User expectations, internal stakeholders, content management systems, technical jargon, hosting conditions and security concerns… Embarking on a website redesign project can be daunting. But it doesn’t have to be.
We’re usually on the receiving end of requests for proposals and typically get involved with clients when they have already made the decision to get a new website. Not every project starts off the same, and they rarely finish in the same place either.
There’s just so much to consider, and it can be a daunting process for anyone, especially as it’s the sort of project that happens once every five years or more. We don’t profess to have all of the answers, but sometimes it’s more about asking the right questions.
1. Identifying your audience
“Your website is not for you.” is the key takeaway here.
Many companies make the mistake of externalising their business as they see themselves, and don’t stop to consider how other people might perceive them. You probably know your company quite well already, and more often than not you’ll rarely look at your own website, so it’s important to understand who your audiences really are and then carefully consider their expectations.
Potential audiences can include Staff (current and future); Media (press, PR); Investors (current and future); Customers and Clients; Partners; Peers and Competitors; and the General Public.
Begin by working to identify the audiences and decide their priority – who do you want to communicate with most, and least?
2. Understanding their needs
Putting yourself in the shoes of each defined audience, what do you want them to learn or gain from visiting your site?
For example, if I were a potential employee, I’d want to know about the company, its size, culture, ethos, values, locations, strategy and potential for future growth. A critical look at the existing site will help you determine how it meets these needs, and where the gaps might be.
Does the existing website communicate with each stakeholder group, and if not, what’s missing?
3. Defining the goals
Understanding who the audiences are and what they are looking for will help ensure you’re communicating in the right way. But you will usually have an expectation for the audience to complete an action, or do something following their visit.
For example, and keeping with the Careers theme, you would expect interested candidates to send you their CV or apply for a specific role. Displaying content on your company and how brilliant it is to work there is half of the battle, making sure it’s easy for a candidate to complete the application process with clear sign-posting, navigation and forms to complete is just as important.
For other groups, the action might be more nuanced. You might simply want your peers or competitors to feel impressed or inadequate! You might want the general public to tell a friend, or share the site and its content on social channels. And you’d probably like an investor to go and buy some shares.
Does the website have clear calls to action with a defined user journey?
4. Who are you up against?
Your website doesn’t exist in isolation, so it’s important to consider what your competitors and peers are doing. If they operate a similar business, you can assume they have similar audiences, with common interests.
With the knowledge gained from the previous exercises, you should have a better understanding of how your current website performs against these requirements, and you can ask the same questions of your peers and competitors:
- Who do you aspire to be like?
- Who are your biggest competitors (for services, staff, traffic, perception)?
- How does your industry communicate and describe itself?
- How prominent are they on social channels, and how do you compare?
- How do you think you stack up against your peers?
Survey the competitive landscape and plan to stay ahead where it counts.
5. Supporting user and business needs
A website is a technical solution to a communication problem. Once you understand how you want to present yourselves and be perceived, you can focus on finding a solution which supports your wider business aims and internal requirements.
Today’s popular content management systems come in many flavours and it would be impossible to cover them all here. In a general sense they all do the same thing, so we recommend valuing ease-of-use and flexibility above all else. It’s no good having a luxury yacht if no one on board knows how to pilot it – and even worse, if it breaks down the specialist engineers needed to get you sailing again are rare and expensive.
- Who will be responsible for updating content within the website? More than one individual?
- Who will be responsible for keeping the technology patched and up to date?
- Does the website need to interface with 3rd party systems and processes – HR, support, sales?
- Do you have complicated content types to update and manage?
- Do you need to deliver content in multiple languages?
For example, an e-commerce store exists for users to buy a product. This requires many functions out of the box, including user account creation and management, inventory creation and management, integration with 3rd party payment gateways, stock control, automated emails and order statuses, postal costs and allowed geographies, ratings system, support system… The list goes on.
A typical corporate website is much less complex, but it still needs to be easy to update and manage, often by non-technical people and usually at short notice.
You don’t need to understand all of the technical parts, but you need to make sure the agency you select does.
6. Additional considerations
You also need to think about some of the other, more mundane requirements when considering your new website supplier.
Many of these points will be offered as part of a standard package, but not all agencies are created equal, and you should ask potential suitors to explain if they can offer or meet these requirements before you make an appointment.
Your new website should:
- Be responsively designed and implemented, with equal consideration for desktop and mobile users
- Meet coding standards and be cross-browser compatible
- Be securely hosted (including an SSL certificate for HTTPS pages)
- Be optimised for search engines
- Load quickly, especially for mobile users
- Be supported by a popular Open Source content management system to keep fees low and protect the investment for many years
- Be portable to a new agency or developer in future if desired
- Be easy to update and manage, even by non-technical staff
And when thinking about how to select your agency:
- How long have they been in business, how big is the team, and what does their portfolio look like?
- Are they friendly and available when you need them?
- What does their process look like, how much detail do they share up front?
- How long might the project take, what are the potential challenges and pain points?
- How do they price the project, and how transparent are the costs?
- what do the ongoing costs look like, is the budget for aftercare sufficient?
There’s a lot to consider, so take your time and ensure your selected agency has the skills, experience and knowledge to deliver on their promises. And if you think we can help with your next project, please get in touch.