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.