Chapter 2: Preparing

Hire Your Dream Team

Website Checklist

Gather Your Team and Requirements

A good portion of your website redesign project is just ensuring you have the right tools, resources, and people in place to get the job done. Think of it as project mise-en-place: you’re preparing and arranging all the ingredients to make the cooking process smooth and pleasant, and ensure delicious results.

Having a well-rounded team of stakeholders whose input and goals are relevant to this project will be essential to keeping the process focused. Try to keep your core team to a small number of people, because you don’t want too many cooks in the kitchen when it comes to making decisions. You also want enough people in the room to carry the progress of the project to their teams.

Your project team should include people from different departments and with different skill sets. For example you want people from these skill buckets: creative, user experience focused, content focused, project planning, marketing, and sprinkle in a few executives.

Although it can be challenging to get the executives to come to all these meetings, you can tell them which meetings are business-critical and let them decide additional meetings to attend. In fact, they are most useful at the initial high-level discussions where business goals and branding are considered. The minute details of the project don’t need to be discussed by every stakeholder.

When you work with an outside agency for your redesign, it’s important to name one person from each team as a single point of contact (or SPOC). Encourage communication flow to go through the SPOC for each team to ensure clarity and consistency, and make scheduling easier for all parties. Plentiful communication is good, but fragmented communication is not, and no project ever benefited from devolving into a game of “telephone.”

Selecting a Design Firm

Choosing the right partner can make or break the success of your website. Beyond the first impression of their work, make sure you ask the right questions to determine the best fit and a design firm’s ability to help you meet your business goals.

1. Do you like the design firm’s website?

You can tell a lot about a design firm from their own website. As it is with your own site, this will be the first impression you get from them. Does their site have all of the bells and whistles you want in your design? Are you able to find what you’re looking for easily? While we all have heard about “the cobbler’s unshod children” this should not apply for a website design firm. If they’re not employing the latest trends and technologies for themselves, how can they share best practices with you?

Questions to Ask When Buying a Website

2. Does their design portfolio reflect your website goals?

Most agencies display their portfolio by vertical, industry or company size. That can be helpful if you’re in a highly specialized vertical that requires unique website needs such as compliance. If they don’t understand HIPAA compliance, they won’t be a good fit for your healthcare website. But the needs of your website may not be dictated solely by vertical. Based on your goal definitions, make sure the agency has demonstrated experience addressing your goals. A beautiful website that can’t accommodate multiple calls to action would be awful if driving leads is the primary goal of your redesign. This is an agency’s best work, if it doesn’t get you excited, it’s probably not a great fit.

3. Do they have a project management methodology that will clearly get you from start to success?

All agencies will say they have a “proven methodology.” Ask for details that substantiate this claim. How much time do they suggest for discovery? What are the outputs for each stage? How many revisions are standard versus what you pay more for? These nuances can have a significant impact on budget and time frame, so dig deep on their methodology to find out the finer details.

4. Do they listen?

All websites are not created equal. And all website goals aren’t either. If a design agency is trying to offer solutions before they’ve actively listened to your needs and goals, this is a serious red flag. In order to develop a website that fulfills your needs they need to understand your needs! If you’re presenting questions and asking for clarity during the vetting process and you’re only getting stock responses, this is what you’ll get during the project. A firm that listens to your problems before offering solutions is going to provide you with a much richer experience—the experience working together and the website experience.

5. Do they have offices near my office?

In today’s flat world, most work and collaboration occurs online. And with tools like Basecamp, this form of collaboration is easier and easier. But with a website redesign, having the opportunity for some face-to-face time can be helpful. Being able to share real-time feedback can have a profound impact on review cycles—less time clarifying feedback and more time spent finessing wireframes and designs.

Coupling standard selection criteria (budget, time frame, portfolio, etc.) with these considerations will give you a more complete view of your design short list. Once you’ve selected your design agency, you don’t want any bombshells to derail your project, so ask as many questions as you need in this phase to mitigate surprises.

Selecting a Content Management System

Planning a website redesign project requires managing multiple moving parts, each being a major project in its own right: setting website goals and timeline, deciding on the best infrastructure and content governance process, deciding on a new look and feel, and refreshing or completely rewriting your website content.

