Whether you’ve been through multiple website redesign projects in the past or are a redesign rookie, there’s no doubt about it - the website redesign process can be tricky and downright exhausting.
I know this because, I’ve been working on IMPACT’s new business team for nearly a year and a half and about fifty percent of all of the prospects that I speak with are interested in a website redesign.
And out of all of the prospects interested in a redesign, 99.9% of them cringe at the thought of embarking on another redesign because they’ve had bad experiences in the past.
Their biggest complaints are that website redesign projects rarely finish on time, without unexpected technical surprises or without scope creep.
In some instances - and this is no exaggeration - website projects gone sideways can end up costing a company tens of thousands of dollars in redos. I get calls from marketers who have inherited website nightmares, now they’re in charge of fixing some, or all of it, and they can’t afford to get it wrong.
So, if you’re about to embark on a website redesign, know that there are a lot of mistakes you could make, but you don’t have to.
Now, if you hadn’t read this article, what would you have done first?
Assuming you aren’t tackling this project in house, you would have probably made a short list of agencies to interview. When talking with those agencies, you’d likely be asked questions like this:
How many pages are on your website?
Do you know which ones are the most trafficked?
Do you know which pages people spend the most time with?
Which ones does your organization believe are the most beneficial?
Do you have a new sitemap in mind?
What websites inspire you?
How much do you have allocated for this project?
Who will be supplying the content (copy, images, and video) for the new site?
What technology platforms does this site need to integrate with? Now and in the future?
Who are the major stakeholders involved in your project and how do they plan to be involved?
What major new sections of the site planned to be added in the next 12-24 months?
You may not know how to answer any of those questions. If you don’t, don’t fret. Just hold that thought, and we’ll come back to this.
Later in that conversation with each agency, you’d likely ask them questions like:
What’s it going to cost?
How fast can we get it done?
What platform should I use?
What’s it going to look like?
How can I get ROI from this redesign?
While each agency may be able to provide you with some recommendations or thoughts, odds are they may not be able to give you straightforward answers because even if you’ve answered the questions they asked you in the above section, they won’t have enough insight to properly scope your project.
And the truth is you shouldn’t want them to give you straightforward answers, at least not yet. But, we’ll come back to this too.
This early part of the website redesign process, when you are interviewing agencies, is what I like to call the Danger Zone because it’s here that marketers and agencies are often focusing on all the wrong things.
The best way to explain this is with an analogy, so humor me here.
You Hired a Contractor, Not an Architect
Instead of building a website, let’s pretend you want to build a new house. You call up the best contractors in town, they come over to look at your current house and give you a quote based on what they see. You agree on a price, a start date, and shake hands on the deal.
A few months later, you discover that the contractor has built you a new house, but it’s really just a newer version of the house you already had. Sure, it has some new fixtures and decorations, but really you just want to know what the heck you spent all that money on when you could have simply kept the house you already had.
I’ll tell you what happened. You didn’t hire an architect, you hired a contractor. Contractors don’t create blueprints. Contractors build using blueprints and they bring the building plans to life.
This is the exact reason why you need a “blueprint” before you build your website. If you allow an agency to quote you a website redesign based on the website that you already have, you’ll end up with a spiffed-up version of what you already have, and not what you actually need.
What a Good Strategy Includes
Now you’re probably thinking to yourself, “Architects cost money!”
Of course they do, but think about what they provide you with; the plans for the house of your dreams. And for whatever reason, if you don’t love the plans that the architect creates, because you haven’t already built the house you can go get new plans from another architect so you can build the house of your dreams.
This is exactly how you need to think of your website redesign partner, as an architect first. Have your partner build you a strategy before you decide to build your website. Once you find the website strategy of your dreams, then sign on the dotted line and start building your new website.
A good website strategy should include all of the following:
This shouldn’t come as a shocker, but you need a plan. A plan is not a price and a timeline. A plan is a blueprint for the future state of the website. A room by room, page by page, tactical roadmap.
