Redesigning Your Web Site

These days, if you’re in the web design biz, chances are you’re spending most of your time giving facelifts to old sites rather than creating new sites. Of course, I’m sure that some of y’all out there are creating new e-businesses from scratch. And that’s cool. But for most of us, the web creation task is starting to look more like remodeling than original construction.

If you’ve got some decent-sized clients, chances are that they’ve probably had a site up for a few years by now. The big companies that don’t have web sites are pretty few and far between. But that site that seemed like a winner two years ago may seem pretty tired by now. That shovel-ware brochure site that seemed like a good idea back when everyone was rushing to establish a web presence probably has started to look like a liability. And as far as ROI is concerned forget it.

But how should you go about approaching a web overhaul? Do you throw the whole thing out and begin from scratch? Do you tweak design? What about the information architecture? Do you rework those links or leave things as they are? Do you add new functionality? Do you finally put in that e-commerce module?

Questions like these are the ones that are sure to gray the hair and add acid to the already-forming ulcers of marketing directors who are faced with reworking a flagging site. Reworking is a daunting task, and how you approach it can make all the difference as to whether or not you’re throwing your money away or you’re creating a new strategic asset. We’ve all learned a lot over the past few years as to what works and what doesn’t, but it never ceases to amaze me how many site redesigns take place in as big a vacuum as the original site. What a waste!

But never fear, intrepid readers — I’m not here to complain (though I do seem to get lots of email when I do go figure!) but to offer suggestions. Here are some ideas for what to do when developing your plan to re-work your web site. In my business, we use a process similar to this one when approaching any web re-do project (we call it our “Web Rx Process”), and it seems to work pretty well.

Step 1: Determine what’s going on with the current site.

If you want to get somewhere, you’ve got to know where you are. Every site re-do plan needs to start with a thorough analysis of the current site traffic. Break out the server logs for at least the past 6 months and run them though a good traffic analyzer like WebTrends. Look at where people are going in the site, where they’re NOT going, what pages they enter into and what pages they leave from. This kind of analysis will give you a real, quantifiable idea as to whether or not the architecture is working or if it needs adjusting.

Step 2: Determine how people are getting to your site.

If you’re going to re-do the site, it’s vital that you include all the goodies that make your site show up high in the search engines. Reworking titles, META tags, and body copy can all work wonders. But all the META-tagging and copy editing in the world isn’t going to help if you don’t know what words to use. Again, check to see if you can get information about where people are coming from to your site and what keywords they’re using to get there. What are the most popular referring search engines/portals? What other sites send traffic your way? What words are people searching on WITHIN your site?

Step 3: Determine who’s actually using your site.

Creating an audience inventory can really help you determine what you need to do during a site re-do. Try surveys, focus groups, and interviews with site visitors to determine who’s actually using your site. This information isn’t always as obvious as it seems originally — you need to really know who you’re speaking to if you want to speak to them well.

Step 4: Determine what information they really need.

Again, go back to the logs and look at what pages are most frequently used and what pages aren’t used very often. Include questions in your audience research about what kind of information people are looking for. Study after study has shown that people go to the web to get information to help them with purchasing decisions. If you aren’t providing the right information, you’re missing out.

Step 5: Determine what transactions your users want and what transactions you’d like to move to the web.

The web can be a great money-saver if you use it to move routine transactions to the web; the kind that takes time from live human beings. Are there questions your customer service reps answer again and again? Does your receptionist always have to provide the same information to callers? Are there forms and documents that can be automated online? Any place where people interact with your company, look for opportunities in the re-do to automate the lowest-value transactions.

Step 6: Set some measurable goals and objectives.

You may be tempted to get started as soon as you’ve gotten through steps 1-5. Don’t! Before you re-do that site, make sure you’ve determined your measures of success. Will a successful re-do bring in more traffic? More buyers? Greater conversion? More leads? More phone calls? You need to know. If you don’t set goals that you can measure, you’re wasting your effort.

Step 7 (sort of): Assessment and Tweaking.

A wise man once said: “The ink is never dry on a web site.” Very true. Step 7 is really a continuous process. Don’t make the mistake of letting your brand-spanking new web site become a cobweb. Make continual monitoring and readjustment a regular part of your re-invigorated site, as you constantly move towards a site that really works.

Happy remodeling!

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