Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and redesign your website. For some companies this can be an easy undertaking only taking a few weeks work, and for others it can be a significant project that could take several months. Whether you’re website is under 10 pages or over 1,000 pages, there are a number of things that you will need to take care of to ensure a smooth transition.
Here is a list of all the tasks you should include in your redesign plans so that no big surprises bite you when you relaunch your website.
Before The Redesign
1. Data to Support the Reason for the Website Redesign
Redesigning your website may sound simple, but it’s a big deal! It can affect your search engine traffic & rankings. Users may not react to it kindly or in the worst case scenario it could affect your ability to conduct sales or generate leads. So there has to be a pretty good reason for redesigning in the first place.
Clearly outline the major areas of focus for the redesign and what you will improve. Your design could focus on:
- Fixing the navigation
- Updating the checkout experience
- Reorganizing the site architecture
Whatever your reasons are for redesigning your website, make sure you have outlined the key reasons along with web metrics and customer feedback to support them. Executives and newcomers to the company may need to be reminded why you’re spending all this time and money to redesign the website.
2. Establish Benchmarks & Targets
What gets measured, improves. There are at least 2-3 categories of metrics to track pre-redesign and post-redesign; user engagement, SEO and ecommerce metrics. Here are a few metrics you should establish a benchmark and create targets against:
User Engagement Metrics
- Site wide bounce rate
- Bounce rate for top entry pages
- Time on site
- Pages per visit
- Percentage of return visits
- Organic search engine traffic for your top 25 keywords
- Search engine rankings for your top 25 keywords
- Average order value
- Number of products per order
- Cart abandonment
- Checkout funnel conversion rate
This is by no means a comprehensive list, but should give you an idea of the metrics to track.
3. SEO Keyword Research
Your site is probably attracting search engine traffic for a number of important keywords. This is a good time to examine and re-evaluate the keywords your site should be targeting.
- In your web analytics system review the keywords that are driving significant traffic to your site
- Perform additional keyword research for terms you want to attract search engine traffic, but aren’t currently doing so
Armed with this data, you’ll have a pretty good idea of the keywords your new site should be targeting and incorporating into the redesign.
4. Collect All The Website Assets You Need for the New Site
There are probably a number of assets you need to migrate over to your new website. Things like whitepapers, images, website copy, etc. Collect all of those now and rebrand them if necessary.
5. User Research & Persona Development
If your main website persona is your CEO, you have a problem. Design your website around the archetypes that would actually be using your site on a daily basis. Conduct user research to determine who is visiting your current website. User research can come in the form of one or a combined number of sources such as:
- Online surveys
- Existing client surveys
- Customer data from your CRM (to validate against your other user research, not as a standalone)
Once you’ve established your personas, your web design team can focus on who they are reallydesigning the site for.
During the Redesign
Since this isn’t an SEO tutorial, I won’t go into the gory details for every item in this section. However, it is worth calling out your SEO to-do list:
- HTML sitemap
- XML sitemap
- Robots.txt file
- Google and Bing webmaster tools verification
- Keyword rich URLs
- URLs that follow your SEO optimized site architecture
- Keyword rich link anchors
- Keyword targeted page titles
- Meta descriptions with SEO copy
- Alt tags for images
- Keyword rich image names
- Site architecture, navigation & hierarchy that follow SEO best practices
- Ample space for optimized web copy for critical web pages
- Web page copy above the fold
- Google & Bing webmaster tools confirmation code
Don’t know what this all means? Hire a qualified and reputable SEO consultant before you redesign your website. Search engine traffic or the lack of search engine traffic could mean a significant portion of your sales or leads.
2. Web Analytics Implementation & Setup
Implement web analytics tags to track your website metrics. Depending on whether you are using Google Analytics, Omniture, Coremetrics or any other web analytics vendor, this task could be a simple 5 lines of code on all your pages or it could be a huge undertaking of page names and page categories.
If it’s the latter, set aside a good chunk of time to plot out how you are going to implement and setup your web analytics strategy.
It is much easier to address it now, than to re-code and re-state your web metrics result because your initial plan was flawed or didn’t scale appropriately.
3. URL Redirects
This is both an SEO and user experience related task, but very important to call out. There are probably dozens if not hundreds of websites pointing links to your current site right now. Those links are extremely valuable from an SEO and user experience standpoint and you don’t want to lose them or break them. Doing so will negatively affect your search engine traffic, and I’m sure that isn’t one of your goals.
