Every brand, or rather should I say, every successful brand makes changes along the way. Sometimes these changes are subtle, at times, almost imperceptible. While at other times, the changes are dramatic. Thriving companies know that in order to consistently gain and retain market share, their brands must enhance their overall brand perception. This means embracing changes in their brand based on market shifts and user trending. Websites are an extension of a brand, and it goes without saying that a company’s website should add value to a company’s overall brand perception. Therefore, websites must be changed from time to time in order to strategically stay aligned with current market trends and user needs.
Does your site need a redesign?
The reality is, if it doesn’t right now at some point it will, perhaps sooner than you might think. So, what are the steps involved in planning for and implementing a successful redesign?
Let’s start by defining just what exactly a “redesign” is. While it doesn’t have to be, at times a redesign is a complete site overhaul. Essentially, a new concept, layout, colors, content, even brand identity might need to be created from scratch. More frequently, however, a redesign is really more of a “realign”, where the site content, layout, features, colors and other elements are enhanced to more aesthetically match the company’s brand and meet the current needs of the intended audiences.
So how do you determine if your site needs a major overhaul or simply to be realigned?
Well, let me start by saying if your site contains any clipart at all, blocks of text as images, random sound effects or involves the use of horizontal scroll bars, it’s actually way overdue for a major overhaul, but I digress. In all fairness, we need to gather a bit more information before we can fully determine the scope of the project. Much the same as when planning for an initial design, there are a few critical pieces of information that need to be clearly defined before we can create an effective redesign strategy.
If you’ve already begun working with a designer, you will likely collaborate and compare notes from the start, but even if you haven’t yet hired a designer, you can still begin much of the preliminary planning and gather much of the information necessary to create the ultimate redesign strategy.
Step 1. Define your audience.
Basically, gather as much information as possible about your target audience and potential users. Who is your target audience right now? How has your consumer base changed, if at all, since your last site was developed? Has it become broader or narrower in any ways? What are your audience’s demographics? Just who are they? How old are they? What do they do for work and for play? What appeals to them? How do they think? What colors do they like? How do they use the web? When do they access the web? Which devices are they using to access the web?
Step 2. Define your web objectives.
Think about your current business goals and how your website can facilitate meeting those goals. What are your site’s objectives? How has your business changed since your last site was developed? Do you offer different products or services now than then? What should your site provide for your consumers? How will they use your site? Why will they visit and revisit your site? What should your site offer to attract, retain, increase, and convert on traffic to the site?
The next step is probably the most challenging part of the planning stage, so bear with me on this one…
Step 3. Take an honest look at your current site.
Pretend you are one of your site’s users. Ask yourself: How well is my current site aligned with my web objectives? Does my site employ the use of any outdated technologies? What about my site is currently working in connection with my site objectives and what is not? Most importantly why? Is my site truly enhancing my brand offering in the eyes of my users? Could my site be devaluing my brand in any way?
The answers to these questions will essentially determine whether a complete overhaul, a minor realignment, or something in between is necessary in terms of the redesign. And now that you have a more realistic idea of the scope of the project, you can start to formulate your strategy, which you may have guessed is step 4.
Granted, the rest of the planning phase should be significantly easier when working with a designer, but still, if you haven’t yet hired a designer, try your best to think of how you will deliver your content to your consumers in the way they will most readily receive it.
Step 4. Determine your strategy.
Ask yourself: What can changes, enhancements or additions can I make to my site to better align my site with my web objective and meet the current needs of my users? Since we’ve already determined our target audience and our web objectives, and we took that painful, er I mean honest look at our current site, we should have a pretty solid idea of what needs to be modified, added to, or removed from the existing site to enhance our overall brand perception and better meet the needs of our consumers.
A redesign strategy, regardless of scope, should in theory look something like this:
My site will do this (the site’s objectives as defined in step 2) by delivering this content (the new, redesigned and/or additional content with features, layout, format, accessibility, etc.) to my consumers (the site’s target audience as defined in step 1).
In the real world, a simple example might look something like this:
My site will encourage more in-depth site usage and visitor loyalty and create a more positive overall view of my company’s brand by incorporating the use of more positive colors, streamlining the current layout thus making the site easier to navigate, and incorporating the use of social media channels to encourage user feedback from my target demographic.
And now that we know what we need to do, it’s simply a matter now of putting the pieces together to do it. Exciting, isn’t it??? We’re almost there! Before we jump in headfirst though, we need to complete a couple more preliminary steps.
Step 5. Plan for SEO, SES and optimization.
Any new content as well as new design needs to be measured and optimized. Be consumer-minded as you begin thinking about key word data and top entrance paths (the pages your users will likely search for and visit first). Plan for multiple landing pages and A/B testing before the actual design work begins. In this way, from the project inception, you will be prepared to respond to user feedback and adapt your content, designs or layout in order to effectively meet your goals. If you are already employing the use of sitemaps, plan to incorporate additions to the existing documents rather than completely redesigning them.
Step 6. Gather and organize content.
The amount of content a site will contain determines much about the structure and layout. Define the site structure and hierarchy with as much detail as possible. How much content and what type of content will you have? Will you have active content? How often will the content change? You can use a site planning tool, a spreadsheet, a wireframe or just start scribbling on a piece of scratch paper. The important thing is that you be as detailed as possible and make sure that the flow of content is relevant and logical. Take your time and give your content a lot of thought. As you organize the site content, be sure to keep your audience in mind and refine content as necessary in order to plan to deliver the best value to your consumers.
Step 7. Visit competitor’s sites.
Try to be as objective as possible. Visit the sites as if you were a consumer. How intuitive are the sites from a user’s perspective? What about the design, colors, layouts, features and content do you feel works? What doesn’t work? Learn as much as you can from your competitors’ successes and their missed opportunities and don’t forget to take notes.
At this point you are ready to bring all of your research, notes and goals together with your strategy so that design iterations can begin for your new site. Remember, the more careful planning you do in advance of the actual redesign, the more successful the implementation of your redesign will be. And now, let the redesign begin.