To get started, get all of the key stakeholders of your organization - leadership, department heads, marketers and IT - to participate in a brainstorm with your agency. Your agency should facilitate and guide the conversation so all stakeholders feel their needs are heard.
Why is it important to have all of the stakeholders involved here?
I’ve seen too many organizations that skip this step fall victim to decision paralysis. This could be because too many people are either involved in the process and they can’t agree on anything or because those involved in the project are simply too close to the existing site and can’t get out of their own way to imagine what’s actually possible.
Encourage your team to be open-minded during this meeting(s) and let your agency take acknowledge all ideas, then start architecting a solution that makes the most sense for your organization.
Shortly after the brainstorm, your agency should then present you with the blueprint for both the website’s sitemap and all that the sitemap encompasses - navigation, page structure, page elements, user flows, and even conversion point mapping.
This blueprint should also include a timeline, with expected project start and completion dates.
You should also get a sense of the overall design direction for a page or two of the site.
Colors, fonts, imagery, icons, layering, textures - all are really important in the way they allow the user to respond to the site experience. This is part of the reason the blueprint is so crucial.
Without a clear goal (ie: do you want users to convert on your free trial, start a live chat, download a free resource, or simply have an emotional response to the brand?) your designer won’t be able to utilize these foundational design principals in a way you consider successful.
At this stage, it is important to provide your agency with design feedback and ask for changes so you can be sure that everyone involved in the project catches the vision before you start building the new website.
Design isn’t the only vision that your team needs to see, content is equally as important.
Your agency should provide very clear direction on what content they do or do not create for your website.
You’ll likely have to collaborate with the direction of your agency about what content should be written for what pages. Make sure you know what needs to be written and why it needs to be written and when content needs to be completed. Content creation and implementation are some of the biggest factors that delay a website launch.
The entire process of the website strategy should foster alignment within your organization. Since all of the key stakeholders will have participated in the brainstorm and then reviewed and agreed upon the plans, you should have a bunch of happy campers on your hands, who are all excited to move forward and get the new website built.
Throughout the strategy process, your agency should also evaluate and provide recommendations for your entire technology stack because websites that are connected to the other platforms that your team leverages will always produce better results and ROI.
Technology solutions to take into consideration, including but not limited to:
Marketing automation platform
Third party integrations
Front end website needs
Back end website needs
Membership access or password protected content needs
Payment and fulfillment platforms
A website shouldn’t be something that you build once and expect to work for your organization for many years to come. It’s a living thing that must evolve to meet both your current and future needs.
Be sure while your agency is building your strategy for you that it also includes a conversation about your desired future needs, because websites can be built right now in a way that ensures they’ll be able to give you what you need 6 months or a year from now, as long as you plan ahead for it.
A Firm Price to Build Your Website
Now that you have been through a strategy engagement and have an agreed upon plan, your agency should know exactly what your company wants and needs when it comes to your website redesign.
They’ve presented a sitemap, a plan for the functionality of each page, a plan for the content that will go on the pages, a design direction, and technology requirements.
With these details nailed down, you should receive a firm price on what it will cost and an explanation of how the agency arrived at the cost.
When I say details, you should know how many points of effort (if the agency practices agile) or billable hours every single task that goes into building your website will cost you and what your cost per point or hour is. And you should also know what factors exist that could cause that cost to be driven up or down.
How IMPACT Put This Into Practice
Full transparency here, IMPACT used to be an agency that would build websites without a blueprint.
Like most agencies, we would scope and quote based on a company’s existing sitemap and structure. Then, we’d agree on a budget and start date and sign a scope of work.
We waited to “brainstorm” structure, features, page functionality, and design until after the client had already committed to working with us.
The problem with this was, after the contracts were signed and the work had begun, we would often uncover information that indicated we should structure the website differently than how it was originally scoped - and usually because the client didn’t realize what was necessary or even understand what the options were when it came to building their new website.
This meant we were either forced to stick to the original scope (and therefore build websites that weren’t optimal for client goals) or we were constantly adjusting our scopes with clients (which led to frustration on the part of clients).