To reduce the complexity of the process, we often rely on design firms to act as partners in the project, and to vet and recommend the right technology to support your site.

There are many reasons to choose and control the technological environment for your new website instead of deferring these decisions to another party. Here are the three most important ones:

Content Management System

1. Your goals are not their goals

This might seem obvious, but it’s the biggest reason why your choice of web content management system should be yours alone. A design agency’s goals on a project will include minimizing their labor and costs, maximizing their revenue, and creating a portfolio-worthy project that will garner awards and future customers.

Helping you meet your organizational and business goals is tied into achieving theirs, but make no mistake, your project is a means to another end in a lot of ways. This doesn’t imply any malice on the agency’s part, but underscores the very real fact that you need to always keep your business interests front and center. It’s not fair to expect another business to do it for you.

Your current infrastructure, future spending, and availability of on-site technical support are also part of the bigger picture and overall costs that an outside agency will not consider.

Finally, your website should directly contribute to your lead and revenue generation, and needs to fit into your long-term content strategy and the arsenal of marketing technologies ranging from automation, to personalization, to CRM to be truly effective.

2. Short-term relief can create long-term reliance

Decision fatigue is a real phenomenon in which constant decision-making wears down the ability and willingness to make more decisions. It’s tempting to hand over the reins to an experienced partner in order to find some relief.

The old adage about teaching a man to fish rather than just feeding him fish runs counter to the needs of a business that relies on ongoing revenue streams. Regardless of the one-time cost of a website redesign, a design agency can make a lot more through ongoing design and website management services. In some cases, it’s in their best interest to guide you towards a solution that opens the door to an ongoing support and service model.

When the short-term relief leads to long-term reliance, it’s really no relief at all, it just means you’ve deferred the pain. Design agencies have years of experience in design and implementation, and will have a good understanding of the WCM products they’re familiar with. Their preference will be to stick with what they know in order to reduce friction.

Understanding your goals and needs and choosing the right WCM system for your ongoing content marketing needs requires time and effort, but owning your decision and finding the right fit will put you in control of the redesign process, and pay long-term dividends.

3. Separating Content Marketing from Content Management Weakens Your Content Strategy

To create a compelling content marketing program, the website must serve as a hub and central repository of content that can be easily shared and distributed via social media and email. Creating an end-to-end process for content creation, management, publishing, distribution, and measurement allows marketers to collect data on the fly and remain nimble in creating content that supports their business goals. This “closed loop” marketing approach requires feedback, speed, and integration in order to give the organization an accurate picture of what’s working in their content marketing.

For web content management to be the foundation for content marketing, it must be accessible to the marketing team. It must be extremely easy for marketers to be able to log in, create and publish content, and measure the effectiveness of what they’re doing.

Blogging Tool

Mashing well with other marketing tools is also critical to successfully combining content marketing with content management. WCMs system should allow marketers to choose their favorite platforms according to specialization, needs, and budget, and tightly integrate them into the website. Although behemoth all-in-one systems are out there, they’re not a good fit for every business, are too broad to do everything well, or require a dedicated developer to deliver their full value.

Defining Your Content Strategy

Getting your content strategy in order should be at the top of your website redesign project list. Even though this project feels big enough already and the temptation is strong to keep the to-do list short, you know it’s best to do it right the first time. Great content for your great design is an absolute must-have.

Why Does Content Matter?

Your content is the copy on your home page, your landing pages, your news section, and your blog. It’s also your images, the homepage slideshow, your SlideShare presentations, videos, and downloadable ebooks. If you’d like to produce more video content, or find a better way to share your event photos, that becomes part of your content plan, and informs your design decisions.

A website redesign is a somewhat aspirational practice, with organizations wishing to present their brand at its very best. If you are reinventing yourself as the most customer-service-oriented credit union, you’ll need some content to back up those stock photos of smiling people wearing headsets.

Content and Design Need to Work Together

Good design can inspire copycats, and we often look to our peers to decide how our websites should look, but inspiration is only a starting point. Understanding your brand identity and what you’re trying to say should guide the final design, and developing your messaging is crucial to having a design that doesn’t look like it came from the website corner store.

