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Jim Brophy

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.

Thinking About a Website Redesign? Start with Strategy

May 1, 2023 | Jim Brophy, Group Director, Digital

7 Minute Read

Updated: May 1, 2023
Originally Published: June 14, 2021


Have you recently found yourself thinking about a website redesign? Perhaps:

  • you're in the early stages of a re-branding effort for your organization and, as a result, your website needs updating to reflect the new brand.
  • you're opening up new markets, launching a new product or service, or contemplating the move into e-commerce.
  • you haven't redesigned your site in more than 3-4 years and its become stale.
  • the user experience has lost its effectiveness.
  • or – like so many – the pandemic forced you to table thoughts of refreshing your site but now you're better positioned to do so.

Whichever scenario you find yourself in, keep in mind there are several dos and don’ts before jumping into a redesign.

It's important to set aside some time to look at your strategy before you invest in simply updating the look and feel.

At Northwoods, when our clients are contemplating a redesign, we remind them that this is a golden opportunity to benchmark performance of their current website and to make sure whatever they're adding or modifying resonates with users and aligns with business strategy.

Therefore, we always begin with the end in mind. That is, what do you want users to do on your site? What are their needs? What are they looking for?

The Don’ts

We've seen many organizations rush to refresh their site(s) without thinking strategically about the decisions they're making. For instance, don’t place look and feel over content and utility. No matter how great a site looks, with great animation or page transitions, if it doesn’t have engaging content for users to interact with, what’s the point if no one converts? Design for users and base your decisions on research and data.

Here is a high-level list of things to avoid when contemplating a redesign:

  • Not having clearly articulated website objectives
  • Not validating your audiences and their goals
  • Not being prepared for Google Analytics changes with the cutover to GA4. The current version of GA (Universal Analytics) will no longer accept data beginning July 1, 2023.
  • Not understanding your competition and how they engage users
  • Overlooking privacy trends
  • Ignoring approximately 25% of your audience
  • Not updating your site map

The Dos

A Redesign Strategy Framework

Northwoods has developed a rich library of content around digital strategy and the various steps within the digital strategy framework. The following steps have been developed and refined over time, keeping pace with evolving best practices, emerging trends and shifting user behaviors. The steps in the strategy framework you should undertake just happen to coincide with “The Don’ts” list mentioned above!

Establish/Validate/Update Your Website Objectives

Website objectives change and evolve over time. We were recently in discussions with a client that launched a site five years ago, and in speaking with them, we discovered their objectives had changed. As a result, they have additional key performance metrics (KPIs), such as adding lead-generating, dedicated landing pages, which of course require a unique design to drive conversions.

During this phase of your strategy, you should also tightly segment your audiences. This will lead to improved conversion strategies and generate better tracking metrics.

Conduct UX Research

Remember, you are not your users. It's important to back up use case assumptions with data. Deeply understanding how to combine information from user research with data on your current website performance is vital to providing exceptional user experiences. All of these inputs and data points will assist in generating ideas on how to meet your users’ needs and enhance your design.

Develop Your Digital Personas

Many organizations have a good idea of who their customers are. However, if you're redesigning your website for one of the reasons previously mentioned, validating your digital personas is a must before you embark on your redesign.

Marketing and sales are now digital, and simply understanding the best way to create effective messaging for your target audiences means nothing if your audience never sees it. You need to develop digital personas to truly understand how users want to be reached during each phase of their journey, as well as their engagement lifecycle and all of their touchpoints with your brand.

In addition, surveying users and talking with them can provide “ah-ha” moments that traditional messaging strategies rarely uncover. Bottom line – talk to your users. Explore their needs. And develop your content based on their goals and how they can achieve them.

Implement GA4 & Check Your Analytics Configuration

The vast majority of the clients we work with use Google Analytics to understand user behavior, conversions, goals, and content consumed. That’s the good news. The bad news is very few have GA set up properly to correctly collect and interpret their audience behavior data.

The current version of GA (Universal Analytics) will no longer accept data beginning July 1, 2023. It’s not enough to simply install GA4 without proper set-up. Some key components to configure and track data in GA4 include the following:

  • Data retention settings
  • Form interactions
  • Google Search Console integration
  • Search query parameters
  • Custom events tracking and interactions
  • Google Tag Manager
  • Big Query (for data back-up and segmentation)

Bad and/or incomplete data leads to ill-informed decision making. Additionally, you will want to retain your data. Northwoods has a wealth of information available to assist you in understanding how Big Query can help you with retaining and segmenting your data.

Once you have GA4 and Google Tag Manager set up properly, you can benchmark your site to ensure accurate reporting so you can make informed decisions about your site’s information architecture. We have an entire digital Hub focused on GA4 for your reference.

Benchmark Your Competition

“If the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, it probably means you haven’t been taking care of your own lawn.” Examine why your competitors may have greener grass. Before your redesign, conduct a competitive analysis. Look at:

  • Content and keywords
  • Usability
  • Calls-to-action
  • Design

SEMRush, Similarweb, Moz and the Google Ads Keyword Planner are just a few tools you can use to understand keywords your audiences are using to explore content. If you see trends in keyword usage and your site doesn’t have content to support these queries, this presents an opportunity to create that content within your site map.

You can also talk to your users to validate this content, and perhaps even show them a few of your competitor sites and ask them what they like - and what they don’t, what’s missing, and so on. How are competitors converting their users? How clean is their design? Do they have an effective site search? Answers to these questions will present opportunities for differentiation.

Assess Data Privacy and Security

This aspect of the digital user experience continues to evolve, and changes to policy and regulations are accelerating rapidly. If you target users in the European Union (EU), you must consider the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). If you have customers in the United States, specifically California, you need to account for the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). Other states have laws pending.

There have been privacy and targeting changes and updates in popular browsers and on mobile phones. How does all of this impact your redesign? If your legal department advises you to consider these regulations, you will need to have cookie consent banners on your site, dedicated emails and/or phone numbers available to allow users to contact you about how you're using their data. You may need to post disclaimers, terms of use, accessibility and privacy policies - links, banners and pages all dedicated to these shifting policies. So be sure to consider these aspects of the user experience when planning your website redesign.

Meet Website Accessibility Standards

Organizations with inaccessible websites are failing to accommodate an ever-growing part of the population. According to Pew Research, 23% of disabled persons say they never go online due to frustration over sites not having screen reader functionality,  poor color contrast to easily identify links and text, and a host of other challenges sites present users.

One in five Americans have some sort of disability. Website usability and accessibility go hand in hand, so it’s very important to understand the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) version 2.1 Level AA. With respect to a redesign, you may need to update your web style guide – or develop one – to ensure proper color contrast. Our accessibility practice leader has several excellent blogs on how to test for proper color contrast. Additional items to consider:

  • Do all of your images have Alt Tags for screen readers?
  • Are your heading tags in logical order?
  • Do your web forms have labels for screen readers?
  • Is the page language set?
  • Is your color contrast sufficient?

In addition, make sure you have a clear and concise accessibility policy that offers users the opportunity to contact your organization if they have difficulty consuming content on your site.

Update Your Site Map

Arranging your site map and tailoring content to what your users want before you redesign will help you achieve your website and business objectives.

Final Thoughts

Before you embark on a website redesign, our recommendation is to take the time to understand how you can best meet user needs. Remember, the organizational perspective is usually internally focused. Now is an opportune time to follow the strategy framework outlined above – conduct research to understand the customer experience, provide as much value as possible and accurately measure effectiveness.

If you're not sure where to start with your website strategy before you begin your redesign, we'll be happy to help! Don't hesitate to contact us.