. On the business side, the tendency is to feel uncertain – What if we launch too early and deliver a poor user experience? On the other hand, what if we delay too long and blow up our budget?
One thing we learned (or perhaps re-learned) during our project is that there are right questions and wrong questions:
• It’s wrong to ask, “Is the design perfect?” or “Is the content perfect?” The answer is always going to be “No.”
• It’s right to ask, “Is the design good enough?” or “Is the content good enough?” These questions can be answered fairly accurately by people who have Internet marketing experience, common sense – and a strategic framework to guide their thinking.
Our operations group introduced a detailed plan for post-launch revisions almost immediately after the project began. This was quite helpful in dealing with our compulsive tweakers – me, for instance. I have a hard time signing off on content because I always see ways to make it better; knowing a system was in place to deal with imperfections made me much more comfortable saying, “It’s good enough.”
Bottom Line: The best shot at a highly efficient and highly successful website project comes when the entire organization focuses on the user. Companies tend to be inwardly focused, and get wrapped up in their own creative and procedural issues. However, if everyone on the team is thinking about user experience, many of these issues find their definitive resolution or simply evaporate.
Brad Shorr is the B2B Marketing Director of Straight North, a website design firm headquartered in Chicago. Brad is an SEO copywriting expert, respected blogger and content marketing expert. Connect with Brad on Twitter.