How to Prepare for a Website Redesign

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  • 4/5/2017
    In my role as the Senior Director for the Development Department, I get to talk with many clients about redesigning their online experiences. Luckily, at thunder::tech, we get to partner with great people at large multi-national corporations as well as local nonprofits. Some of these clients have numerous resources and others are more limited, but these factors don’t mean the thinking or the considerations change when approaching a redesign of a website. Nonprofits and enterprises should all seek to thoroughly plan and prepare for a web redesign using the same sequential thinking and prioritization.

    But what is that list made of? We’ve complied several exercises to help companies ask and answer the key questions needed when crafting an RFP or when interviewing web development teams prior to a website redesign.

    Audience

    It is the reason for being, right?

    So, who are we making this website for? If you said you are making it for your CEO, we’ll need to schedule a long coffee session to get you back on track. 

    This question of “who” will drive a lot of the decision-making throughout the website process, so it is paramount that you have at least a high-level understanding of it prior to the project kick-off. Now, with that said, having a high-level understanding will buy you admission to the redesign party, but the following materials and actions will make that overall redesign that much more effective.
    • Analytics – Dive into those stats and find out where, what and how your users are getting to your site now. What pages are most visited? Should they be?
    • User Testing – Today, there are some great options that range from effective yet elementary to downright scary alien intelligence stuff. Find the approach that is right for you. Video sessions, heat mapping or smart A/B testing. If you have some big questions to answer, think about user testing prior to or as part of redesign scope.
    • Personas – We are doing more and more of these exercises despite the practice not being new. This work, in combination with our clients also bringing more and more surveyed research helps create a strong mix of qualitative and quantitative evidence on answering the question of who the audience is and how they like to receive information. This helps our team establish strategies and validate the approaches we take with site structure and content strategy.
    • SEO – When you start targeting an audience, you will also need to understand the dynamics between audience and content and how the two find each other online. This helps set the stage for all future integrated marketing efforts. The right layout and content structure can directly impact the technical abilities your site will have in the future to facilitate campaigns and funnel audiences to the end goal.

    The Customer Experience and Feature Definitions

    When we go to scope and quote an approach for a web design, we roll from audience and goals to the overall mechanics and inventory of the website. What is the vision for the experience of customers, potential hires and current employees? 

    An e-commerce website will require different UX and development efforts than a nonprofit that wants to focus on a content strategy driven by a new blog. 

    So, when we state that we need to have an idea of inventory, we really want to assemble a collection of all materials, templates and modules that when combined will give our clients the most effective experience at launch, but one that they can ultimately maintain, sustain and grow.

    The reason we dedicate time investigating content and completing the template inventory is because it will drive everything else forward including how much time our UX designers, creatives and developers will require to get the site created (aka the cost). We take the approach of encouraging our clients to collaborate with our UX designers to create an experience from scratch. You think your product is best displayed at a specific dimension with fixed ratings and a review module above it? You got it, plus we’ll tell you the best way to execute that technically and which features will enhance your audience’s experience.

    Here’s an example template inventory for a nonprofit we recently created: 
    Templates to be Developed Why?
    Home Template  This is the hub of everything. Typically you need to have those self-identifying navigation pieces here and spend some critical thinking time.
    Two-Column Subpage Template  An essential for long-term maintenance. One column for free-form content with a sidebar to add supporting navigational elements.
    One-Column Subpage Template  Free-form text and other multimedia elements. Better to have this ready for future expansion/management of the site even if it isn’t a key design right now.
    Event Calendar Nonprofits typically have critical fundraising events throughout the year and a clear way to create and display that information is imperative. 
    Landing Page Template If you’re planning on adding content, running a campaign or basically using the site to achieve any marketing goals, you will need a highly functional landing page that can be customized and deployed at any time. 
    Search Listing Template Let the users search the site to find information quickly, but this basic feature doesn’t need to be boring!
    Blog Listing and Detail Pages This may be the focus of the content strategy section of the website to feature everything from copy to multimedia. Think for the future and how this base can be enhanced over time. 
    Newsletter Sign Up Subscribers, subscribers, subscribers. Getting the leads and audience to the funnel using the right combination of content strategy and UX is an ongoing balance so these pages should be flexible and ready for anything. 
    Reusable Single-Step Form Content management systems and the plugins out there today, make this a no-brainer. There will come a time when a form is needed for sign ups, contact or donation inquiries.

    Invest in the Right Tech

    When it comes time to build the site and maintain it after the design is done, you will need a Content Management System (CMS). There are plenty of options here and we ask our clients what they want not only today, but what they are thinking of doing tomorrow. That will have an influence on whether or not we choose to help them budget for something that is more all-encompassing for tomorrow or baby-step up with them afterwards. Switching CMS carries a cost (both time and money), so we want our clients to understand what the future steps may be to graduate to new features.

    To avoid this, we ask clients for the following when considering a redesign:
    • Short-term AND long-term vision, as well as the identification or prioritization of elements within that vision.
    • Any security, legal or IT policies that might drive technological decisions.
    • Team abilities (time and resources) and tech savviness. We don’t want you to get fitted for something that you will suffer through.

    Post-Launch Considerations

    Yes, when the site is live and it’s beautiful, it’s easy to forget that it is like a living thing that needs attention even after launch. Having a plan to consistently iterate and test the site protects the investment and moves the marketing goals forward in the long-term without long periods of new construction or substantial costs.

    Some common and impactful post-launch services to budget for:
    • Support Services – Support from real developers (Also known as, all-purpose heroes) can speed up any updates or requests.
    • User Testing – Plan for ongoing testing of your theories. That redesign you just went through is a well-informed theory, but it is still a theory. Test it, improve it.
    • Iterative Updates – To that “Improve it” point, budget for iterative improvements for the next two to five years at least as a well-planned and designed site can last much longer
    • SEO – Don’t discount the power of intelligent and fluid SEO maintenance as it couples with advancements in your content and performance marketing strategies. As a brand grows, so will the marketing options available to it, and the website should be planned to adapt to that growth.
    While these steps are a few of the largest considerations when developing an RFP or interviewing developers, there are more ideas and needs that will come up. The key to planning an effective and long-lasting website comes down to remembering that this process can and should take time to get right. Gone are the days of “throwing up a site” and hoping the audience will find you. The strategy, science and methodical development of each component will play into the overall success of the tool the website is meant to be.

    Looking for more advice? Give us a shout, we’re full of ideas that we’d like to share with you!
    About the author::Bruce Williams, Senior Director of Development Department. He charts paths with clients to get the most out of digital technology and design. He is prefers Marvel over DC and will always be CLE.
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