Your online presence is more important now than ever. Whether your website is the lifeblood of your organization or one spoke in the wheel, it’s vital to your success and should work hard to support your business and user goals.
Redesigning your website is a significant undertaking. It requires designated resources from your business and the help of an agency to provide integrated strategy, design, development, marketing, content and hosting services. Explore the common phases of a successful website redesign so you can prepare, set expectations and avoid common pitfalls.
Planning and Discovery: Setting the Stage
There may be nothing more satisfying than the before-and-after comparison of a newly redesigned website. But before the design concept can start, a strategy must be in place—and for that to happen, it’s essential to map out business goals, priorities and objectives.
Whether you’re redesigning internally or partnering with an agency, it’s critical that all stakeholders talk through process and intent. What should the new site accomplish? Where do the pain points lie? How might your business scale over time, and how should your website support that? Defining business objectives is a necessary first step. Understanding what’s working and what’s not enables your new website to solve for those issues and foster growth.
Website analytics and user feedback can be valuable here. While priority products and services may be clear, it’s important to understand how users are engaging with them. Analyze data to identify the areas of your current website that are seeing success and the ones that are falling down, then use this insight to inform redesign strategy. If something is working, preserve it. If it’s not, make it better. Heatmapping, usability testing and competitive benchmarking can also help you identify successes and opportunities.
To kick off the redesign process, your agency will ask pointed questions to help inform strategy and design. The agency will then join you for a discovery session to talk through website goals and objectives, dive deeper into your responses and ask follow-up questions. These collaborative discussions will help all stakeholders understand the unique attributes of your business, institution or organization and what you’d like your new website to accomplish.
In addition to business priorities, it’s important to identify the demographic makeup of your primary and target audiences, along with top revenue drivers and key growth opportunities. Outline existing functionalities and future integrations to ensure the development of a scalable solution, then talk through brand guidelines and tone. This insight will fuel site strategy and help your redesign team create a website consistent with your other marketing tactics.
Website Architecture: Laying the Groundwork
A strong user experience starts with an intuitive site architecture. When arriving at your website, visitors should immediately understand two things: where to find the information they’re seeking and what to expect when they get there. Steve Krug’s “Don’t Make Me Think” is an aptly titled usability handbook that speaks to this concept. Users should not have to think before they click; they should already know where to go.
Your site strategist will take this into account when creating the structure for your new website. Your strategist will determine all pages on the new site, map them to any equivalent existing pages (to account for URL redirects later on) and organize them into clear, well-defined menu sections.
Pages should fall into categories that make sense to your target users. A financial institution, for example, may want all bank accounts in one menu section and lending products in another. Page titles should be self-evident and crafted with SEO in mind. Chances are, if users are searching for a particular term on Google, they’ll look for similar keywords on your website. For this reason, general, non-branded terminology is often preferred over internal lingo.
Your strategist will also consider which pages to create, migrate and consolidate. Your new website must strike a balance between consolidating similar pages to eliminate duplicative content and creating new pages to address specific value propositions. Both are beneficial to SEO when employed strategically.
It’s important to note that not all pages must—or should—be surfaced within the primary navigation. Pages can be nested within others and displayed as internal links, related content or “quick links” in the top global navigation or footer. Quick links should include frequently visited and top-priority pages based on business and user goals. The idea is to make them easy to find and accessible with a single click.
All this work must be done up front, as site architecture will impact design strategy and lay the foundation for a cohesive website experience.
Design: Reimagining Your Website
Before a web designer touches virtual pen to paper, the basic structure and layout of each page type must be defined. Your strategist and designer will work together, leveraging UX best practices and business priorities, to identify which design elements to include on which page layouts. Special consideration is taken for page intent and location within the purchase funnel. An upper-funnel page will focus more on educating and informing users, while a page at the bottom of the funnel will include more robust content aimed at driving conversion. Related content will be strategically placed to support the user journey and create a guided experience.
While page layout strategy is underway, your designer will often create a “mood board” compiling concepts, imagery and visual treatments to which your internal team can respond. This is meant to help establish the overall look and feel of your new site while exploring concepts that could work well for your particular brand. The mood board will include elements from other websites to serve as inspiration and idea-starters. You’ll have a chance to discuss and react to the mood board to guide the subsequent stages of design.
Sketching or wireframing comes next. This step pulls from both the page layout strategy and mood board to develop a rough outline of each page layout. Concepts begin to take shape during this stage. The designer and strategist will identify opportunities to add visual intrigue and a premium look and feel during design and development.
