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Jim Brophy

Group Director, Digital

Jim provides digital marketing integration insight and direction to all of the firm’s clients. Specialties include: B2B web strategy, project team management, e-business consulting, SEO/PPC and content strategy, conversions, responsive and optimized mobile site strategies.

6 Steps for Planning Your Website Redesign (COVID-19 Edition)

April 17, 2020 | Jim Brophy, Group Director, Digital

9 Minute Read

You can still plan your website redesign on a tight budget, limited resources and shifting priorities. The question is not, and never should be, how. It should always be why.

If your organization is like the majority of companies today, you more than likely find your world drastically different than it was on March 1, 2020. Like most organizations, your balance sheet was more or less healthy, you were planning or had multiple initiatives underway, and the last thing on your mind was how many employees you might need to furlough and for how long. But, like most companies, you need to find a way to keep things moving forward despite sudden obstacles, disruptions and uncertainties.  

Today’s marketers are dealing with multiple challenges in light of COVID-19, and to complicate matters, no one knows just how long these market conditions will last. Despite the challenging environment, you may also find yourself faced with one or more of these common business situations:  

  • You are in the early stages of a company-wide rebranding exercise
  • You are introducing a new and significant company initiative
  • You want to move rapidly into ecommerce 
  • Your company has acquired additional products and services from another company
  • You are opening up new markets
  • You have new leadership in charge of marketing/digital

All of these situations have one thing in common: each requires a strategic approach to updating your messaging and communications, and the core component to these strategies and projects is your website. 

Any one of these is a compelling reason to plan a website redesign. A website redesign is challenging enough without the additional disruption of a global pandemic. So how do you develop a strategy to redesign your site in today’s uncertain environment?

Follow These 6 Steps from Northwoods’ Proven Website Redesign Process

The good news is there are a handful of very important tasks within the Northwoods Digital Marketing Strategy process that you can apply in challenging times to avoid disruptions to key initiatives. 

Digital Marketing Strategy process

Borrowing from each one the discreet strategies in our framework, let’s examine what Planning Your Website Redesign – COVID-19 edition looks like. Remember, we’re focusing on a few key imperatives to keep you moving forward.

Planning Your Redesign, or “Strategy Light”

Too often we see organizations dive into a redesign without taking the opportunity to thoughtfully examine how the current site is performing: 

  • What’s working and what’s not working so well. 
  • Are users still finding what they need and is it useful? 
  • How are your ranking keywords trending? (If trends are not moving forward and upward, they are moving backward and downwards.) 
  • Are you still achieving your original objectives and goals?  
  • What are your competitors doing? 

All of these things and more should be taken into account before your redesign.

When I have an opportunity to really dig into a website, I’m shocked at how many organizations don’t have Google Search Console and/or Google Tag Manager configured, how many companies don’t talk to users, or think they know their users without truly exploring their digital journey to understand their challenges and goals. Some companies assume their site will be successful because they have a fancy new design that the CEO wants.

You must conduct an efficient, effective and proven website strategy to inform your website redesign. Here’s how:

1. Establish Your Goals

A redesign is a perfect time to validate your website objectives, KPIs and goals. This speaks to the “why” you’re pursuing a redesign. Since the last time you redesigned your site, you may have expanded into new markets, or are rebranding. Understand your digital objectives – it will help further define your audience segmentation, which can lead to improved conversion strategies.

2. Survey, Interview and Define Your Personas

If you do only one thing before you redesign, you must talk to your users and define your personas. How else will you know what your users really want, or how to solve their challenges and provide solutions? 

There are two views of a website: The Business view, and the User view. 

Business view vs the user view buttons

The business perspective is primarily internally focused. Organizations arrange websites based on their internal organizational structure, and/or are concerned with cost, branding, implementation and timeline – all things users could really care less about. Instead, focus on the user view.

Users care primarily about three things: 

  • What do I want to do?
  • Can I find or do it here at this website?
  • How do I do it? 

You won’t know what your users want to do unless you talk to them and build profiles of the type of content they are looking for and understand what problems you can solve.

Answering your users’ primary questions can often be solved without radical changes. Sometimes these changes involve relabeling navigation, or pushing content up to landing pages from subpages that require three clicks or more to find. Defining your personas can help guide you in the right direction. 

3. Use Analytics, Google Search Console and Google Tag Manager for Data Benchmarking

Before you can benchmark your data, you should make sure the data you are collecting is the right data, and that it is accurate. First, check and make sure you have Google Search Console hooked up to your Google Analytics. Every time I ask my workshop attendees how many people have configured search console, I get a lot of blank stares and sheepish slumping in chairs. 

Please, run, don’t walk, and do this today!

And, make sure your Default Channel Groups and your channel definitions view (your traffic sources) are properly set. If your definitions are not set correctly, your web metrics are definitely going to be inaccurate, skewing your data and causing incorrect conclusions about your traffic and what to do about it. You can find these definitions under Acquisitions > All Traffic > Channels in Google Analytics.

example of the default channel groups

Google Tag Manager is another free and powerful tool to set event tracking and provide insightful metrics. Events can be defined as actions, such as how many users click on “Where to Buy?” or what PDF files are downloaded. So much can be set-up and tracked using Tag Manager. 

