Why Plan a Website Redesign?
Every website owner will at some point undergo a website redesign to improve the site, or bring it up to date on web standards. The decision to redesign a website should not be made lightly because it is fraught with hidden costs and ramifications. The more planning and the better prepared you are, the less impact to your business during a website redesign. Planning the entire website redesign will save you time, money and resources in the long run.
First you should determine if it is absolutely necessary to redesign your website. If you can list at least three reasons for a website redesign that make good business sense, then a site redesign is probably a good idea. To start your planning, begin making a list:
- List the redesign goals and current website goals.
- Take your best guess about the amount of money it will cost for a redesign. Make sure it is a good use of your marketing dollars and the time your staff will spend working on the project.
- Do not plan a redesign that corresponds with a peak sales cycle.
Addressing The Goals of the Website and Writing an RFQ:
Talk to your visitors, friends and colleagues about what would make the website function better.
- Identify your target audience.
- Identify the goals for the website.
- Identify what you want your visitors to do on the website.
- Make sure your staff can keep the website current.
- Decide if you will use a Content Management System (CMS) to update your own web pages or you will use static HTML web pages.
- Decide if you will be switching hosting at the same time as you are doing the redesign – consider any email address impacts if this is the case.
- Identify well-respected web design firms.
- Decide on a budget for the redesign project.
After you have answered these initial questions, you are ready to write a request for proposals (RFP). This will include a project description, a timeline, a budget, and a more detailed description of deliverables and goals.
Preserving Search Engine Rankings for Redesign
In order to measure the success of your website redesign, you will need to save the current analytics information and search positions of the keyword phrases for your current website. Make sure you have enough data about the current site to compare search rankings, visitors, and website goals.
Most established websites have a presence on search engines and certain search engine rankings on keywords that bring in visitors. If you change your website, you risk losing your hard-earned search engine rankings. If you change the page names, you will have to direct search engines to the new page using permanent redirects to ensure that the pages that used to rank for phrases still do. Before you begin a website redesign, you should review analytics on the site and identify important content that is currently ranking and make sure that you convert it over to the new design.
Other things to consider in order to preserve search rankings include site architecture, URL structure, page optimization, links pointing to the site and site interlinking. Changing any of these items can impact your search engine rankings.
Sending Out the RFQ
Send your RFQ to only a few carefully selected web design companies. In the RFQ, ask for examples of their work and references. Include specific examples of sites you like and dislike to give the firm a concrete idea of your ultimate redesign look and usability. Include your logo, font, color palette and design guidelines if you have them.
Once you’ve selected a company, they will work with you to create a Statement of Work (SOW) which is a signed agreement outlining deliverables and expectations on both sides, pricing, timing and payment information.
Inventory Your Content
Review the content on the current site and decide if it needs to be reorganized, contained in the new site, or expanded upon. Update or remove any data that is incorrect, outdated, or incomplete. Categorize all remaining content. If you think you want to include more content, go through your existing newsletters, files, brochures, and other marketing material you can add to the site to help make it a better user experience. In many cases, if your existing website does not have a supplementary article section or blog, you will want to add one. If you don’t have enough articles and stories to populate your new blog, make sure you have budgeted time to write new content. You don’t have to wait until the site is live, and the web development firm will appreciate all content sent in electronic format as soon as it is approved. One key element in understanding the flow of the pages on the new site is the site navigation and sitemap. Create an excel type spread sheet showing how old pages correspond to new pages. This will significantly cut down on design and programming and also helps you envision how the new site navigation will work.
Before any branding or design is applied to a site, it is a good idea to develop a website wireframe. The wireframe is a structural diagram that helps a team visualize the relationships between the site’s pages. Another aim is to identify what structural elements should appear on each page. A wireframe helps the design and engineering team understand your vision of the website and how it should function.