Use a link analysis tool like Open Site Explorer from SEOMoz to find the top 100 pages on your current website that other websites are linking to.
Create a spreadsheet with two columns; current URLs and new URLs. List out your top 100 pages in the current URLs column. Then list out the new URLs you’ll be using on your new website. You will be providing this list to your IT team well in advance of your website relaunch so they can implement the appropriate 301 redirects. 301 redirects tell Google and other search engines your web pages have permanently moved to new URLs.
For any URLs that aren’t on that list, have your IT team 301 redirect them to your new homepage.
Once you’ve designed your site and your QA team has thoroughly put your website through the ringer you are steps closer to going live. But before you unleash your website to the masses, you may want to consider a few more things both from the web production front but also from the marketing front.
1. Usability Testing (optional)
When should you consider usability testing?
Typically when ecommerce is involved and your company relies on the majority of its revenue from your website. Don’t make the same $12 million mistake like Expedia did by skipping out on usability testing.
Another reason for usability testing is if you will no longer have your web developer and web design resources after your website launch to respond to urgent issues.
Usability testing can take a number of different forms depending on what your company can afford. The three options available are:
- Leveraging Experts – Users experience consultants who can conduct and coordinate the testing for you
- Recruiting a sample of existing customers and non-customers and conducting your own usability tests in-house
- Online services such as UserTesting.com where you can specify the type of users you’d like to test your website
2. Private or Public Beta Launch (optional)
Typically done after all in-house testing has taken place, and when your website is in a form that is worthy of public consumption, beta testing can be a valuable feedback mechanism. Usually exposed to a significant portion of your existing audience, beta testing can help you test not only the new design but the performance of your website.
Need proof of why you should consider a beta of your new site? Just look to Digg and how negatively its community reacted to their redesign efforts.
You are happy with the design. CEO has signed off on things. IT says they’re good to go. Now it’s time to launch. But before you press that big red button that sets the site live, here are a few more considerations.
1. When to Launch
Launch when you expect the least traffic. Sure you’ve tested and QA and IT says the website is airtight, but there is this thing called Murphy’s Law. What can go wrong will go wrong.
2. Web Developer & IT Resources On-Hand
It goes without saying, but launching just after beer-Friday is an ill-advised time to launch your website. Whether you are working with contractors or in-house resources, schedule key personnel to be available for the first few hours after the launch to fix any major issues that might just pop up. Consider them your website insurance.
Congratulations you’ve launched your site! Have a bevvy and enjoy the moment. Done with your beverage? Great, now get back to work, you’re not done yet.
1. Quick Audit
Review the website with a critical eye. Are any pixels misaligned? Are there any spelling mistakes? Send a company wide email offering the first 10 people who comes up with a bug or issue a company t-shirt.
2. Monitor 404 Error Results
Are there any broken links on your site? Check your web analytics system or web server logs for any 404 errors. You could be bouncing people off your website without even knowing it.
3. SEO Audit
You’re not done with SEO yet. Have your SEO consultant or company perform a post-launch audit. Some things to check for:
- URL redirects – are they all working?
- Did you regenerate a new XML sitemap?
- 301′s – are all your redirects 301 redirects?
- Have you re-authorized the site with Google & Bing webmaster tools?
- Page Titles & Meta Descriptions – check Google webmaster tools for any duplicates and fix those
- Is the site inadvertently blocking search engine bots at certain points? Use Xenu Link Sleuth to detect these types of issues.
A post launch SEO audit can catch a bunch of nasty stuff that can ruin your launch party.
4. Check for NoIndex, NoFollow and Disallow
Yes this is an SEO task, but important to call out on its own.
a) Check your robots.txt and double check that you don’t have Disallow entry that inadvertently tells Google, Bing or Yahoo not to index your website.
b) Check on-page page meta tags for NoIndex & NoFollow.
These two values could severely impact traffic from search engines.
Big brand sites have failed to check for this on occasion. You are not immune to this oversight either.
5. Web Analytics
Check your web analytics system to see if the reports are being populated with data.
6. User Feedback
You need to collect feedback on your new design. Tap resources like on-site surveys on your website, poll a sample of your users, or monitor Twitter for user outcry. Your design is an evolution, not a destination. Listen, consider, iterate.
7. Tell Everyone
Finally, don’t forget to promote your new site design! You can never have too many visitors or links to your website!
Did I miss anything? If so, share with others and let us know in the comments.