When a new boss comes into a workplace, several things tend to occur that can cause disruption in the everyday life of the employee. Even if the new boss isn't changing much of anything, what I've noticed, is that a change to the company's website is almost guaranteed. To the non-web developer, this is a no-brainer update. After-all, web is easy, right? We're just adjusting a few layout options, and images, and text, and navigation, and buttons, and... HOLD UP! This is going to take some planning and execution!
All cynicism aside, we should applaud change to websites, even when we aren't 100% aligned with it. Search engines in this modern age love websites that evolve, they love updated text and images - especially if it makes things easier for the people visiting. This last point is the one to focus on: making things easier (read:better) for our visitors. A cosmetic change is a cosmetic change, but it doesn't always make for a better website. This is when you let the data clear the clouds, and why we audit the current website before pulling it apart.
The following are three steps that we suggest taking when planning a redesign. Much of it is in the best interest of your visitors, whose experience should be paramount in all of your web decisions.
1) Get a Snapshot of the current site and present it to your boss
Most web decisions tend to be subjective. Someone overheard something about Google, so they start to repeat it, not knowing that it's outdated news. One of the common problems we run into is when high ranking officials in a department swap notes ... which I will illustrate with an example: Let's say that Boss A over in ACME Enterprises Inc. LTD has a new website and "people love it" ... "people" being Boss A's employees who tell her that the new site is amazing. Boss A tells Boss B, that his new website is "killing it", so naturally Boss B wants to copy what Boss A has done. He proposes the revamp to his team ... saying, "copy that site and brand it ours", at which point we (SEO and Web Developers) will need to step in.
Regardless of a site "killing it", we need data to drive design decisions, and we can start the process by asking ourselves some important questions to begin:
- Ask yourself (and team), "Why do we have a website?" What is the point of our website, and who are our customers?
- How is our current website holding up against our competition? When we Google our business with the city that we're in, are we satisfied with the results?
- Does our site work to attract new business, and are visitors getting the answers that they need?
- What are our most important pages? List out a top five of what your company deems important, and weigh that against the actual top five that people are visiting.
Believe it or not, you can do a lot of harm with a revamp, if you choose looks over function that frustrates or confuses your visitors.
2) No is never an option, so present a better path
Even if your site is amazing, and doesn't need a revamp, chances are you don't get a say in whether it gets redesigned or not. What you can influence, however, is the decisions for this new site, making sure it retains what is currently working, while taking the opportunity to fix what is broken.
When you hire a team (or your internal staff) to start this revamp, have ready a list of your company's needs and wants. This way you give the web developer clear instructions on intent. Outline what to keep, then give an explanation as to why. Make suggestions on possible fixes for the current items that don't work. To get this data, you will want to consult your Google Analytics, survey your current visitors, and do some reading on User Experience best practices. DO NOT assume that the web developer is an expert on this stuff, and that they will be empowered to push back when you suggest disastrous things. You and your team (boss included) are the architects, and should have your plan laid out, since a web designer will tend to do whatever they're told.
Things you want from a new website:
- Ease in updating/adding/removing new pages. If you have control over your choice of a Content Management System (CMS), this is something to consider.
- Simple navigation. Visitors can easily get to where they want with a minimal amount of clicks.
- A Mobile-friendly design. Your site should be just as easy/easier to navigate via smart phone or tablet.
- Built for your audience. Design should be catered to the visiting personas first, and internal staff members (including your boss) last.
- Don't forget the clean-up. Setup redirection from older pages that you no longer want. It is not enough to delete an old page, we suggest you map a replacement for visitors who may still visit that old link.
3) Plot out a strategy for building and launching your new website
While we SEO types love change, we do find that quite a few people do not... this too falls within the wide spectrum of "user experience", and you don't want a jarring experience to turn-off your potential customers. There is a bit of transparency owed to your current visitors, particularly those who frequent your current website. For this, we encourage a message on the website somewhere to warn of the upcoming change, as well as an email to your mailing list to let people know of your intentions.
SEO Pro-tip: Along with the note, you could post a short survey asking for people's opinions on the current website. A lot of people will like that their voice is contributing to the decision-making, and you can use the data to help with some key design decisions.
Example steps for revamping a website:
- Audit your current website's visitation, as well as the behavior flow of visitors from the past.
- Build a Sitemap: Plot out what new pages will be added and what pages will be removed. For the pages being removed, list the new page that the old link will redirect to.
- Decide on a design that is both mobile-friendly and easy to read and navigate.
- Pay attention to accessibility! Is your text large enough for people with vision challenges? Can you navigate the new site using a keyboard alone?
- Set up a development schedule with the web developers with enough time for testing and updating links.
- Inform your customers about the upcoming change. Post hard dates, and present a timeline if you think that it will ease their minds.
Letting SEO Help...
Search Engine Optimization is about User Experience and data ... two very important things necessary for a successful revamp. When your boss announces that there will be a new website, it would be a good idea to consult the in-house SEO to get a full audit on where your current website stands, as well as a list of things to have for it to improve. With Google Analytics in place, the SEO can get a snapshot of the visitation, behavior flow, and popular content on the site. Similarly, the SEO can inform you as to which pages are ignored, and whether or not users are reading the content or just leaving once they see the content - due to it being misleading.
Aside from giving you a look at your past, the SEO/UX person can help with your road map. Through analytics you will know what to keep, and know what is open to change without disruption to your visitors. While an SEO isn't absolutely necessary, the Google Analytics data is. So if you or your team is able to check those numbers, it is a good idea to translate them (along with options for the revamp) to your boss.
So as you can see, having to pull out a new website with the change in leadership does not have to be a bad thing ... on the contrary, it presents an opportunity to do a few things that would have been put on the back burner when the former boss was there. Think about it. How likely were you to get a "yes" if you proposed a website overhaul? Now is the time to put your thoughts into action, especially if they are backed by data!