Website redesign projects are infamous for “scope creep”: New or overlooked considerations emerge, staff disagreements lead to deadlocks, and before long, six-month project timelines drag on for eight months, ten, twelve, etc. The key to keeping things on track? Preparation! With a thorough discovery process, you can help ensure your site comes in on time and under budget.
1. Really understand your goals. It sounds simple, but carefully articulating the most important things you want to accomplish can go a long way toward keeping your redesign focused and consistent. Be sure to frame your goals in terms of your organization’s larger initiatives; for instance, “Increase attendance at our annual event” is better than “Drive traffic to our event pages.” Not only does this communicate the real value you’re after, but by avoiding prescription of a specific solution it also gives team members the freedom to explore multiple ways of accomplishing each goal.
2. Know your online audiences—and know what makes them unique. Do your users do most of their browsing on tablets? Are they more active on Twitter than Facebook? Is an ethos of professionalism or a good sense of humor more likely to hold their attention? While there are many best practices that apply to audiences across the board, understanding your users’ deviations from the norm will go a long way toward helping your site excel.
3. Document your pain points. Chances are you won’t have any trouble assembling a list of staff gripes about your site. (Who doesn’t enjoy a good venting session?) When you document, though, try to drill down to the specifics. “The home page is ugly” isn’t very helpful; “The number of pictures on the home page is overwhelming, and doesn’t represent the clean, modern image we want to project” is. As with goal creation, avoid prescriptive commentary—”Make the Register button bigger” may not be the best way to improve event attendance.
4. Respect your data—but put it in context. Thanks to online analytics tools, you probably have an enormous amount of data at your fingertips. Use it! As tempting as it can be to let three or four impassioned phone calls from customers drive your decisions, choices based on data will almost always prove more successful in the long run than those based on anecdotal evidence.
Of course, it’s never quite that simple. It’s important to check any assumptions you make, even those based on hard data. A low visitor rate can indicate either a lack of interest or difficulty in finding a page; a dip in traffic can be due to problems with SEO or to normal seasonal factors in the industry; and a high bounce rate can be a terrible omen on a navigation page, but perfectly acceptable on a content page with good SEO.
5. Interview and survey users. Direct user interaction is still the best way to gather qualitative feedback that can provide context to hard data and statistics.
6. Investigate the competition. While this can be useful for collecting ideas for your site, the most important takeaway should be the answer to this question: What makes your event/organization/service different? Determining what’s unique about you is key to your site’s value proposition, which has implications for both content and design.
7. Perform a content audit. Even if you think you know your site like the back of your hand, content audits can be revelatory. The process: Identify every page on your site and decide whether each page should be edited, deleted or migrated as-is, using the results you’ve gleaned thus far as guidance. For large sites, online tools like Blaze or Content Insight can help reduce your workload.
Content audits work best when all content is treated as guilty until proven innocent. Simplification is the end-user’s best friend, so go lean whenever possible.
8. Update goals, audiences, and pain points. If you’ve been thorough in your discovery process, at least one thing in your original list of goals, audiences and pain points will likely require updating or clarification.
Site redesigns can be daunting, but with a thoughtful discovery process you can set up your new website for success.