The Nine-Step Website Redesign That Won’t Let You Down
We all know it’s true, so I’m just going to go on and say it: Website redesign projects suck. Time, money, resources. They suck almost as much as being rickrolled sucks.
Sometimes, it feels like a website redesign project sucks the motivation right out of the you. Like an energy vampire.
But at least, in the end, everyone gets a terrific new site that yields great results, right?
Wrong. In most cases, when I ask (non-client) contacts about their recent website design, they tell me, “It’s okay.” Then they recount the nightmare involved in getting it done. Or, they tell me it’s still a nightmare. Or they shrug and say, “We paid a lot of money for it.” Um. End of story? That should definitely not be the end of the story.
Yet it often is.
For an asset that is central to an organization’s identity, reputation, and ability to serve customers and prospects, this is a sad state of affairs. It’s also completely unnecessary. A website redesign project ought to be fun, energizing, and result in not only a great-looking site, but one that genuinely serves the most important needs of the organization.
Impossible? Not at all. For fifteen years, my team has done exactly this for our clients. And now I’m going to show you how.
But first, let’s talk about the common causes of website redesign failure…
If you’re feeling all the feels right now, odds are you’ve had a website project fall prey to one of these fatal mistakes.
Trying to handle content in-house without allocating dedicated resources to its production.
Expecting the website company to handle the content without separately vetting the quality of their content production team.
Failing to establish requirements with all of the relevant stakeholders, resulting in a process mired in disagreements.
Expecting a technical team to lead strategic website conversations.
You know you’ve hit on that last one when the meeting gets bogged down in discussions about image resolution sizes, client-side form validations, and pixelated widgets. (I made that last one up, and it’s still not the most ridiculous thing a meeting’s ever gotten bogged down in. There was that one meeting… oh, never mind. Another time, perhaps?*)
Let’s not do it that way again, shall we?
The birth of a new approach
As a content company with an emphasis on storytelling, we approach website design differently than most. For one thing, we don’t do design. Or development. Why? Because those aren’t the driving elements of a successful website design & development project.
Sure, it’s important that the website does a good job of representing the brand visually, and it’s important that the technical development fulfills the business requirements. But neither of those two things will happen if the process is driven by design and development.
Think of it like building a house. You don’t start to build a house by planning which wallpaper to use in the kitchen. You start with a vision and a plan based on your needs and expectations and how you will use the home. You design a structure around your vision, then build it from the foundation up.
You don’t start with deciding which nails to use or which color carpet goes with which drapes, so why would you start a website redesign with colors and image resolution?
Instead, a successful website redesign starts with, and is driven by, business goals and how visitors will use the site. Here’s how.
Nine (repeatable) steps to a successful website redesign
When we define a “successful” website redesign, we don’t just mean that it looks nice and everyone likes it. Your website ought to work as hard as you do, and so we think about success in terms of results.
For every company, the concept of “results” means something different. Maybe it’s leads generated, sales supported, or reduction of needless customer support calls. That’s why we start by defining results, so we’ll know whether we’ve been successful. Here it is, step by step.
Step One: Engage Stakeholders
Get all the decision makers and influencers to the table. You’ll need consensus on the importance of the project as well as its goals if you’re to avoid frustrating late-stage delays and scope changes.
Step Two: Uncover Website Goals
If you don’t know where you’re going, you’re unlikely to end up where you want to be. With all the stakeholders at the table, define whether you expect the new site to serve as a simple online brochure, a supporting resource for the sales department, a lead generation engine, a client resource, a content marketing tool, a sales engine… or what. Discuss what “results” would look like, and establish clear metrics where applicable (for instance, leads generated is a commonly used metric for success). Most companies have multiple goals—get them all documented.
Step Three: Define Your MVP
One of the most consistent complaints we hear about website projects is that they drag on and on and on. Unlike nearly everything else in the digital world, most website design is still approached in a traditional front-end, design-and-then-build way, in which all of the requirements for everything are established, everything is built out to meet all of the requirements, and then the whole behemoth project is launched all in one day.
This is insanity.
Instead, we advocate a lean approach, as further explored in this excellent series of articles by Carmen Rojas. In brief, the lean approach starts by identifying the “minimum viable product” (MVP) necessary to launch the site. This MVP will contain the core functionality necessary to serve the site’s most important functions, and nothing more. Defining the MVP starts with identifying the most important audiences to serve and the most important needs the site will serve for them. Which leads us to…
Step Four: Map the Audience Journey
Once you understand the website’s goals and have considered your MVP needs, take the time to document your most important visitor personas, and to understand how each one arrives at the site, why they are there, and what role the website plays in their buying/engagement journey. Use whatever means necessary (interviews with salespeople who interface with them, interviews with prospects, interviews with clients) to get inside the heads of your visitors and understand their biggest pain points. This will be critical in developing your messaging and content later.
