Actrees Website Before & After

6 tips to get the most out of your website redesign

Transmissions from South America, Numero Ocho

So, you’ve decided it’s time for a redesign. All the signs are there, and you’re ready to take the plunge. But where do you start? I’ve seen too many people launch into a website redesign without serious consideration first, and unfortunately this can often mean that they’re not getting everything they should be from their redesign. A redesign is an investment on your part—both in time and money—and can be a great opportunity to turn your business around.

1. Get strategic.

Before doing anything else, you need to sit down and figure out what you want out of your website. The more clearly defined your goals are, the easier it will be for your designer, your copywriter, and you to direct the project in order to meet these goals. “I want to promote my company” isn’t a clearly defined goal! You should be thinking instead about who your audience is and what you want them to take away from the website. Do you want them to interact with it? Buy products? Send you a quote request? Come back every week to read your blog? Consider how you want them to react, feel, and interact with your website, and you’ll be closer to having clearly-defined goals.

If you’re having difficulty defining these goals, it may be helpful to work with a strategic consultant, who’ll bring an outside perspective to the project. Anyone outside of your business will see it in a very different light than you do, which will help you to get a better grasp of what your users are thinking.

2. Evaluate what works—and what doesn’t—in your current website

This is the time to be brutally honest. If your CEO designed your website five years ago, you shouldn’t be afraid to tell him it stinks—if I designed your website five years ago, feel free to tell me it stinks! I won’t be offended, it’s probably true. Five years is more like thirty in internet years, and most businesses—and people—will have changed considerably in that span of time. Once you’ve realized it’s time for change, you need to be frank in your assessment of what’s in place now.

Look at design, SEO, content, and ease-of-use (both for you in updating the site, and for your customers in using the site). Ask anyone who’ll tell you what they think. Spend a few hours poring over your Analytics to see how users are interacting with the site. Better still, drag someone in from off the street, sit him down with your site, and hover over his shoulder while he looks through it. You’ll most likely infuriate him, but it’s incredibly useful to actually watch how someone parses your site, and you’ll get an idea of what gets read—and what gets ignored—as well as any elements of the site that are currently causing confusion.

Actrees Website Before & After
The Alliance for Community Trees website, before and after. The logo was retained, and we used the same basic colour scheme. The end result was that returning users didn't feel as though they'd landed on some other site accidentally, and they welcomed the change.

3. While you’re at it, seriously consider your branding.

If you’re redesigning your website anyway, it may be a great time to consider redesigning your logo and branding as well. A gorgeous, well-thought-out redesign is going to have limited impact if your logo sucks. When redesigning, you often don’t necessarily want to rebuild everything from the ground up—you’re best off taking what’s there and subtly changing it to make it better. A great way to do this is to change the structure and graphic elements, but retain the same (or similar) colour scheme and typography. This way, it won’t be so jarring to return visitors as it would be if you were to rebuild everything from scratch. Basically, the more established your business is, the more established your branding will (or at least should!) be in your customers’ eyes. This means you’ll need to make more subtle changes to avoid alienating your clientele.  Realign, don’t redesign.

DVD Edge before and after
The DVD Edge website, however, had a less established brand and a less strong logo, so we were able to play with the logo a bit. Keeping the overall image means that it's still not such a dramatic change, but redrawing it to be a little cleaner and more modern made it stronger.

4. Consider a CMS.

I feel like I extoll the virtues of WordPress a lot, but it’s seriously fantastic. If you’re already revamping your website, and you’d like a way to manage your content more easily, I’d recommend getting the whole thing built in WordPress (or another CMS that suits your needs). While you’re at it, you can also add a blog to the site, which is great for bringing in traffic, boosting search engine results, building valuable content, and increasing conversation with your users. Static websites are out. Websites you can update easily and quickly the moment someone sends you a glowing testimonial are in.

5. Work on your content first.

I’m willing to bet that your content could be better. If you can’t write it yourself, hire someone. Great content is every bit as important as great design, and if you’ve already got great content plotted out, a great designer will be able to work with it in order to make the whole thing come together nicely.

Fernwood Before and After
Fernwood Publishing went for a complete overhaul and a custom-build CMS, while they were at it. The end result is a sleek, easy-to-use website that allows them to manage their large inventory of titles.

Consider the voice of your website—too many sites read like brochure copy written ten years ago by someone with an MBA. If your audience is other people with MBAs, that’s fine, but chances are, your audience is just put off by buzzwords. If you speak to them in an honest and friendly way, you’ll find your audience is much more receptive, engaged, and more likely to hand over their money to you.

6. Hire great people, and let them do their jobs.

Who you hire for the project is up to you, but I recommend at least a designer—obviously! A copywriter and a strategic consultant, as mentioned earlier, will also be a great help. When you’re looking to hire someone, you obviously want to be sure they’ve got a great website already. Unfortunately, while many people in the website-making industry suffer from pretty severe cases of “carpenter’s house”, their websites are the best way for you to determine their abilities. Past projects, of course, are also quite telling, as are client testimonials. Once you’ve found someone that seems like they may be good, send them a few emails. Ask questions. Make sure that they respond within a reasonable timeframe, answer your questions to your satisfaction, and know what they’re talking about.

Then, hire these great people. Send them your strategic plans, your content, everything you’ve already worked on—and let them build you something great. Design is very much a collaborative process, and a good designer should lead you through the process, keeping your goals in mind at all times, making suggestions for improvements. Remember you hired these people for a reason, and you should be able to trust their professional guidance! If you allow the process to play out like a partnership, rather than a dictatorship, you’ll find yourself with a much stronger end result.

And I recommend that you hire Triggers & Sparks.

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