Many companies struggle through planning a site redesign. What they fail to understand, is that a website isn’t meant to be something that is designed once, and left to exist on its own. Top sites like Amazon, Facebook, EBay and Zappos, have all changed their sites frequently, but do so incrementally, adding tweaks in functionality and content over time. You wouldn’t notice changes month to month, but over the course of several years, the changes are very apparent. Those sites have not had a true “redesign” for years. Instead their sites are designed to be enduring, able to react to information easily, organically growing and changing.
Some companies we work with are not ready to begin iterating today. Developers are still creating websites that make it a challenge for others to edit. The people now in charge of site maintenance cannot fully decipher the sites back-end system. Those companies’ sites are therefore in need of a redesign just to get to the point where they will be able to take ownership of their online presence. The good news is that a proper site redesign only needs to happen once. This should be a relief to the managers thinking that they will need to invest in a full “site redesign” on a consistent basis. However, after the foundation is set in place, the website will need attention.
If it isn’t your main business driver, your website should at least be an integral part of your business. Your online presence isn’t a marketing channel, it is a living breathing embodiment of your company, and is increasingly the space where your customers interact with your brand. So it’s important to get your redesign right.
To those in charge of pulling the trigger on the site redesign: think of your site kind of like you think of your home refrigerator. If you had an old 1970’s fridge and wanted to change the position of the shelves to accompany the sizes of your groceries over time, you wouldn’t be able to. The shelving would be fixed. You would have to first purchase a more modern refrigerator model in order to adjust the shelving – but you could adjust that shelving to your hearts content! It may not be a perfect analogy, but if you invest your time and money in the beginning on developing a site that can be adjusted and tweaked in the long run, you won’t need a new model for a very long time.
Drastic changes are rare amongst excellent sites (and there is no reason you can’t have an excellent site). One reason for that fact is the thought put into the initial site build. For that reason, I’d like to touch on two points that will help mentally prepare your company for your site redesign: choosing the right CMS and properly developing site architecture.
1. Choosing the right content management system (CMS)
For larger companies, or those with complex websites, choosing a CMS can be a complicated process. The important thing to remember here is that the CMS must be accessible to those who will maintain the site in the long run. If you outsource your site redesign, make sure the CMS that the designer puts in place is easily understood by the people that will be adding new content, pages, and site sections on a regular basis. Tech teams at many of our client companies do not understand how their website was coded by its developers. This is a major hindrance in moving the site forward.
Several of our clients use popular open source CMS solutions such as Drupal, Joomla!, and blogging platforms which completely meet their website goals. Not only are these solutions customizable, but they are also easy to use. Using a blogging platform such as WordPress can allow members of your company to add content to the website, even with very limited knowledge of coding. Some are surprised to hear that WordPress actually supports some very robust sites with seemingly complex functionality. Before allowing a design firm to create a website from scratch, ask whether using a blogging platform might serve your needs. Especially for those looking to deploy a site quickly, or cheaply, WordPress gives you leverage that is not possible with hand-coded sites.
2. Properly Developing Site Architecture
Developing a flexible website that can grow with your company means you’ll have to put a good amount of thought into how the initial site is structured. Start with best practices of information architecture and usability. Consider how your site will serve user needs. Don’t just organize content based on internal goals and company structure. Instead, consider your customers’ understanding of your business. For example, your company may believe it’s most important to display your products’ features and technical specifications. However, with a little research you may find that reviews and product benefits are more important to your users.
Research through web analytics is your best and most cost effective weapon in getting the most out of a site redesign. Observe what content your users view most often, what events are triggered most frequently, what keywords are used most to get to various site sections (What’s that? You’re not sure how to find this information? We can help).
When talking to your design firm about a redesign, ask about how they see the website evolving in the long term. Remember that a website is not something that can be neglected. Considering the amount of potential customers that will judge your brand based on your website, it is important that you set realistic expectations and plan accordingly for your sites development and growth. If done correctly, with the right preparation, this could be the last time you have to worry about a full redesign.