Design Mock Ups
At this point, the Web design team usually will show you several mockups of the web design. It is very important to review these carefully and ask questions about functionality. It is much cheaper to modify your site during the initial design phase than during the implementation phase. It is important to try to visualize how a user will navigate through the site using just a home page and internal page design layout. The more often you ask your design team to rework the layout, the more expensive the site will be, but it is still cheaper to do it at this point in the process than to wait until the design goes to the programming team. The web designers will probably schedule a meeting to review how they envision the site will work, and ask you to sign off on the design before proceeding to programming.
Items to Note for a Design in 2010
Many current Web 2.0 or Web 3.0 websites follow these conventions:
- Many sites make use of a CMS and social networking software to facilitate communication on the website.
- Shopping cart software works with as few page changes as possible to simplify the shopping process. Shipping rates and price discounts are identified as early in the shopping process as possible, and products can be cross-sold, up-sold, rated and commented upon, and search features are more robust to easily allow shoppers to find the specific items they want.
- Shopping carts should be checked to make sure “in stock” products work, but don’t necessarily show the number left in stock.
- Shopping cart shipping time should be correct or overestimated so that customers receive their products when they think they will.
- If your site requires secure pages (for accepting credit card information or protecting private data) you will need to purchase and install an SSL certificate.
- Sites should be clean, fast loading, easy to navigate, and provide a user experience that makes people want to return.
- Avoid Flash introductions.
- Include videos, but avoid “must-view” videos that start playing on the home page, especially video with sound.
- Avoid technology that forces visitors to download software in order to navigate the site.
- Include a place for press releases, include a blog, and include an RSS feed.
- Include links to social sites, bookmarking, and make sure that it is easy to share your pages.
- Ensure the site works on all latest versions of browsers.
- Do not require a Login unless it is necessary – make the user experience as simple and quick as possible.
- Plan for Search Engine Friendly URLs instead of long URLs without any search words.
Programming the Site Redesign
Programmers will usually develop the site on a test server where you can follow along in the process. The test server resembles your live production server as much as possible. Since content from the live site will probably be used for the new site, you should stop making any changes to the live site from this point on.
You may want to let your site users know that they could be affected by the redesign if this applies to them.
Testing The Redesigned Website
Before going to launch, there are several aspects of the site that need to be tested. The programmers will probably already have performed functionality testing, but you should go in at this point and make sure all the features work the way you envisioned. You may want to try some usability testing where you ask people who have never visited the site before to perform simple tasks, like finding a product, buying something, contacting someone, or retrieving a piece of information. If you expect a large number of visitors coming to your new site, make sure to have your programmers test with tools that simulate excessive traffic.
Launching the Redesigned Website
After testing is complete, the site is ready to move to the production server. The programmers will then back up your existing website so you can go back to it in the event of an emergency. Follow the checklist for going live. Finally, it is nice to send your newsletter subscribers an email letting them know about the brand new site, and perhaps offering them special incentive to visit it.
Checklist for Going Live
- Validate the HTML and CSS using this tool: http://validator.w3.org/
- Check for broken links: http://valet.webthing.com/link/
- Check that Robots.txt is correctly set up
- Check that Sitemap.xml is correctly set up
- Check that all “no follow” meta tags are removed unless otherwise indicated
- Check the site on various window sizes
- Check the site for various font sizes
- Check the site speed to make sure it loads quickly – you can use: http://www.iwebtool.com/speed_test
- Check errors and image sizes: http://www.netmechanic.com/products/HTML_Toolbox_FreeSample.shtml
- If your site will be used by site impaired people, check accessibility using: http://valet.webthing.com/access/
- Check your site on all current browsers
- Test SSL Certificate if applicable
- Optional – Check that Google Analtyics is installed correctly and goals identified
- Optional – Set up Google webmaster tools
- Add verification files for Google, Yahoo and Bing in meta tags
- Print the pages of your site to make sure they look right
- Turn off plug-ins like FLASH and make sure your site still functions
- Turn off images and make sure your site still functions.
- Double check the contact forms, payment gateways, shopping cart transactions, and other functionality
Planning a website re-design can be expensive and time consuming. The trick is to plan carefully and find the right balance between strong search engine optimization and usability, test thoroughly and plan carefully.