Content migration doesn’t have to be a painful process, but if you’re building a new design to accommodate content that’s going to get replaced or doesn’t have a replacement lined up, you’re signing up for a wedding gown that won’t allow alterations, and could make for an awkward fit when all eyes are on you.

Website Builder

Any good web design firm will do its homework before pushing a single pixel into place. In fact, if their designers want to dive in without asking any questions about your goals, analytics, target audience, or content, run. By reviewing your content and defining your desired outcomes and strategies, you’ll be able to provide a lot of the information the agency would be seeking during its discovery phase. You still want to let them do their research, but supplying more information and good content ahead of time will yield a smoother, faster process, and a better end result.

Your website isn’t finished on the day you launch. As you see future opportunities for growth, you can prepare a strategic road map that can lead your organization towards its goals. Your website is a way to deliver business-critical content, engage customers, and drive revenue. Having a content plan will help you ensure you know how to measure whether you’re hitting your targets and when to adapt your approach.

Conducting a Content Audit

Conducting a website content audit is a big project, and it seems there’s never a right time to do it. Except, for when you do a website re-design. If you say “I’m going to wait to do this after the redesign,” you are setting up your project for long term failure. Having a good grasp of the state of your content and a content strategy before you redesign is critical to launching a successful website that can meet your business goals.

Break down the process into steps to make it more manageable and easier to plan around.

Website SEO Audit Report

Step 1: Scan and Catalog Your Existing Website Content

When planning for a successful website redesign project, it’s important to account for the existing content currently on your website. This is your opportunity to assess whether you can move forward with what’s there, or need to build creating or revising content into your project plan. You can use a tool like Screaming Frog, which scans your website to find all URLs, Title Tags, Alt Tags, Image URLs, style sheets, and all files required to keep your site up and running. You can export this output as an excel spreadsheet and then sort by HTML pages to isolate the pages you need to review and have a complete and accurate list.

Step 2: Review Your Content for Gaps and Quality

Once you have your excel document cleaned up and ready to go, create a column to rank your content. I prefer ranking each page with an A, B, or C. Use A for content that doesn’t need to be edited, B for content that needs some cleanup, and C for content that needs drastic revisions or a complete rewrite. If something is identified as a C, make sure you add notes for what needs improvement.

  • the content is outdated
  • the content is inaccurate
  • the existing content was created without a documented content strategy
  • it isn’t written in your brand voice or consistent with other content
  • you see web metrics indicative of poor engagement or conversions and know it’s not effective
  • there’s not enough information on a particular topic
  • there is no discernible content optimization for search engines

This ranking process is important because it helps you see the full scope of work that needs to be done on your website beyond just the redesign, and gives you a way to start prioritizing.

Supercharge Your Content Marketing Strategy

Step 3: Prioritize Your Content Revisions

Now that you have ranked your content, you can decide which content should be edited first over what to just spend little time touching up. I recommend adding columns in your spreadsheet for page bounce rates and number of page views. This will help you assess content effectiveness, and understand which updates are most critical, regardless of their size or complexity.

Structure your website redesign project plan to include a few different waves of content edits to allow you to target the most challenging content first. Once your content manager has the first round of content edited, it can enter review phase by the remainder of the team, and while he/she moves onto the next wave of content.

If you are on an aggressive project timeline, prioritizing can also allow you to defer specific areas of content until after launch if they are in good enough condition.

Step 4: Make It Great

Now for the fun part. Figure out what you want the new website information architecture and navigation to look like. Pull out all of the content you want to use for the new navigation and start editing based on your A,B, or C ranking. Just remember to do this piece by piece and in waves to keep from going crazy.

Stopping to catalog, review, and revise your website content sounds daunting, but if you are going to pull the rug out from under you, pull the whole rug not just part of it. As creating fresh web content continues to become increasingly important, getting ahead of the game is going to be more beneficial in the long run.

Finally, make sure you take the time to record web analytics benchmarks so you can track the success of your changes, and ensure they are meeting your business goals for the website redesign.

