Thinking of redesigning your website? Here’s the checklist all MD’s and owners need.
We’re all tempted by the website redesign. The promise of instant rejuvenation and that ‘new website smell’. It’s appealing. Typically, businesses will stick with a website design for two years, live with it uneasily during a third year, and take the plunge at the start of the fourth.
We’ll come back to whether or not this is the best way to approach things – and discuss an alternative approach – but for now, if you’re thinking about a redesign, let’s consider some of the essentials:
Why are we redesigning?
Valid answers include: to make the website more accessible to a broader audience; to ensure we are accurately & persuasively communicating our company values; to provide our customers with a better (more usable / personal / persuasive) experience.
Invalid answers include: because the design is a little stale; because I never liked that blue we used; because our competitor just launched a new one. Are you sure that this website redesign is not a vanity project?
Evaluating whether or not we need to redesign our website is an important first step – and one that can be broken down conceptually as a hierarchy of user needs.
Most of us are somewhat familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs . It can be helpful to think of your website providing for the needs of your users & customers in a similar way. And to use this then as a means of assessing whether you need to redesign your website, and what you need to focus on in doing so.
If we did this, we might find our hierarchy of needs working out something like this …
1) Accessibility … can my website be accessed by all people on all devices, regardless of any technological or physical impairments?
This really is the most basic need of your website; there are precisely zero acceptable reasons for having an inaccessible website – one that can be accessed via screen readers, feature phones … internet enabled refrigerator’s and so on. That’s not to say every user on every device should have the same experience, just that every user on every device should be able to access your content.
2) Relevance … does the website address the important issue of telling your users what they want to know?
The important part here is relevance to your users. We’re not talking about what we believe they need to know – but what they want to know. Someone arriving on your site is motivated to find something out about your company – whether that’s information about an upcoming event, pricing for an off-the-shelf product, or simply your phone number. They’re motivated to find something out. Do you know what those things are, and do you provide them?
3) Usable … when a user is visiting our site, can they easily find the information they need in order to make a decision about your company, product or service?
Great – your website is relevant; it has the information your users need in order to move forward. But can they find it? Are the most relevant – the most sought after – pieces of information readily found on the site? What’s the navigation like, is search relevant, how easy is it to associate one piece of information with another … ? How usable is it?
4) Personal … are you able to cater for an individual user’s specific needs?
Having a really in depth knowledge of what your user’s needs are is a requirement here – and then being able to meet them is, for many, next level stuff. But should it be? Think about what areas of your site can be personalised (what does personalisation mean for you)? Can your site show different levels of information to different customers based on past experience? Can you upsell or cross-sell to return visitors? Yes, but only if you know who they are and what they really want.
5) Persuasive … how persuasive is the content of your site?
You can put all the right offers in front of all the right people, but if your site is not persuasive then it won’t convert. What does persuasive mean? Does your copy make a compelling case? Does your blog convince them that you are experts? What are the key motivators for your customers to make a purchase – and how are you persuading them that it is the right – the only – decision for them to make?
Where does your website fit in this hierarchy – and what capabilities does it require to progress to the next level? Those are the questions to be asking when you’re trying to figure out if you need to redesign your website or not.
What’s the right project for you – how should you prepare, and how can you avoid over spending?
You want to make sure the project is ‘just right’ for your business. You want to spend enough – but not too much, and you want to know, as best you can, that you’ve done that. Easier said than done … but following these 6 steps will help ensure your project starts off right, and everyone’s happy with the end result.
- Identify where your website is at in the hierarchy of needs. Do you need to move up a level (or two), or is your project more about expanding the offering at your existing level? Clearly defining your project up front – internally and externally, will help guide you through the process.
- Identify the stakeholders – and what they have at stake. Through your organisation, who are the people motivated by your project’s success? Different departments will have different priorities and concerns for the redesign. Before you start, make sure you have a plan for dealing with those who both support, and resist, the project. Hearing, and planning for, intra-company concerns will help you get the most out of the process. A project can get out of hand quickly if you’re having to satisfy conflicting concerns throughout it’s duration.
- Set expectations, and define the goal. What do you want the website to achieve, and how are you going to measure it’s success? A goal should be clearly defined and measurable. There’s no point going through this process and then, six months later, wondering if it’s been a success. Discuss with the agency how best to measure those goals, and how they plan to meet them.
- Set a budget and share this with the agencies you’re talking with. There is often a reluctance to do so, but in nearly all situations being open about budget is a win-win. The agencies you’re talking with don’t want to sell you a Fiat 500 if you’re in the market for a Mercedes … and there’s no point them pitching you a Mercedes if all you want is the Fiat. Hiding your budget greatly increases the chances of inappropriate proposals.
- … and make sure there’s flexibility in your budget. Setting a fixed price up front often leads to one of two scenarios: the agency hoping to complete the work as quickly as possible, or you, the client, trying to eke out every last penny’s worth of that contract. Be flexible – and encourage your agency to come up with good ideas that maybe weren’t thought of up front, and you’ll get a better result for your money.
- Assign a project manager. The process will not work by committee. By all means, have a team tasked with internally managing the project – but the communication with the agency you hire should come through one point person. A good project manager will run the kick-off meeting with your agency, and schedule regular progress updates & track project success metrics.
That’s all good then. So, want to fire up the old RFP generator and get in touch with a whole bunch of design agencies? Sure, go ahead.
What normally happens is that a company reaches out when they’re unhappy with their current design, and have the budget to do something about it. That makes sense … but you do tend to end up with a ‘baby / bath water’ scenario where the new development agency (like a tutting plumber examining your drains) has a look around and says ‘oh, no no no … this will all have to go’. It becomes expensive. It gets draining. By the end of it, often, both parties are happy it’s done and equally happy not to have to speak with each other ever again.
The process repeats every 3 or 4 years. Significant capital investment, significant personnel resources invested in the project, some solid months of hard work … a new website, a sigh of relief, and a sense that, thank God, we don’t have to go through that all over again. Yet.
An argument could be made for hiring a development agency at a time when you’re perfectly happy with the website, when budgets are perhaps tighter and you’re not looking to spend much money.
Hire then, get someone on board looking appraisingly at your current offering, suggesting small, iterative changes that can make a cumulative, measurable impact. Over time, improve the functionality – work that site up the hierarchy of needs – understand your users more and more.
When the time comes that you have the budget, that you need to make a stronger change in your website … well, by then, you have an agency in place whom you trust, that is extremely familiar with your process and business objectives, and intimately acquainted with exactly what needs to be done to improve your site in it’s next phase.
Even better … because you’ve hired that agency when you didn’t need a big redesign, you’ve got them on board at a lower initial cost. Yes, the eventual bigger redesign will cost money, but you’ve tested and built a relationship with a designer that started from a point where the initial investment was much lower – more contained. If you really don’t get on, the barrier to firing them is much lower – and has come at a time when there’s not so much pressure on to get a new website right now dammit!
That sounds better, right?
David Horn is a Network Partner of VIA Consulting and Founder of Tick Tock Design. If you’re considering a revamp of your site, have a look at the projects he has worked on and get in touch to find out about other resources and support for your web project.