The Website Blueprint
The Website Blueprint process is our new website strategy process that was developed to help clients’ avoid the danger zone. It’s a client hiring us to be their architect first, to get the plans right, and their general contractor second.
The Website Blueprint process takes about 3-4 weeks, depending on the needs of the client.
Generally speaking, it requires that our clients complete a website questionnaire and participate in a 2-hour brainstorm with a designer, developer, project manager, and strategist, as well as a 2-hour strategy presentation to review all of the team’s recommendations.
We offer these deliverables:
Website redesign scope
Sitemap and on-page SEO strategy
Breakdown of page modules
Moodboard / design inspiration
User flow recommendations with conversion paths and conversion points
Website strategy deck
Website launch plan
Scoped content creation plan
Smart content strategy (if applicable)
Here’s what IMPACT’s lead website strategist has to say about it:
“Creating the website blueprint has completely changed our client experience for the better. We are creating better websites that both meet the client needs and allows us to propose ideas the client had never thought of to collaboratively arrive at both the right solution and the right budget,” said Stacy Willis, IMPACT’s Principal Website Strategist.
It’s a truly collaborative process that ensures that our clients get exactly what they want from a website and gets us fully aligned with the client before we start executing.
Why Clients Love it
I’ve personally had clients go through the Website Blueprint process and I asked them for some feedback about why they did it, what they needed it to accomplish and if they’d recommend it to other companies.
Here’s what one client had to say about why they chose a Website Blueprint before jumping into a redesign project.
“We discovered that we were too close to our current design and structure. It was difficult for us to step back and see the bigger picture of how a new website could look and function differently. We felt that someone from outside our company could come in, ask the right questions, and point us in a direction that we couldn’t see.”
Another said, “ A website strategy helps us stay on the right path. Marketing is a very creative world and all this creativity can lead to rabbit holes. Having a strategy allows us to fully understand our goals and how we can successfully reach our objectives. I also like to use it as a guide to make sure all parties understand each other and have a clear vision for the website. This type of project has a lot of moving parts to them: hosting, CMS, blogging, SEO, etc. It is critical that we outline all aspects and make sure nothing is missed or overlooked.”
I then asked, what most needed to be accomplished during the Website Blueprint and here’s what they had to say:
“We needed a partner who could listen to each of our internal stakeholders and tie together seemingly disparate answers into a coherent strategy. Aside from that, we needed to set a clear path of how our new website would meet our goals and objectives; more effectively align sales and marketing efforts; implement a strategy that addresses the needs of our varied industry customers while avoiding redundancy; set a foundation for us to measure ROI from our website and digital marketing efforts; make it easy for customers and prospects to find answers to their questions.”
When I asked if they’d recommend other businesses go through this Website Blueprint, the responses were:
“I do recommend other businesses go through it. A clear understanding of our future website design and structure didn’t evolve until we engaged IMPACT. We had many internal meetings, brainstorms, and planning sessions with the explicit purpose to determine the future website design and structure, but we couldn’t “get there” without an outside perspective.”
“Absolutely! Not sure how you can build a house without a blueprint. Websites are a huge investment of money and time, you need to make sure all actions taken are going to get you closer to your ultimate goal, whatever that might be.”
Resist the Temptation
When we initially transitioned to this strategy-first process, I was working with a company that didn’t yet find the value in taking this approach. They believed their website was simple enough and that they didn’t want to pay for the architect first because they didn’t need a “fancy website.”
I allowed this person to enter the danger zone because I’d been through a redesign with him in the past. However, when I presented the quote to the decision maker, sans plan, the decision maker essentially said, “So I get what it costs but I don’t understand what I’m ACTUALLY going to receive.” Man, I wish I had this article back then! If you’re wondering what happened, I ended up having to start over and draft up the blueprints. He’s now an IMPACT client.
Whatever you do, resist the temptation of the website redesign danger zone and always get blueprints first.