It’s no secret that a complete business website redesign can be a daunting project. (If you've ever been through one yourself, there's a good chance you know they don't always go as planned.)
At IMPACT, we’ve seen first-hand how unexpected roadblocks can throw off the timeline (or worse, the budget) for a website redesign project. That's why it is so important to have a process in place to combat the common pitfalls.
Today, we're going to share IMPACT's website redesign process.
Of course, there's more than one way to approach a website redesign. But since we've seen a lot of success with the following process across a wide range of business types and industries, we believe there is value in showcasing it as an example.
So, whether you're looking ahead to your first website redesign -- or you've got a few under your belt and are looking for more insight on what it takes to successfully launch a newly-designed site for the next time around -- this article is for you.
But First, Some Background on Our Process
Our website redesign process is designed to ensure we're creating beautiful, peak-performing websites that have each of the following characteristics:
Optimized for search;
Optimized for conversions; and
That's why you'll see in the following process that there's heavy emphasis on strategy and testing, instead of going right into what some consider to be the "fun stuff" -- fonts, colors, and your new aesthetic.
When evaluating the website process of another agency or devising one for your own internal use, you need to understand what the process is meant to guarantee and what results it should yield, and then document it.
Now, with that in mind, let's dive in.
Website Redesign Process Overview
Once you understand and have defined what your website is failing to do now, what you want to achieve with your new website, and which platform you'll build it on -- HubSpot or WordPress? -- you'll embark upon a five-step website redesign process:
Step 1: Strategy
Step 2: Build
Step 3: Quality assurance
Step 4: Launch
Step 5: Post-launch plan
Step 1: Strategy
Again, before you dive into your brand's new online look, it's imperative that you lay the foundation of your new website with a validated, well-researched strategy.
Never, ever build a website based on your gut or personal preferences, or trust an agency that does not support strategic and design choices with data or research.
Your assumptions may be wrong, and you want to build a website for your ideal buyers, not for yourself.
That's why you start by either creating buyer personas, if you don't have them, or at least having an informed discussion around pre-existing personas to see if they're still accurate.
Having a good grasp on your personas will help you get understand who you are building for in terms of messaging, tone, visuals, and the buyer's journey you need to facilitate for them online, based on their preferences, pain points, and purchasing habits.
In addition to your personas, it's important to audit your current site framework to understand the key focus areas of improvement and determine any additional technology requirements or features you may need to accommodate or build out.
Beyond your site's structure, you should also perform a comprehensive audit of your website's content and organization.
Of the website pages and landing pages you have currently, how many will be kept, and how many will be nixed?
Will the sitemap you have right now need to change, based on your buyer persona research and/or validation?
A good agency will already have taken a look at the size and scope of your website before you come to an agreement on pricing, given that the depth of a site is one of the biggest cost drivers on website redesign projects.
That said, the strategy phase should include this deeper dive into the quality of the content that's been counted up to that point, with a plan for what will happen to it as you progress into the next phase of the project.
At the end of this stage, you should have a website strategy defined and an approved sitemap.
Step 2: Build
Okay, now it’s time to start building your site. Sounds easy, right?
Well, kind of.
The simple definition of this phase is that you physically design and build out your website.
But, depending on the needs of your project -- and best practices that many often skip -- there are a lot of steps and parallel processes that must happen during this phase.
With your sitemap in-hand, you will work with your website team to build out wireframes -- basic sketches that act as the unvarnished blueprints for what content will live on each page and how it will be organized.
You don't introduce design elements in wireframing. The goal of this is to break down the strategy for each page in the simplest way possible, by mapping out where which elements will go, such as images, content, and conversion points.
Once your team is aligned around the wireframe for each page, then you can start working on bringing that vision to life through design. This will include applying a pre-existing or new website style guide, imagery, and content.
Speaking of content, while you're building out your site with your designers and developers, you'll also need to create content in parallel, to keep your project on track.
Content is one of the top reasons -- if not the #1 reason -- why website redesign projects can get very messy. So, if you plan to have content be a part of your project, and you plan to hire an agency, press them on what their process is for content creation before signing on the dotted line.
Once the designs and content are approved, it’s time for the designers to hand over the site to the development team, where the designs are coded into live, functioning website pages.
Even though at the end of this phase, you'll have a website that looks like you're ready to hit publish, there's still another critical step ahead of launch.
Step 3: Quality Assurance
You've built everything out. You know how each page and every element are supposed to function -- now, it's time to test it to make sure your website will do what it's supposed to do.
Areas you should be testing include:
Responsiveness across all device types, from desktop to mobile;
During this process, I love to utilize tools such as Browserstack to see how a site page will appear across the most popular mobile devices, desktops, various browsers, and tablets.
But I don't stop there.
After Browserstack, I often bug my coworkers for their phones to triple check how pages look on a real phone, rather than a simulation. There is no such thing as too much quality assurance!
Once you're done testing, it's time to go live.
Step 4: Launch!
Launching your website is at once the most exciting moment of your website redesign and the most stressful. What if something goes wrong? What if you didn't plan for a particular contingency?
The good news is that if you have properly prepared your site, tested it thoroughly, and defined a clear launch plan with IT resources on standby, you will be in great shape.
That last part is particularly important, because you don't just launch a website with the push of a button. There are a lot of nitty gritty technical details that need to be taken care of.
For example, setting up 301 redirects.
A 301 redirect is a technical term for redirecting a potentially old URL to a new URL path.
So, if your old site has www.website.com/website-services and your new site has an updated url for that page as www.website.com/website-redesign-services, you don’t want someone to stumble on an outdated page or a page that no longer exists. (Google also frowns upon 404 errors.)
A 301 redirect is simply a setting up the backend of your site to automatically redirect your old URL to your new one. Or, if you're not bringing back a page at all, redirecting it to the most relevant page (or a top-level services page), so you aren't penalized for dead site pages.
Mid-term: Maintenance plan (internally or with an agency) to keep your site up-to-date with backend patches and security updates.
Long-term: A forward-looking strategy on how you will continue to refine, improve, and expand your website, as needed.
Not Having a Process Creates Risk
If you've gotten this far, and you feel as if what we've outlined isn't the right process for you, that's okay.
The moral of this story is to showcase why having a clearly defined process -- where each stage is purposefully laid out with documented activities and anticipated objectives -- is critical to the success of your project. (We're not saying it's our way or the highway.)
However, it's worth noting that having a process may not help you side-step every single unforeseen roadblock or snafu; stuff happens, even with the best laid plans.
But as the old saying goes, "A failure to plan is a plan for failure."
Or, more simply, if we can all agree that your website is the cornerstone of your digital marketing strategy, you probably shouldn't wing it with your business' next website redesign.