From SEO migration to user testing, we discuss the key steps you need to take to ensure you get the very best out of your website redesign, both in the lead-up and during the process.
A website redesign is likely one of the most expensive and consequential digital projects your brand or organisation will encounter. First, there’s the expense – which could be anything from a few grand to the five-figure territory, depending on your website’s scale and requirements.
And then there are the long-term effects, which will likely be even more significant, given that your website’s effectiveness will be key to your conversion rates, operational efficiency and brand perception amongst online customers.
Every decision you make (or don’t make) regarding your website will have both immediate and lasting repercussions – so let’s make sure you do it right.
Understanding your existing website
Before you start changing your website, you must precisely define what the current version is and does.
The first step is to list all the pages of the site. You may have this list already – but if not, we recommend using the charmingly named tool, Screaming Frog, to create it for you. You’ll be able to crawl up to 500 pages using the free version, which should suffice for most websites.
Once you’ve identified what’s on the site, go through the list of pages and write down how each one relates to the other parts of your website. Also, note the outputs and inputs flowing between each page and any associated third-party apps/services or backend systems. For example, your Billing page might lead out to third-party payment providers like PayPal or Stripe.
Once you have all the information set out, you’ll be in a position to create a flow diagram which maps out how your website pages and content are organised
Take a look at Writemaps for more basic site layouts and Slickplan for more detailed sitemaps, and user flows. Both of these tools make the process very easy.
Getting everything on one page like this helps with migration in a web redesign project, as it generally decreases the chance of vital relationships between pages and processes being compromised. If everyone working on the project can see, at a glance, how a page relates to other parts of the site, they’ll better understand what they can change and how to do so.
Setting objectives for your new website
Ensuring the success of your website redesign is mostly in the planning. If you can’t define what you want, you are putting elements of the outcome down to luck.
When defining a website redesign’s objectives, it’s best to think in terms of capabilities, rather than performance against KPIs. Your business objective may well be to achieve 50,000 visits per month – but that depends on a combination of factors both internal and external to the redesign itself.
A better approach is to draw up a list of things you want the website to be able to do, both in terms of the user experience it supports, and how it facilitates internal processes. Let’s go through some of the points you might consider:
What does your website mean to your business? Some companies’ websites act simply as a portfolio to support sales activities – whilst at the other end of the scale, many digitally transformed businesses use their sites as the exclusive platform for all their products and services.
Your front-end functionality requirements will depend on the role your site is going to play in everything you do, and we therefore suggest carefully considering how you’ll be doing business not just next year, but for several years after that.
Once you have defined what your website is going to be to your business, you can map out what it’s going to do. This list of functionalities might include:
- Secure user account accessed areas
- Online payments
- Contact forms
- Integrated web apps
Of course, these are just a few of the vast array of things websites can do today. Whichever functionalities you choose, make sure each one serves your customer’s need in a way that aligns with your brand and business objectives.
Have your required functionalities written in stone before you start your website redesign project, as adding functionalities during development could cause problems for your developers, longer project duration and extra costs.
It’s not only what your website does that matters to visitors and search algorithms – it’s also how it does it. With this in mind, consider setting objectives based on the following points (and any others you regard as important):
- Responsive design – by this point almost every new website is responsively designed, meaning it renders differently according to factors such as which device type the visitor is using (mobile, tablet or desktop). This is not so much a web design objective as a requirement – but we’ve included it anyway as it is too important to miss.
- Improved speed and performance – web users, especially those on smartphones, have increasingly little patience with slow-loading web content. This is reflected in both visitor behaviour (as we can see from the typically high bounce rates of slow sites) and search engine ranking policies.
- New integrations – will you want to bolt any third-party applications onto your website? If so, which applications will you integrate? How ready does the site need to be for integration with new applications in future?
- Support for your content – the team members responsible for your website content – from blog entries to product listings – will have their own vision for how content is going to render on the site. As such, optimisation for their required copy, headings, images and other rich media is a must.
- Expediting IT support – your IT support need efficient ways to access website settings/code, to receive support tickets, and to contact third party support (e.g. hosting/CMS providers).
A final piece of advice on setting objectives
Your website is going to affect and represent stakeholders across the full breadth and depth of your organisation. It is therefore imperative to ensure all parties are represented in your brief to your web developers. (Take a look at our resources on Stakeholder management)
A sure way to achieve this is to compile requests from all departments into your brief. Where a request or other input is going to be problematic or incompatible with a more important request, you can determine the best way forward through discussion with the development team. The affected stakeholders should then be informed of the decision made and the reasoning behind it.
A wire-frame is a mock-up of how a web design is going to look and act and is usually compiled without any branding fonts or colours so these factors dont get in the way of a good overall design. You should ask your web designers to supply new wireframes after every significant step in the redesign process, as this will help you ensure the site in-development remains in-step with the objectives you have established.
