Been thinking about a website redesign for your company? Been thinking about it for a month? A year? More than that? It’s easy to put a project like this off for a multitude of reasons, but the fact is that these days, your company’s website is often the first time a potential customer will get exposure to your business. In fact, you have probably discovered other businesses and used their services by following this now well-worn path: you needed a product or service, you searched for something using a search engine (probably Google), the stars aligned, and that person wound up clicking a search result that linked back to a page, or maybe a blog post, on your website.
The first takeaway from this very common scenario is that SEO is important – learning even the basics of SEO can benefit your business greatly! The second takeaway is that biting the bullet and finally planning a website redesign and carrying it out will also pay huge dividends for your business, and, if done thoughtfully, will carry your business’ digital presence for years to come.
That said, as with everything else in life, you get out of it what you put it. And to bust out another worn out old chestnut, planning a website redesign is probably 90% preparation and 10% execution. Taking the time to do the research, make a plan, create the content, and figure out the aesthetics before just jumping into building something will make all the difference in the world. And, if it’s going to be the first impression the majority of your future customers are going to get of your business, you have to make the prep work count.
To help guide you on this journey (and I guarantee you it will be a journey), here are 5 things to consider when you’re planning a website redesign:
Is the current website serving your ideal customers’ needs?
You probably think you know who your ideal customers are, what they’re like, and what they need from you. In marketing lingo, that’s called a user persona and, unless you’ve just been asked to create one, or review an existing persona, for a marketing campaign you’re putting together, it’s probably been a while since you’ve explicitly thought about who your ideal customers are.
Even if you’re confident you know those ideal customers inside and out, it doesn’t hurt to sit down and get all that knowledge that’s in your brain down on paper. So, open up your favorite writing tool and create as many different user personas that you think your business is currently serving, or who you’d like to target. Once you have one or more personas that clearly define who your ideal customers are, pop open your company’s current website and do a little analysis. When people visit a business’ website, they’re looking for something specific that will benefit them somehow. Are all their needs outlined in the personas you created being fulfilled by what’s currently on your website? Does the tone of the content speak to those groups of people? Note the places where website content is filling the bill, where are places for improvement, and if there are any gaps that need to be filled.
Check your marketing data!
While you’re engaged in auditing the content on your existing company website, make sure to retain any content you see that still works. To guide you in this process, if Google Analytics, Hotjar, or some other marketing analysis tool is configured on the current website, it’s worth looking at that data to see what, if any, existing content is actually generating a decent amount of traffic. If you spot one or more pages that are performing well and attracting lots of views, you should make sure to include recreating those pages in your website redesign project plan. Search engines like Google only care about the content that’s on those pages, so you’re safe to change the colors, typography, and even the page layout (as long as it’s mobile-friendly), while still retaining the search rankings and traffic those pages are currently receiving. Oh, and try to retain the original URLs for these popular pages, if possible! That way, you don’t have to worry about redirecting traffic to new URLs, and possibly running into 404 issues and/or search ranking problems.
Planning a website redesign is a content-first process.
What does content-first mean? It means that before you even start thinking about getting your friendly-neighborhood web developer to start in on those shiny new layouts, you should have all of your new text content, images, videos, graphics, etc., ready to go before website development starts. There are a few important reasons for this:
Visitors to your website aren’t there to ooh and ahh over the subtle animations that happen when you hover over that picture of “grumpy cat”, or the slick font you paid a ransom for. They are there to find out about your business, and what you can do for them. That means the content of your website is paramount, not the design. The website’s overall design should serve to present that content in a way that makes it as appealing as possible. As such, the design and layout phase of your website redesign project is informed by the content – content is the foundation upon which everything else is built. Don’t get me wrong though, design is important too. You’d look weird driving around in a fancy sports car with all the body panels missing.
The second reason it’s important to finalize the content before the design is because the design phase of a website redesign project usually starts off with mockups created in a design app like Sketch or Figma. Part of the design process also involves making changes to layouts, and other aspects of the web page designs, including changes to content. It’s much easier, faster, and cheaper to make these changes to the mockups instead of a live website that a developer is working on. Finalizing content ahead of development means that you’re not paying software development rates to make changes that could have been finalized more inexpensively beforehand.