4. Understand How Google Sees Your Content

Northwoods has written scores of blog posts and given dozens of workshops and webinars on SEO and content. How can something so important be so complex? Partly because there is no real playbook on how to do it well, and the fact that the Google algorithm is constantly evolving. Therefore, one thing you can do is gain a better understanding of how Google “sees” your content. 

Proper structuring of your content is paramount to achieving high rankings in search engine results. You can be the best storyteller since Mark Twain, but if you don’t know how best to optimize your content, chances are people won’t find that awesome thought-leadership you spent hours developing. Google is trying to understand the intent and sentiment of your query so it can answer the question being asked.

To help with this, Google offers yet another free tool called the Natural Language API, which is part of Google Cloud. You can see a demo of how it works here. The tool analyses syntax, identifies entities within your content, and classifies your content into one of 700+ predefined categories – categories people are searching for. And it is constantly learning. 

Google simply wants to answer questions it is asked – naturally. Think of the content on your website as a means to answer questions people ask Google. The more relevant content you provide Google to index on your site, the more likely your site will be served up as the answer to a question. Now that is quality lead generation Nirvana!

5. Conduct a Competitive Analysis

As you plan your redesign, you’ll want to check in with the competition. Certainly, you can evaluate their design, understand their Calls to Action and what they are offering their customers. You can also use tools like SEMRush, SpyFu, and SimilarWeb, which provide visibility into the keywords your competitors are using, as well as traffic volumes, referral sources and analysis. 

One more thing: why not use the Natural Language API to evaluate your competitors’ content and compare it to yours? It’s perfectly acceptable to understand if your competitor down the street has content Google is ranking higher and why.

6. Meet Accessibility Standards

Depending on the type of business, accessibility is either required, or is becoming more and more important for usability and user acceptance. And unfortunately, more and more companies are being threatened with litigation if their website content cannot be consumed by people with some form of disability, which is defined as those with cognitive learning disabilities, motor skill impairment, visual and hearing impairment as well as other classifications. 

According to the 2012 U.S. Census, 1 in 5 Americans have a disability. Not meeting their needs might leave your business missing an opportunity to serve a large group of potential new customers.

The following are what I would refer to as the “low hanging fruit” of things you can address on your website that can make your site more accessible, and thus accessible for all users:

  • Do images have alt-tags?
  • Are page headings in logical order?
  • Do your forms, such as “Contact Us” have labels in the fields?
  • Is your color contrast sufficient? (This is a biggie)
  • Is the page language set?

Both Chrome and Firefox have browser extensions for tools, such as WAVE, that can check your site for accessibility errors (read more about these and other handy accessibility tools), and I would encourage you to do just that – check your site and plan to address accessibility in your next redesign.

If you discover there’s some work to do on your site, provide a contact number and/or an email in your Terms of Use informing users that if they can’t consume content on your website they may contact you. In turn, you’ll provide, free of charge, the content in question. After all, websites are for everybody!

10 Common Website Redesign Mistakes

Here are 10 mistakes the Northwoods team often sees organizations make when they look to refresh their site:

  1. Emphasizing technology over strategy – The “how” over the “why”
  2. Placing look and feel above content & utility – Looks fade. Character endures.
  3. Bad information architecture - Think “bad floor plan.”
  4. Insufficient product or services detail – Give the user the details they’re looking for.
  5. Not validating your different audiences and their goals – Don’t guess at what people want.
  6. Forgetting the Call-to-Action (CTA) – You can’t go on a date if you don’t ask ‘em out.
  7. Merging sites into one without understanding the Google effect – Warning! Dangerous undertow!
  8. Not having an ongoing content strategy – Why go into battle without a plan?
  9. Ignoring privacy trends – Pay attention to these, or you might be paying up later.
  10. Ignoring 26% of your prospects – 1 in 4 Americans have a disability – include them!

Don’t let these mistakes happen to you! If you need help with your website redesign, don’t hesitate to contact us.

Final Thoughts

Here’s a brief recap of the steps we discussed above for a  website redesign “light” approach:

  1. Establish Your Goals – know where you are going and how to get there.
  2. Survey, Interview and Define Your Personas – Find out what users want and provide it!
  3. Use Analytics, Goggle Search Console and Google Tag Manager for Data Benchmarking – make sure you’re interpreting correct data.
  4. Understand How Google Sees Your Content – content and SEO still remain king.
  5. Conduct a Competitive Analysis – it’s critical to understand what your competition is doing,
  6. Meet Accessibility Standards – while accessibility is intended to make websites accessible for disabled persons, accessibility makes your website easier to user for all site visitors.

Once you’ve followed these steps and have your findings in hand, you can now reimagine your new and improved site map. Validate it with a few more users. This should not take too terribly long. Then, you can apply new design elements to your new and improved information architecture. 

Stay safe and keep things moving forward!