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.