Time for a Website Redesign? Part 1

November 1, 2019
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What are the basic steps involved in creating and launching a new website - and how do you know you even need one? In my view, you can break a website redesign project into six key stages. In this post, I am writing about stage 1.

Project Planning

Current State Review

Do you need a full redesign or just a refresh? Start by asking yourself the following key questions:

  • Are you achieving the desired results with your current website? This involves looking at your website analytics and search engine optimization (SEO), as well as that of your competitors.
  • Has your brand changed recently? This isn't just a design consideration; if your new brand includes a change of tone in how you write about your products/services, then you should revisit all of your content to ensure it complies with the new organizational voice.
  • Is there new technology out there (such as responsive design) that will enable you to improve the user experience? If your website is not mobile-friendly, you are missing out on an increasingly large visitor audience. And if your website won't render properly on new browser versions, then I strongly suggest a redesign. Users have no patience for a bad experience, and will move on to your competitors.
  • Has your organization experienced significant restructuring? If so, you likely need to change how you write about and promote your offerings. Maybe a full redesign isn't needed, but a content overhaul points to the need to rebuild some key aspects of your website.

If the answers to these questions point to "Yes, we need a redesign to achieve our business objectives," then you need to look inside your organization to see if you are ready.

Internal Assessment

  • Resources: Undertake an internal assessment to see if you are ready and able to begin this project. Do you have people you need, such as a project manager, a writer, a designer?
  • Priorities: Are there competing priorities? Your marketing team might be leading the charge, but if you also need the support of your IT department then you must make sure they are on board with this effort.
  • Budget: Determining the budget for a website redesign depends largely on the number of features you want and what kind of business you are in (ecommerce? blog-heavy? multi-language? etc. etc.) so I can't answer this one. What I will say is that you get what you pay for, so don't focus on selecting the lowest-cost option. I recommend networking with your peers and asking them for ballpark numbers on their last redesign.
  • Property audit: if you've been limping along with an out of date website for a while, chances are you have several satellite properties that were spun up on other platforms to serve a need that your old CMS just wasn't capable of. For the University of Michigan Law School, this was definitely the case. Be sure to understand the breadth of the challenge ahead of you, and start conversations with owners of the various sites to make sure they are all ready to take this journey with you.

Executive Buy-In

Now that you've looked at the what and why of a redesign, you need to look at the Who. Who is interested in seeing this done? Who is invested in the status quo? Who has the political power to both help and hurt you? You need to know the answers to all of these questions before undertaking a huge project like this. These are your key stakeholders (other stakeholders who have content on your site matter as well, but right now I am just writing about key stakeholders).

In addition to key stakeholders, you need to identify your executive champion. The executive champion needs to effectively influence the key people in your organization's power structure. To a lesser extent, they may serve as advisor, but the thing you are looking for here is someone who can help you navigate roadblocks and land mines, can get you the resources you need, and shortcut any red tape. You have to present a business case to this person, so pay attention to this detail and understand how they will measure the success of your project, and how they work. I had an executive champion that loved getting her information in binders. While I felt digital presentations would be more effective in conveying information, she needed everything printed and referenceable. How I worked best didn't matter, and honestly, it shouldn't.

The critical thing about a successful executive champion relationship is managing his/her expectations and delivering on your commitments. Don't make your champion look bad by not keeping them informed every step along the way.

Once you've determined you do need a redesigned (or completely new) website, continue to part 2 of this blog series in which I talk about the steps involved in kicking off your website redesign.

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