Redesigning a website can be a lengthy, complicated process. Done properly, it can give a dramatic boost to your online presence. Over the years I've had the pleasure, and pain, of being a part of several redesign projects.
Here is a checklist for website redesign, a series of steps that developers will go through in a successful redesign project.
- Document the reasons you're redesigning the website. Having these listed will act as a compass through the lengthy project. When things get stressful, you'll want this reminder.
- Test the old site, e.g. with an online intercept survey. How easily can users find key parts of the site? Other testing methods include focus groups and eye tracking. For the survey, get enough data to make it statistically relevant. The qualitative, descriptive feedback from one-on-one sessions with customers is also very valuable.
- Conduct a baseline analysis of the old site. A baseline analysis is a document which sets the bar by which the future site will be measured. It should detail how the old site has performed over the past year, including key performance indicators like visitors, bounce rate, conversion rates, pages/visit, etc.
- Set targets for the new site. These should be actual numbers and be based on the baseline mentioned above.
- Hire a design company. Choose a company which has experience in your industry and has demonstrated success in the past. Do they ask you the right questions? Do they understand your customer? Do they deliver on budget and on schedule?
- Map out the new site's architecture. Work on a whiteboard or a blank piece of paper. Use one box per web page, starting with the home page on top. Draw lines between the pages to show logical connections. An alternative process, called Card Sorting, starts with cue cards. Create one cue card per web page, lay them out on a large table and start grouping and arranging them. When mapping out the architecture, remember to keep the site compact, i.e. don't create too many levels. This is bad for usability and bad for search engine optimization.
- Do keyword research. Consider words being used by your customers, at conferences, etc. Take a look at your old site's analytics to determine which keywords have been bringing traffic from the search engines, especially traffic that converts into real business. Also consider third party tools like Google's Search-based keyword tool, Seo Book's Keyword Suggestion Tool. And don't forget Google Trends. How long should your keyword list be? That depends on your business model. But in most circumstances, a list of 20-30 is a great start. If you are not sure, then contact an SEO consultant to help out.
- Audit all of your existing online collateral. This includes all old and existing web pages, online brochures, podcasts, etc. Make a list in Excel and leave a couple of columns for notes and an instructions, e.g. 'keep', 'keep but edit', or 'throw away'. B2B sites should also make room for columns to describe the type of buyer that web page appeals to, e.g. technical buyer, economic buyer, and when in the buying process that web page would best be viewed, i.e. Phase I: Awareness of Problem, Phase II: Researching a Solution, etc.
- Write content for the new site. Each page should have a clear purpose, give an opportunity to continue, and be optimized for 1-2 keywords identified in number 7 above.
- Create wireframes, mock-ups, etc. Carried out for the most part by your design company, this is where your combined knowledge of the target market turns into a creative and user friendly design which works. Have the design company give you at least a couple of unique designs for the home page to choose from.
- Test the mock-ups for usability. Let some customers loose on these mock-ups. The pages only need minor functionality for now, e.g. be able to click on a couple of key areas. Make note of how easily and quickly key parts can be found.
- Fix, adjust and iterate Based on the results of your tests, iterate until you have a design which you can live with for the next 2 -- 3 years.
- Build out and populate pages. A lot of this may be handled by the web design company. Take all of the freshly written content and place it in the built pages. When choosing file and folder names for pages, consider using the keywords you identified in the keyword research stage above.
- Organic optimization (SEO) You've already written the content and used the right keywords. Now is the time to take it further by ensuring that each page's title, description and header tags do the same. Include links between pages. Interlinking is great for usability and great for search engine spider ability. Don't forget to create a sitemap. There are two types of sitemaps, one which is on your site and visible to the user, and one which is visible only to the search engines (an XML Sitemap). And, don't forget inbound links coming to some of the old site's pages. Put a redirect in place for each of those so the new visitors, and link power, know where to go.
- New inbound links A site redesign is a great time to think about an inbound linking strategy. Build relationships with like-minded sites and blogs to attract keyword-rich links. Also consider submitting your site to respected directories such as Business.com and DMOZ.
- Testing. Try to break it before the site is launched. Get a large group of people you trust to poke around, find broken links, etc. Use various browsers, operating systems, look at it on a smart phone.
- Add tracking code to each web page. This will ensure you can measure what's happening with the new site. For tracking software like Google Analytics, it will be a fairly easy process, i.e. same tracking code on each page which can be applied in the footer.
- Launch day. Flick the switch, uncork the champagne. Don't forget to take a screen shot of the old site.
- Post-launch monitoring Make a schedule and force yourself to note the key stats at regular intervals after the site is launched. For the first few days, do it every day. After that, weekly. If you have budget, do a second intercept survey (see #2 above).
- Take the time to create a Content Development / Maintenance plan. Use a calendar and map out when you'll be adding new content. How often will the 'latest events' section be updated? Who will update it? When will you review the product descriptions? Or case studies?
- Keep a journal of this whole process
This website redesign checklist was adapted from a post on Marketingfinger.com.