Having worked since 2001 on planning, designing and building out digital redesign projects, I can typically see whether a project will ultimately be successful or run into turbulence based on the planning and preparedness of the client or project team (and, in some cases, the agency doing the work as well). Website redesign projects are traditionally more challenging than building out a new property from scratch. There is much to consider in terms of content, user behavior, deployment and all of the other unknowns that can crop up during a project.
In my years actively engaged in the agency business, I’ve seen that clients forget the same things over and over again, so I figured it was a good time to remind anyone who is considering or starting a website redesign project of these common errors or omissions that should be contemplated during the planning stage of their project. Understanding these items before signing a contract to undergo a redesign definitely will help with minimizing stress and maximizing the use of your budget. So, in no particular order, here are some key concepts you need to remember as you plan your website redesign.
I don’t think that coming into a redesign project with the idea of “making our website look better” is enough of a reason nor enough of a success metric to ensure a project will proceed well and end in a positive manner. I prefer that all customers come to the table with a list of actual, achievable goals and objectives for the redesign.
The reasons people redesign websites may include concerns around the look and the feel of the site. And it’s fair to say that you want to undergo a redesign to bring the user experience up to modern standards. But, a design is something that is subjective to many people, and it’s hard for everyone in an organization to agree on what success “looks like”, both figuratively and literally. I recommend that customers agree on a list of goals that are quantifiable and achievable. Some examples may include:
- I want to decrease our bounce rate from 65% to 40% or better.
- I want to increase our conversion rates from 1% to 3%.
- Our website loads too slow; we need a load time of fewer than 1.5 seconds.
These examples are, as Hubspot teaches, SMART goals. They are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely, in that you want to achieve them via your redesign. Utilizing SMART goals will ensure you have specific objectives that a team can agree on and measure, thus creating a cohesion between team members, regardless of where they work in the organization. They cut around the muck of poorly defined website requirements, aligning everyone that comes into contact with them around a common objective, a desired future state that meets those specific goals. This is a very powerful practice, which you can complete yourself with in-house meetings that should be conducted solely to create a series of these goals, on paper, for all to see and share.
The majority of clients forget about content migration or place a lower urgency on the task. If you have a website that already exists, then you have a collection of content. That content is known to search engines and users alike. When you redesign or re-platform a website, you need to come up with a plan to migrate the content from one place to another, with minimal disruption to your search engine rankings or user behavior. This is where things get complicated…
Depending on the source platform and the destination or new platform, content migration can be simple or be a complete nightmare. The factors to consider is where your content is coming from (meaning, what system or CMS), the format of the content, how you can ingest it into the new system, and what cleaning will be required. Unfortunately, there are too many scenarios possible to detail this in a single post. However, the best advice we can give is to be aware of this from the beginning of your planning. Make sure that every proposal you receive and every vendor you speak to has a plan for your content migration that covers each of the above-mentioned items. Honestly, content migration can be so complex that it should be a line item on the budget section of any proposal by itself. Properly planning for this means you’ll avoid the shock of additional work orders that will impact your budget or even worse, the nightmare of being confronted at the 11th hour with no plan in place.
Finally, one other item that needs consideration is SEO. Search engines are already aware of your content and have it spidered, indexed and stored for consumption by search users. Almost every website redesign project suffers an SEO decline in the days and weeks following deployment. However, there are steps you can take to minimize this issue. Be sure to plan for this in advance and discuss it with your developer so you can minimize the impact of a site redeployment. With proper planning, most SEO dips will recover in the first couple of weeks. However, without a plan in place, you can see permanent SEO consequences which could impact your business.
I am separating content creation from migration, though there is a fine line between the two and they are closely related. Content creation is something that many redesign clients overlook because they think they already have content in the bag from their existing site. With the exception of clients who are doing rebranding exercises, many clients don’t give too much thought to content creation, and instead are surprised when the days before deployment include their panicked writing of pages and pages of copy to support the new web design.
When a site is redesigned, designers will work two ways. One is to utilize all of your existing copy in creating new designs. The other is to use temporary copy in certain areas. The use of spacer copy certainly speeds up the design process, but if left until the 11th hour can come back to haunt you. Content is the cause of the majority of delayed website deployments that we’ve seen in our years in the agency business – at some point, almost every client has run into an issue with content creation during a project.
