A Guide to Approaching the Strategic Redesign of a Website
Every website has a life-span; they eventually become dated and no longer fit for purpose – especially if the business has been re-positioned since the site was launched. Sometimes a website needs to be replaced because it’s simply not giving any return on investment.
For many business owners, the hope is that a new website will automatically perform better than the old one, and that the visual re-design in particular will result in more sales. However, thousands of pounds can be spent on a new site and no benefit be seen unless the re-design is approached correctly, and that always begins with asking the right online strategy questions. Latching onto the way the new website looks, before considering what it needs to do, how it achieves that, and how it fits into the company’s industry is a recipe for wasted efforts.
Strategy to inform action
Wanting a site to look modern and up-to-date is natural and does play a part in how customers will react to the new site. However, it is the content that does the hard work, and knowing what content to put in and where is informed by strategic research. These are the questions you should be discussing with your website development team before anyone even begins to mock up a design.
What do you want the site to do?
For e-commerce websites, this question is very easy to answer; sell more! But for businesses who don’t sell directly through their site, this can be more complex. Sometimes it’s getting site visitors to sign up to a newsletter, sometimes it’s to provide information about services and then increase inquiries, sometimes it’s to reinforce brand – often it’s all of these and more. It’s surprising how many companies don’t take the time to consider these goals at the beginning, but being aware of what you want to be the primary and secondary goals of the site informs the structure, prominence given to certain information, calls to action and many other content and design considerations.
What is currently working well?
It’s tempting to throw the old website out entirely, having focused on all the things that aren’t working and may have irritated you over its lifespan. However, taking the time to consider what does work well is important. Have customers ever complained about not finding your contact details for example? Often the answer is yes – but if it’s ‘no’ then you know the way those are presented in the current site is working for your customers, and may be worth carrying over into the new design.
What needs to be improved?
Looking at the kinds of questions people ask after visiting the site (perhaps through a contact form) is a good way to tell whether the current content is presented intuitively. If the answers to those questions are on the site, then it’s clear your customers aren’t finding the information in the way you anticipated. How can a redesign address these problems?
What are your competitors doing?
An analysis of your competitors is always a good way to get ideas for your re-design – not simply emulation, but also looking at what you find hard to do or which information is hard to find. Often business owners are so familiar with their own site that it’s impossible to see it like a new user, however if you go to another site in the same industry, you may be able to get insights about your own. Getting a third party to do this for you is even better, as they will be totally unbiased and be able to evaluate your site alongside your competitor’s sites fairly.
What language does your industry use?
This is a critical component of strategic research, and something that many business owners find difficult to gauge, for the same reason that they find it hard to see their own website as a visitor would. A business owner is often so deeply enmeshed in their own industry, that they find it hard to separate out the terms commonly used by customers from the jargon that could exclude them.
Knowing the language used across the industry informs the content that needs to be used on the site, both to attract and keep site visitors, but also gain search engine visibility. This in particular leads to the first stage of the re-design: structure and content mapping, not the color palette!
The content is more important than the new visual design
Site structure and the content within it will achieve the majority of goals behind a redesign. Clearly good visual design is incredibly important, as it will help to draw the eye to critical calls to action, make the site easy to use and reinforce brand. However, a beautiful new site will not guarantee improved performance. Before a military campaign, intelligence is gathered and a strategy put in place. Whilst a website redesign obviously is a different experience, the reasoning behind the military approach is still valid to inline strategy. Gather intelligence about your site and your industry, then make the plan before any designs are mocked up or copy is written, otherwise you may end up with a site that looks good, but does nothing to help your business.