There was no doubt it had to be done – our website was out of date. Over time it had gotten cluttered, was no longer easy to navigate, and most of all, it wasn’t doing what we needed it to do: assist us in assisting our clients.
Update vs Redesign
When to update your website vs a completely redesign? Users are attracted to sites that are update frequently. Fresh sites with useful content get better hits. But when do you redesign the look and feel? At SecureState, we average a completely redesign just about every 15 months. Of course, we are in an industry that moves fast and attracts educated users. This along with the constant changes to SEO and Google’s secret placement formula may call for even more aggressive timeframes. This blog is for smaller organizations without dedicated staff for marketing and web development.
Okay I need a Redesign…Now What?
If you have ever built a house, the first step is to get the blueprints. A site redesign requires its own set of “blueprints.” As I will denote, there are a number of resources involved when redesigning your web presence, including:
Web site owner—usually the CEO, has vision, sets budget and estimated timeframe
Web designer—ensures the vision of the site throughout the entire project, controls the look and feel, and “user” experience
Content owners—for a complex site, it usually takes a number of people to ensure that the content is relevant, fresh, and highlights the reputation of the organization. Many companies use marketing or writing firms to do this. Just keep in mind if you use someone OUTSIDE the organization to write YOUR content, it may well sound like an outsider wrote it. For content written in-house, provide a template with a word count to keep things consistent along with guidelines for data.
Development—depending on the platform, the development process can take significant time. Especially if the design is intense, coding a site that is visually stimulating and functional is an art.
Quality Assurance—reviews the content for writing style, clarity, consistency, grammar, and ensures that the site has no broken links and is functioning as designed.
SEO/PCC Analytics—keywords, landing pages, and the ability to determine what portion of your site users are attracted to are key elements in determining your ROI. Website analytics is one of the few marketing initiatives that can have tangible-quantified metrics, so make sure you incorporate this into your new site.
I like to start by gathering the requirements of the new site. Take your old site and figure out what works and what doesn’t. Hopefully you have some demographics on site usage, bounce rate, and click to lead generation. If not, browse other sites that you like or competitors in your industry. Once you have the requirements documented, you need to contact web designers. Make sure you get a designer that understands the web—a designer that works with print material will not be helpful in the building stages and more than likely will design a site that a developer cannot implement. Look for web designers that have experience with CSS, HTML 5.0 and CMS systems.
Since you are redesigning, should you stick with the platform you used previously? Depends…How functional is it? A platform that is Content Management System (CMS) ready is ideal. You want to be able to update your site on your own, not require a development team. Some platforms to look at are SharePoint, WordPress, and traditional PHP. I have found that most web designers are fluent in PHP and lower level languages. Keep in mind that “call to action” and getting users to provide their contact information is a critical part of lead generation for your website. A good augmentation tool for your site that can track and analysize web traffic is hubspot.com.
Step 1: Design or blueprint of the site
There are many traditional marketing PR firms that are literally going out of business due to the lack of support and understanding of the web landscape. You can take either direction, but hire a freelance web designer. The upfront cost will be well worth the ability to get bids and ultimately save money down the road. The design or blueprint of the site will be developed by this resource. A savvy web design will allow the design to actually be implemented. Once you have a good design and functional requirements, you can put it out for bid. Be careful: many development companies/marketing firms will want to do it all for you. However, you will pay for it and lose some of the creative control in the process.
Step 2: Content
Hopefully you have a design that represents your organizatio’s culture and brand. Now you want users to understand what you do. This can be done through traditional content or images. I strongly suggest using images/pictures from your organization. A good percentage of web traffic is from users searching for pictures, which is another way to attract customers! The content portion of the site has the greatest impact on the owner of the site and functional areas of the business. If the content isn’t good, it’s not worth the paper, or in this case, the website it’s written on.
Step 3: Development
Running in parallel with content is the coding of the site. Using portions of rapid development, have morning stand ups with your website team. These should be short and to the point. Many times decisions need to be made daily to ensure that the website progresses as outlined. Developers appreciate a “structured” approach and will not work well with ad hoc changes or indecisiveness.
Step 4: QA
Once the website has been designed, developed, and content has been added, the next step is to ensure that the site is useable. Leave sometime for QA and ensure that the site is in a development area, so changes can be made without impacting your production environment. Again, things are going to break and need reworked, that is the nature of business. Better to find them out now, rather than have your customers find them for you!
Step 5: Launch
The most exciting time and stressful is launching the new site. It is very important to get feedback on your new site. Give the users of your site a chance to express their feedback. We created a “campaign” around our new website giving users a chance to win a t-shirt for filling out a quick survey.
Step 6: Analytics
As discussed, incorporating analytics into the site is key. Determining how users use your site and what pages have high hit and bounce rates allow you to make decisions on additional changes. If you decide that Pay Per Click (PPC) is a marketing strategy, you can incorporate Google Analytics and develop ads with custom landing pages. Cisco has invested millions into Linkedin to use demographics or profiles of individuals to do targeted marketing.
Step 7: Social Media
Many companies have a major presence in social media, Facebook, Google+ and Twitter. Your website is your corporate presence—use these resources to demonstrate your company culture with an emphasis on personalization. If you are a B2B company, social media can be valuable, but generally a “C Level” executive is not going to follow you!
While building a new website is exciting and can yield high returns on lead generation, it has to been done correctly. Ensure that you budget the time necessary to capture the vision and incorporate the company’s culture. When I was looking to purchase our building and do a build out, I had good words of wisdom from my board of advisors. “It will be distracting and you will not grow or hit your goals [during the build out]; however if you don’t do, it you won’t grow in the years to come.”