Project Timeline and Risk Mitigation

How long does a website redesign take? Just like deciding on how much you should spend on a redesign, the answer is: it depends.

A typical redesign project will include the following stages in the statement of work or proposal you get from an agency:

  • Discovery
  • Information architecture
  • Wireframes
  • Art direction
  • Proposed design and review
  • Design delivery (this might be Adobe Photoshop files that your team will convert to code, or it could be static HTML files)
  • Development (if your agency is doing the coding)
  • Implementation (if your agency is converting the code to templates in your CMS) The length of time required to deliver your project should be reverse-planned from your desired golive date, if you have one. Sometimes a website launch coincides with a re-branding, new product release, the start of financial accounting period, or some other milestone. Other times, there’s no firm due date, just the desire to have a more effective website.
Create a Website Process

Some phases of the project, such as content review and creation and design can happen concurrently, but others have to happen in sequence and can’t be rushed. Your design firm has gone through this planning process many times, and based on how many templates you think you might need, how many in-house resources you can commit, and other considerations, they can help you come up with a reasonable timeline, and even let you know where they can be more flexible, or the timeline can be made more aggressive.

Whatever your situation, be prepared to work from a conservative time estimate, and remember that speedy delivery is not the top indicator of a successful website project. Completely redesigning your website and getting it launched will take several at least several weeks, and could take a few months if your website is large enough.

If keeping your timeline tight is important, the best thing you can do is to come to your design agency prepared with clear goals, strong understanding of your intended audience, and relevant information you can share. This can help shorten the discovery phase and get everyone on the same page faster, which means the fun work will begin sooner.

Strategies for Risk Mitigation

If you are the website design project manager, you are tasked with many roles: moderator, scheduler, traffic controller, leader, disciplinarian, manager, problem-solver, and so on. In every situation, the objective is the same: avoid risk and failure, and make sure the project moves smoothly and is completed on-time and on-budget, while simultaneously ensuring that everyone involved is pleased.

Experienced project managers understand that pitfalls, like scope-creep or communication challenges arise even in the best projects, but the right risk mitigation strategies and some planning can keep everyone on track and the project out of jeopardy.

Let Technology Help With Communication

Transparency and communication are essential to a successful website project. Even if you fully trust that your design agency is doing a great job according to the agreed upon schedule, it’s great to have a direct view into the progress of the project.

With the right tools, it’s easier than ever to keep communication seamless and ongoing. Many agencies will use a cloud-based project management platform like Basecamp to track project deliverables and communicate with their client. Use email, calendars, and teleconferencing platforms to communicate regularly with the project team, and make it easy to track that communication.

Whatever technology you use, remember that your feedback to project partners should always be constructive and—even more importantly—actionable.

Ensure Scope and Expectations are Understood by All Parties

Your design agency will present a statement of work (SOW) before getting started, so you know what you have signed up for. If two rounds of review were slotted for a deliverable, than that is what you are planning for—as an internal project manager, this is what you hold your team to. If another review is needed, it can always be discussed and added in. Keep in mind that the project cost you agree to is based on that initial scope and SOW, and adding to either will add to the cost and put the timeline at risk. It’s also important to understand early on exactly who is responsible for which part of the project, and where there’s a potential for confusion or bottlenecks.

Remain Proactive Throughout

Trust your instincts. If you are starting to see red flags on the horizon, address them head-on. Most problems have a way of growing wild when left unchecked, and problems with complex projects have a way of growing very expensive very fast. It’s best to stop and reassess the situation as soon as potential issues are identified. See what’s causing the problem, where the communication breakdown is happening, and address it quickly to get your project back on track.

There is no one way to handle a website design project successfully. Each project will have its own nuances and uniqueness, so be prepared to make adjustments and keep a level head on your shoulders.

Continue reading…

Chapter 3 “Production”

With planning and preparation complete, you can kick off the hands-on parts of the project. The initial stages are often the most difficult and delicate because they require stakeholders to review and comment on something that doesn’t exist yet. It also involves designers explaining to non-designers how something might be built and could look while keeping the client from focusing on something that is temporary and far from the finished product.