Step Five: Identify “Next Steps” for Visitors
Where does each visitor persona go when they are done on your site? Do they contact you? Download something? Know what you want them to do before they leave, so you can design the site to encourage the behavior you want. If you miss this step, odds are the first place they’ll go after clicking away is to see how you compare to the competition.
Step Six: Map The Visitor’s Journey Through the Site
In step three, you identified how the visitor arrives at the site, and in step four, what they do before they leave it. Now it’s time to plan the steps in between. How will they get their critical questions answered? When will they see your value differentiating content? For each relevant visitor persona, map a journey through the site that helps them meet their needs and expectations, while moving them closer to the action you want them to take. Then make it easy and low-risk for them to take that step.
Step Seven: Develop Structure and Content
With an approved map in hand, it’s time to start building content, structure, and design. Though these are separate processes, they usually occur simultaneously and, in the best-case scenario, are collaborative. It’s important during this stage to assign clear responsibility for driving the project to someone who understands the strategic goals for the site, who has been engaged with the project from the beginning, and who understands the technical details enough to oversee the project and provide guidance, but who won’t get bogged down in those details. This person can be internal, but is more often an external consultant, and may be a member of the content team (like us, for instance), the design team, or the development team, depending on who can provide the leadership you need.
Step Eight: Put it Into Development
Once you have approved the content and design, the development team will bring it to life. If your site is built on a template (as opposed to completely custom design), this step may occur simultaneously with design.
Step Nine: Mock-Up Review
Your developers will mock the design up on a “dummy” site, where you can view it and interact with its elements, before it becomes visible to the public. The first time you see the dummy, it’s likely to have lots of little glitches. Some content may be missing or in the wrong places, and some interactive elements may be missing or not lead where they’re supposed to. This is normal for a first iteration.
Remember that person you put in charge of driving the project? She’s going to walk you through the review, point out known problems, ask for your feedback and approval on elements that need your immediate input, call your attention to elements for your later review, and request that you take the time to go through and point out any additional problems you see for the team to address.
Step Ten: Pre-Launch Review and Approval
Based on your feedback and their own interactions with the mock-up, your content, design, and development teams will coordinate to bring the site in alignment with the vision as defined in the early stages of the project. They will ask you to review it at least one more time and, when it’s ready, to provide final approval and okay for launch.
Step Eleven and Eleven-and-a-Half: Launch and Optimize
Once the site meets stakeholder approval, it’s ready to launch publicly. But that doesn’t mean it’s done. Now you can start planning phase two, as well as optimizing the existing content.
Approach phase two in the same way you approached the first phase: Identify the next most important business goals, and walk through each step with these goals in mind, including designing a second stage “MVP.”
Simultaneously, it pays to continually optimize existing content. To do this, you need to know what’s working, what’s not working, and how the site is performing against your organization’s goals for it. Although we put this step at the end, it’s present through all of the process, starting with the definition of goals. To get the most out of optimization, companies must define key performance indicators and hook the site up to the right analytics and reporting tools to measure performance against those KPIs, then adjust its structure and content periodically to get the best results.
Okay, but what does all this look like in practice?
If you’re interested in seeing how this process works for a real company, stay tuned. I’ll be walking you through the design and development and ongoing optimization of an integrated architecture, engineering, and environmental consulting firm located in Tampa, Florida. I’ll show you the specific challenges they were facing, their goals for the new site, and the steps we took, in detail, to get them what they needed. Use the little button thingy at top right to receive notification when the new content is ready for you!
Or, you know, if you’d like us to drive your next website redesign project, get in touch. I promise—we’re never gonna make you cry. (Oh, admit it, you’re still singing it in your head, aren’t you? Me too.)
*Oh, all right. I’ll tell, but it’s embarrassing. Several years ago, at the beginning of a client kick-off meeting, I discovered that the participating stakeholders were not in agreement on whether they wanted to participate. They literally wasted an hour arguing about whether we were wasting an hour. Thus, Step One was born. Happy birthday, Step One.
Fen Druadìn Head (formerly Heather Head) is an author, as well as the founder of Scopcity. When she is not writing, running the business, or chasing down bad guys on Twitter, she enjoys hiking, snuggling with her husband and three boys, and avoiding the kitchen.