At each stage of the design process you will require three separate wireframes – one each for the mobile, tablet and desktop layouts of the site. Whatever your own device type preference, it’s important to keep all three layouts in mind throughout. For each stage of the wireframing process you may well explore many different layout versions of the same page until you finally hit on one that meets everyones expectations and sign off the design for that area of the site. Working with wireframes is a lot faster than designing multiple versions of the same web page as each design idea has minimal content. A good wireframing approval process can help to ensure the project stays on track and on budget by getting agreement on what goes where before any code or creative assets are created. These signed off wireframes then effectively become the blue print for what gets built.
Redesigning your website needn’t come at a price to its search visibility – provided you put the hours in beforehand.
We recommend you start your SEO migration plan well in advance of any go live launch dates, particularly if you have a big website with lots of backlinks. Every page or item of content which you plan to move to a different URL must be accounted for before any changes are made to the site.
For example, if we took our webpage targetinternet.com/digitalmarketingpodcast and decided we’re going to change the URL to targetinternet.com/themarketingpodcast, we would face a situation where we need to move the page content to a new URL – but everyone is still linking to the old URL. Any visitor clicking those links would end up on a 404 error page.
To prevent this, we would need to create a server-level redirect rule that will take visitors to the new page when they access the old URL. This won’t work in every situation – especially not where the page content has changed significantly – but when you’re switching between similar pages it is well worth doing. If you don’t do this you will potenially lose valuable backlinks and traffic. A good Website SEO migration process will also help to ensure any links to your site that google has indexed get updated faster once the new website launches which will again really help with your traffic. To lean more about SEO migration best practice we highly recomend reading this SEO mirgration Guide by Moz which goes into a lot of detail on why this is such an important step and how best to achieve a good migration.
The bottom line is that no-one ever starts their SEO migration planning soon enough. Buck the trend by planning months in advance – or if you have a big website, hire a specialist SEO Migration Agency.
How to approach ecommerce changes
If you’re planning to change your ecommerce setup as part of your website redesign project, you’d be wise to take a thorough approach. That’s according to John Woodall, founder and MD of the award-winning ecommerce consultancy Space48. Here’s what he had to say when we interviewed him for an episode of The Digital Marketing Podcast:
“Believing a new platform will solve all problems is an ecommerce myth. Maybe it gives you access to some new features, and maybe it gives you the opportunity to reset or perhaps even reinvent yourselves by starting with a clean slate.
“I do understand that approach, but we can’t think that making one decision to choose a platform is going to solve all our problems. Forget about just the platform; what’s going on around that in terms of what customers really want, or what do we need to do in terms of logistics? What’s happening with our acquisition channels? There are many pieces of the jigsaw that we need to put together, and the only way to make sure you’re doing the right things is a very thorough approach.”
For Woodall, that thorough approach is built around getting the following three ‘P’s exactly right:
- Platform – is it going to give us what we need regarding the roadmap for the next three years?
- People – do we have the required skillset across our team and agency colleagues?
- Process – what’s the right way of approaching this, and what’s the finish line?
These are the key questions you should be asking if your website redesign project is going to involve an e-commerce revamp. Improving your platform is never the full story.
Before you go live with your redesigned website, you’ll need to make sure it provides the user experience (UX) you’re aiming for.
Part of this can be achieved through in-house testing, i.e. getting a team member to go through the site making sure all the links/functionalities are working.
However, you also need to gain unbiased insight into just how good your site is from the user’s perspective. If you were to use your own staff to test the site’s UX, you would likely receive feedback influenced to some extent by each team member’s own preconceptions and vested interests (or feedback that goes in the other direction to an over-compensatory extent).
Because of this, we recommend involving freelance user testers in the testing process. Using software on their computers, they’ll be able to record what’s on their screen – and their thoughts, verbally – while testing your layout. Meanwhile, you can ask them questions or provide cues during the process.
A few tips on writing your questions for testers:
- Break down complex problems into simple questions
- Use layman’s terms
- Progress your testers through typical customer journeys – e.g. from a landing page designed for a certain persona, right through to the point-of-purchase
- React in just the same way to negative feedback as you would to positive feedback
- Make sure you’ve covered all new functionalities, features and layout elements in your testing
The responses you receive could prove invaluable in creating a superior iteration of your site.
Applying the finishing touches
With all these points covered, your website redesign project should be primed for success. Going back to the points we made earlier in the article about understanding what your previous website version did, just remember to tie up any loose ends created by the changes you’ve made.
For example, you might need to update your email templates to accommodate your new website setup. Or, you may need to update your social media properties if your branding or URLs have changed.
With a no-stone-left-unturned attitude to finishing off your website redesign, you’ll stand a good chance of transitioning from one site to the other with minimal disruption caused. If you’ve ever worked on a website redesign before, you’ll recognise that as the fine achievement it really is!