I’ve launched a few dozen websites over the course of my digital career. Some were small, with minimal budgets and just a few dozen pages, while others were huge with budgets well into seven figures and tens of thousands of pages or more. Regardless of the size or scope, they all shared a few key decisions for digital leaders to make along the way that would ultimately help to determine how successful the projects were.
The question of how to design a website depends on your needs, but almost always the success or failure of the project hinges on knowing the right questions to ask and answering them before you get started. Our job, as marketing leaders, is to identify and understand what the key decision points are and choose the correct path for our team. A website redesign project is often destined for either success or failure before the project begins because of those questions (and answers). The earlier on in the project that you’re able to identify potential issues, the better solutions you’ll be able to provide.
That’s why I came up with this list. These are the ten biggest, most important decisions that need to be considered when redesigning a website. The sooner you begin thinking these through, the more likely your new site launch will be a success.
The web content management system you choose (different than a content marketing platform) will likely be the single most important decision of the project. The CMS is the backbone of your site and determines the entire trajectory of the project. I strongly recommend you document your organization’s CMS feature priorities in order to help guide your decision.
A few factors to consider when choosing a CMS are:
It’s important that you determine what’s important to you and document those factors in order of their priority. Take your list of priorities into your CMS selection process and be confident you were able to select the best CMS for the job.
Another excellent resource to use when making a decision like this is the Gartner Magic Quadrant. Not all web content management systems are considered, but the research is definitely helpful when getting started.
As marketers, we use the word strategy a lot, especially when it comes to digital marketing and web redesigns. A web strategy starts with defining key goals because your redesign goals provide the framework for the entire effort. The priority order of your goals is important and should serve as guides when conflicting decisions arise during the project. And trust me, conflicting decisions will arise.
For example, let’s say the following have been defined as our three primary goals, in order of importance:
Let’s say a decision arises during the design phase of the project where a page is mocked up with a focus on design aesthetics. The page is beautiful, wonderfully arranged, highly visual, and presents the content in an optimized format, but it lacks one key element—a clear call to action. If a visitor were to land on this page and want to take action, they may get stuck. Your website goals dictate you should not sacrifice conversions for the look and feel; therefore, the design needs to account for this. Arming your teams with information like this up-front can provide for tighter timelines, fewer revisions, and ultimately a site more aligned with your strategy.
Mobile should be on your mind when it comes to your new site. Some organizations attempt the mobile-first approach, which can be challenging, but you will have to determine your mobile strategy up front as well. Will your site deploy mobile responsive technologies or adaptive design? Perhaps you’ll use your CMS’s ability to detect your visitor’s device and provide a customized experience for multiple device types?
And don’t forget about mobile video. If you intend to publish video on your site (and you should), then what technologies will you use to optimize the experience and your video assets? YouTube, Vimeo, Brightcove, or something else entirely?
Content architecture is one of those things that I often see leaders’ eyes glaze over when conversations ensue. That’s okay—content architecture isn’t always the most enjoyable thing to discuss, but I personally think that this decision is one of the most overlooked by leaders when approaching a redesign project.
Too often, projects begin at the design phase because design is one of the “sexiest” and most fun phases. However, starting design too soon is often at the detriment of the site’s information architecture because how your user (and search engines) can get to your site’s content is just as important as the content itself.
A wise leader will understand that first documenting and then incorporating a defined content architecture into a website’s new design is a key decision point in the project and one that will pay dividends well into the future (for the user, especially).
When you read this decision, did you say to yourself, “Of course we’ll consider the content we have!” That’s the reaction of most when thinking about existing content’s impact on a redesign, but content is often shelved until the very last minute in many redesign projects.
An audit and inventory of content size, length, medium, focus, and purpose will go a long way, as will asking and answering these questions about your content:
Considering the above questions, along with possibly revisiting your content architecture will help to ensure the project you’re investing so heavily in will ultimately serve its true purpose—to provide a better overall experience for the user.
What is our watershed moment for deciding what content is refreshed and what content is simply migrated as-is? This is another critical decision point that is often skipped until the last minute (when content is being migrated) or not considered at all. The decision to update content shouldn’t be left to chance or made in the moment, because the “easy” decision will be to skip it—but that may not be the right decision.
This very question is why your digital content teams must be involved in a redesign project from the beginning. Their work should start at the project kickoff as well, as they likely have a lot of work to do auditing, inventorying, and preparing the content for migration.
In my experience performing content audits, the following questions were helpful in determining if content should be migrated, re-worked, or retired:
If your content teams find themselves answering “yes” to many of these questions, it may be best to either update or retire the content in question. The whole point, though, is that you won’t know unless you ask and answer these questions as a team.
It’s clear that a project like building a new website will require developers and designers, but what about content related roles such as writers, editors, and content strategists? These roles aren’t just required on a new site build; they’re also very necessary when redesigning an existing site as well.
I once worked on a project for a site that was kicking off a redesign. The budget was a bit tight, so in order to cut a few corners it was assumed that the project manager and migration team would determine how the content should be modified at the time of migration, rather than approach this task with an up-front strategy. The decision saved money initially but cost the team time in the end. The site launched nearly two months behind schedule, resulting in an estimated six-figure loss of revenue. Spending less than half that figure and hiring a content team at the onset of the project could have meant an on-time launch and lowered frustration for the brand’s web team and leadership alike.
I have been involved in so many web build projects that sped through the design and build phases only to be bogged down once it was time to fill that shiny new site with content. Content migration is not something that can be left until the last minute of the project or you’ll risk your three-month rebuild turning into a twelve-month project.
It’s important to determine your strategy and resource commitments before you begin. Will you be deploying automated content migration tools to assist your editors, will the migration be manual, or will you use a hybrid strategy? Even performing simple calculations around the quantity of content and the rate at which the content can be migrated will help put the effort into perspective. It’s better to have an idea of what’s required and a strategy in place than to be “surprised” by the level of effort actually required to accomplish the migration.
Quality assurance testing isn’t just for the functionality of your new site–it’s for the content as well. This is one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned as a marketer—that QA should be utilized at multiple phases of your online (and offline) marketing efforts.
As a client, I’ve incorrectly assumed that a vendor is responsible for quality assurance of the entire site. Unless the vendor is also producing the content, or content QA is explicitly in scope, the responsibility typically ends at the functionality of the site, not ensuring content formatting, flow, look and feel and other non-functional “Is” are dotted and “Ts” are crossed. Content QA and design QA are both very important aspects of a redesign.
This is a decision and burden shared between leadership, developers, and the user experience and design experts on the project. At stake is nothing short of the success or failure of the site in organic search traffic.
Balancing the need for a visually pleasing, attractive site and one that performs well, loads quickly, and boosts your SEO is very hard to do. Your design teams will emphasize the importance of including visual elements on our site, while your technical teams will be scrutinizing your load times down to the millisecond with every element added to the page. Our job as leaders is to understand where the correct place exists in the middle somewhere so that both the experience and performance of the new site is at its peak.