The best way to plan is to be ahead of the problem. During the design phase work with designers to understand the copy requirements. Provide it to them during the design process so you can see the copy in place. Then, the copy will carry to the developers who are building out the site. It’s a better process, avoids last-minute stress and surprises and gives you a better visual feel for the project as it progresses.
Deployment Plan & Procedure
You can’t complete your project without a deployment. Too many clients enter into website redesign projects with no understanding of how the finished product will actually be deployed live to the customer. Your goal with any deployment is zero downtime, meaning that end users will not have any issue loading the site at any moment. For the majority of website re-launches, it is relatively easy and painless. You simply set up the new site on a new hosting instance (or new server) and then just flip the DNS switch. Or, you can install the two sites side by side, then simply enable one while disabling the other. Okay, maybe I simplified that a little bit…
Whatever the method or deployment, which isn’t important to discuss here, it is imperative that the concept is planned for from the first day you begin looking at proposals. We include in all of our proposals the guarantee of a “seamless deployment” which means we’ll take care of all of the steps in route to pushing your finalized project out to the world. Most good developers and agencies will include this in their project proposal. If they do not, then ask what their plans are and how past deployments have gone.
Budgeting for Unknowns
Much like any project you undertake, such as home improvement, you must always budget a bit for the unknown. Now, I’d love to walk you through all the unknowns your project may have, but then, they wouldn’t be unknown, right? The fact is, problems seem to always find a way to present themselves as the most inopportune time. It’s almost a guarantee that something will come up when you least expect it. So the best you can do is prepare for that instance.
I find that in our experience, two methods of preparation work best. First, simply budget for it. I don’t know precisely what you SHOULD budget, as each project and each customer is different. But have in your mind a figure that can cover any unknowns that may arise. It could be 10 or 20%, but whatever the amount, make sure you have something prepared just in case. Most of the time, unknowns are not optional items but rather things that you need to address in order for the project to succeed.
Another way we prepare for the unknowns is to include a line item for such occurrences in our proposals. We may include an allowance of X hours of development time to handle any unknown issues that may arise. The size of this allowance would depend on the overall size of the project and would allow you to continue your project, handle the unknowns, and not be a shock to your pre-approved budget.
We’ve written in this blog extensively about ADA compliance, which in the past few years has become quite the legal issue. In a nutshell, there are many less-than-reputable law firms sending demand letters to website owners implying that they represent users who have suffered using websites due to lack of ADA accessibility.
This issue is something that many web designers have no idea about – they don’t understand what accessibility is all about and don’t consider it when building out the website. In truth, time must be spent to carefully consider making your site compliant. This is mostly technical work, but it requires some ingenuity as well, as there is no official “compliance” but rather a series of best practices. Where skill comes into play is the ability to have a unique, cutting-edge design while still implementing the best practices that will lead to ADA compliance.
It’s important to note here that there are many other areas where compliance may be of interest to your company. HIPAA for healthcare, GDPR for pretty much anything that does business in the EU. It’s always good practice to seek legal advice when working on a web redesign to make sure you are compliant with any industry-specific legal considerations.
I shouldn’t really have to mention this point, as the mobile takeover of the web has been happening for many years at this point. Some designers are proponents of a mobile-first approach for all projects. I am a bit more of the school that the direction that you design something starts with the profile of who is using the site or application. If it’s a mobile-intensive website, and the stats prove that mobile is a larger audience than other mediums, then we design mobile first.
The problem when it comes to mobile is the business owner who disregards that it even exists. This is something that needs to be avoided, as mobile is an inescapable requirement of anything web-based. Almost any website now has a large chunk of users who are on mobile devices. So, it’s important that you remember that a mobile presence is important during website planning. And, it’s important that you give it ample attention so as to ensure a mobile experience is native and compelling and doesn’t appear to be an afterthought.
Errors and omissions on a project are common and in many cases unavoidable. Even with the best planning phase, issues can arise that you didn’t foresee in advance. But, planning does ensure that those “gotchas” are fewer and far between as opposed to overtaking your entire initiative. Make sure that both yourself and your agency are considering all of the above points and you will be ahead of the game in terms of overall project preparedness, which should result in a smoother project and more impactful end result.