Once content blocks and page flow are approved, the real fun begins. A designer will leverage your brand colors, fonts and treatments to create mockups for each page layout (e.g., homepage, category, detail, landing). All layouts should be designed with ADA conformance and mobile responsiveness in mind, both of which are key to user experience. If two concepts are designed, usability testing of flat layouts can help gauge strengths and weaknesses of each. The strongest elements will then be combined to create a final concept.
Content Creation: Illuminating Your Brand
After the new website design is finalized, the designer and copywriter will source imagery and craft content for each page to complement your brand tone and positioning. Strategic image selection will help make your website relatable and on-brand, while copy will be reworked to match the new page layouts, reflect your brand voice and support SEO goals.
Copy should be clear and straightforward while aligning with your brand positioning. At the onset of this phase, it’s important to define your brand dos and don’ts, along with adjectives that embody your unique brand. Whether your business opts for a more conservative tone to reflect trust and expertise or a more lighthearted, conversational tone to foster personal connections, refreshing your site copy is crucial to your website’s success.
Strategic use of copy and imagery can also help set your business apart from your competition and highlight key differentiators. Copy and imagery should demonstrate the payoff of each product and service. This cultivates more meaningful experiences by connecting offerings to the ways they can enrich people’s lives. Although content creation happens at the page level, your agency will examine the site holistically to ensure pages flow together.
Development: Bringing Your Vision to Life
Once the design is approved and content is finalized, a developer will bring it to life. Initial prototyping involves the development of each page layout outside your selected content management system, or CMS. This translates the design to a responsive, in-browser experience. Although not fully functional, the prototype is an important step along the way to confirm how key site elements will behave. Prototypes are carefully tested to ensure ADA conformance and synchronicity with design, with particular focus on text styling, link behavior, menus and hover states, among others. If design is the blueprint, prototype is the foundation, indicating how pages will behave when users interact with them.
After the prototype is complete, the full site will be built in your new CMS. This the stage when all pages, content and functionality come to life. Your custom SEO strategy will also be implemented here, including URL structure, schema, page meta titles and descriptions and anything else to support organic SEO. Page-level redirects and vanity URLs are set up to ensure all pages from your existing website point to their new counterparts once code is pushed to production.
The development site is rigorously tested by internal agency stakeholders to confirm proper mapping, functionality and WCAG accessibility, then sent to your internal team for final approval. Once testing is complete and any final edits are made, your new website is ready to meet the world.
Site Launch: Reaping the Rewards
Earlier on in the project, you’ll determine where your new site will be hosted, along with any related requirements. Once your site is ready, your agency will coordinate with your hosting team to make the transition from your old site to your new site as seamless as possible. This process is often accompanied by a planned content freeze to be sure no new content is overwritten during deployment. Website visitors should experience no interruption or downtime, although your redesign team will be on hand to troubleshoot should any unplanned outages arise. Once deployed, the full site is tested once again by QA teams and others involved in the project.
While your new website is designed to improve usability, any change can often require an adjustment period for your end users. To generate excitement and minimize customer stress, consider a site tour, FAQ database and website launch campaign to introduce users to your new experience and help familiarize them with the differences and improvements. Launch campaigns often include email announcements and social media posts to reach a large audience. Be prepared to support visitors over the phone and via live chat if available, as some may have questions about your new website.
Analysis & Optimization: Leveling Up the Experience
It won’t be long before you see the impact of your new website. Performance improvements are typically evident within weeks or months of launch. Close monitoring of website analytics and user feedback will help you keep a pulse on performance. You can then make any minor adjustments to maximize the experience.
Custom analytics tracking and reporting can help you evaluate ROI and identify opportunities to build out additional features. Keep in mind that if you’d like comparative before-and-after data to truly measure the impact of your redesign, that data must be present on your current site as well.
Once a redesigned site is live, it can feel like both the end and the beginning. While the project itself is complete, a website is never finished, even after launch. Develop a plan to keep content fresh and look for opportunities to continue advancing your digital presence. Consider sophisticated add-ons that may not have made their way into your initial project, such as website personalization, a blog with educational content, a product or solutions finder and custom layouts or widgets, like dynamic comparison charts. Cycling in relevant new content and features will help build loyalty, increase retention and give visitors a reason to come back. It will also fuel your digital marketing efforts by providing fodder for upcoming campaigns.
Although redesigning a website involves many moving parts, a thoughtful, deliberate process will pay off in the long run. Strategizing ahead of time fosters collaboration and develops a big-picture view of your goals and objectives. Contact ZAG to learn more about the website redesign process and how we can help bring your vision to life.