Related to the point above – many web design shops like to use out-of-the-box templates to build websites for clients. They’ll either use them as they are, or make modest changes by adding custom branding elements, colors, etc. Many times, during a website redesign project that will be using prefabricated templates, the templates will be chosen and presented to the client before they’ve even begun getting the content together. What this means is that the final content will have to be shoe-horned into the layouts – likely necessitating edits to the content to get it to fit the page. In the end, the result will be something that not only doesn’t look all that great, but more importantly has content that probably doesn’t have the impact or detail that it should.
Don’t rush the new site out the door!
Mesmerized by the prospect of finally getting rid of that old company website that was built back when your office computer monitor took up half your desk and weighed more than your car, you might be tempted to try and rush the timeline. Or maybe you’ve planned a marketing campaign to launch on a certain date and now you want the website launch to coincide at the same time, even though the agency or developer you’ve contracted with to design and build the website has already given you a longer timeline. Resist the temptation to rush a website redesign out the door. A website redesign project, if done properly, is actually a pretty complex affair, with many steps and many more small details – all of which are important.
During each phase of the project, take the necessary time to thoroughly engage with whatever it is that needs to be done. Here are some common steps to every website redesign process, and what things you should be focusing on during each phase:
Take the time needed to create new content, refresh any old content that you’re retaining from the previous website, and revise and rewrite until the message you want to convey is as punchy and concise as possible. Remember, nobody likes to slog through paragraphs of dense text when they’re browsing through websites. Time is not on your side – visitors to your website will leave if your content doesn’t grab their attention right away. Make it count!
Once the content has been finalized and no more major changes need to be made to it, it can be sent, along with images, video, icons, graphics, etc, to the designer who will use it, together with style preferences you’ve conveyed, to create static mockups of the new webpages. There are usually one or more opportunities for you to review the design mockups and request changes. Once this process is complete, the designs are “frozen”, meaning no additional changes will be made, and the mockups are sent to the developer.
This phase of the website redesign process is pretty hands-off from the perspective of the client, and it can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to several months, or more, to complete the website build, depending on how complex the website is, and the capacity of the developer, or development team, to handle the workload. When the website is finished, it will usually be uploaded to a staging area so you can see how the website will look and function when it’s finally published to the web.
The staging review is the final critical piece of any website redesign – it’s your last chance to request any additional changes to the website, and update any content, before the site goes live. Depending on what’s stipulated in the project agreement, some changes at this point might be billable, while others may be included as part of the revisions allotment. Either way, it’s worth it to hang in there even if, at this point in the game, your enthusiasm for the website redesign project might be flagging. Take the time to perform a thorough review of the new site to make sure you’re getting what you paid for, and to ensure the website will convey the right message to your potential customers.
Once the final review in staging is complete, it’s time to launch the website. Feel good knowing that you put in the time and effort to create the best possible conditions for a successful website redesign. When you get that email from the developers letting you know the website is live, go ahead and open it up in your web browser. Bask in the glow of all your effort and put an extra creamer into your break-room coffee, you deserve it.
The website redesign project is done…now what?
Like houseplants, websites should get regular care and attention. If your company’s website runs on WordPress (which is likely since WordPress powers almost 40% of all websites worldwide), it will need to be maintained and updated on a regular basis. The website will also have security requirements, it will need to be regularly backed up, and then there’s SEO and marketing analytics. At the very least, the content that you worked so hard to update and polish will need regular updating to make sure it stays relevant to the products and services your company offers as your business evolves and changes. If ranking favorably in search engines is important, then you’ll not only need to keep the existing content up-to-date and relevant, but you’ll also need to consistently add content to the website to ensure your website stays on the map for whatever areas of your business’ industry need to be targeted.
Whether you currently have no website for your business, you’re maintaining an existing website, or you’re considering a website redesign for your business, it’s tempting to look at websites as basically static assets – once the site is up there, you can move on to other things. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Your company website is a dynamic and increasingly more important part of doing business and, whether your company’s website is a direct generator of revenue or sales leads, or a simple brochure website meant to showcase the services or products you offer, it’s likely the first thing potential customers are going to see when discovering your business. Like keeping a clean, orderly brick and mortar store, or spending the money to design a sleek product catalog, a website has the potential to generate lots of opportunity for your business. Putting in the time and effort to initiate and complete a thorough website redesign is a guaranteed way to wow potential customers and make their experiences interacting with your business successful.