Redesigning your website can be exciting, but it may also require lots of resources, especially for a small business. This is where careful planning comes in.
We recently redesigned our website and want to share some key lessons we learned. There are many ways to redesign a website and our approach may not be right for you, but it will probably help you avoid some pitfalls and better plan your project.
Your website strategy: simply essential
Given the availability of affordable website templates, it’s entirely possible to create your own functional, professional-looking website in just a few days. This option is fine if you’re a start-up or need to quickly establish a web presence, or if you want to showcase your music or cooking hobby.
But using a template rarely works in a B2B environment. It makes it difficult to align your business objectives with your website objectives, which is why you need to develop a website strategy.
As obvious as it sounds, many small businesses don’t bother with this step. “Of course we know what we want our website to do! Let’s not waste time!” Needless to say, several months later the website is still not live and invoices are piling up because web writers, programmers and designers can’t coordinate their efforts to reach a common objective.
This quote sums it up nicely:
Having lost sight of our objective, we intensified our efforts.
Coming up with a website strategy is key to a successful web redesign. Done correctly, a strategy sets out the reasons for the redesign, your objectives and how you intend to reach them.
There are several ways to establish a website strategy. You can:
- Develop the strategy yourself.
- Work with an independent website strategist.
- Hire a pure web strategy agency that won’t perform the implementation.
- Hire a one-stop-shop agency that offers the full array of services, from web strategy planning to implementation, web design, SEO optimization, etc.
Both options have advantages and disadvantages, depending on your unique situation. Regarding bNurture, we had some budgetary constraints and really wanted to avoid working with an agency that would try to get us to use a template they’d already used—and probably overused—for other clients. We also wanted to do some of the work in-house, particularly the design and content.
For all these reasons, we decided to work with independent web strategist Adrien O’Leary. The strategy we developed allowed us to:
- Clarify the site’s key objectives
- Draft the site map
- Identify the ideal path to optimize conversion
- List the must-have features
- Inventory the existing content and decide what to keep, modify or eliminate
- Identify the keywords to focus on, based on search volume and our personas’ preferences
- Establish a call-to-action for each page
Selecting the appropriate CMS
bNurture’s previous website had been programmed in pure HTML, which was beneficial because it loaded quickly, wasn’t easy to hack, needed little maintenance and didn’t have CMS template limitations. But updating the content was tedious, and was actually one of the reasons behind the redesign.
Updating content on the new website would have to be easier. Besides, our strategy included placing related services below each article, and vice versa, related content below the service descriptions. It was clear that we needed a CMS.
Without getting into too much detail about the benefits and disadvantages of each CMS, we still see lots of clients who don’t get the proper advice when selecting a CMS. Common mistakes include choosing:
- A proprietary CMS, which is rarely optimized for search engines and is often secretly used to prevent the client from switching agencies.
- A CMS that forces you to redesign your website each time a new version is released (approximately every two or three years). Again, the CMS is a real money-maker for your agency, but not for you.
- A CMS that has not been widely adopted yet, making it difficult AND expensive to find knowledgeable integrators and programmers.
The most widely adopted CMSs on the market today are WordPress, Drupal and Joomla, with respectively 59%, 6% and 5% of the CMS market share1.
For bNurture, WordPress was the best option due to its:
- SEO-friendly themes
- active web community
- underlying philosophy to ensure relative long-term sustainability
Selecting the right web integrator and hosting company
Using a CMS platform was obviously the right decision, but we still wondered if the site would be slower and less secure with WordPress.
First, let’s be clear. You will never completely eliminate the risk of hacking. CMS systems like WordPress are constantly evolving, so you need to pay attention to critical functional or security updates.
Unless you have the in-house resources to minimize vulnerabilities, consider budgeting a small amount for website maintenance. At bNurture, we decided to subscribe to a maintenance plan, which includes automatic backups. This “insurance” provides peace of mind, so it is something you may want to discuss with your web integrator.
Still, we had to decide how to optimize the website’s performance. There is a common misconception that when a site uses a CMS platform like WordPress, it becomes a lot slower. Indeed, some CMS templates have too many plugins, which slow them down.
However, it’s usually hosting that causes the slowdown. This occurs regularly in IT firms that mistakenly believe that since they have servers—and therefore the capacity—they should host their site themselves, or worse, choose a low-cost and highly unreliable hosting company.
From our point of view, trying to save $15 or $30 a month was simply not worth the risk or the time spent managing that risk. To optimize the performance of bNurture’s website, we chose a reputable local web hosting company.
Key selection criteria to hire a good web integrator
Once we had our website strategy and the CMS we wanted to use, we started looking for a web integrator. We had received several referrals and chose to work with Zone W3 Media Design for the following reasons:
- They knew WordPress inside out.
- It was within our budget.
- We got an excellent reference.
- It was a personal fit.
Your selection criteria may differ, but to avoid unpleasant surprises, we highly recommend writing a creative brief or project brief that summarizes:
- Your current situation
- Your goal and your strategy to reach it
- Your site map and the approximate number of pages per section
- Your functional needs
- Your deadlines and/or relevant key dates
- Your budget
- Your project team, specifying what will be done in-house and what will be outsourced
- The list of key deliverables
As its name indicates, a creative brief is a concise but invaluable document communicating your expectations and clarifying roles and responsibilities. When you don’t clarify your needs, the web agency cannot give you a realistic budget and timeframe. In such circumstances the agency will either overprice its services to protect itself from project creep, or simply not be able to stay on budget.
How much time will it take?
We’d all love to complete our website redesign in three months, but it rarely takes less than six months. It all depends on the scope of the redesign, the complexity of the new site and the availability of resources. However, you can count on one constant: no matter what you plan, the writing will take longer than anticipated.
As a B2B content marketing agency, this was not our first web assignment. Yet we humbly admit that we were no exception to the rule. We inventoried our content while we were working on the strategy, which helped determine the scope of work, and we felt confident that the web writing wouldn’t take too long. We were wrong.
For a ballpark figure, writing a service page in one language easily took two to three hours, sometimes more. This is the type of benchmark you need to keep in mind, especially when content is developed internally, as is often the case for small- and medium-sized businesses.
And even if, like us, you already have quite a bit of content for most sections of your site, you still need to schedule some extra time to:
- Edit content
- Translate copy
- Write meta-descriptions
- Decide which categories and keywords you want to use
- Identify related content to include relevant links
- Adapt or rewrite copy to fit your design
The time required to produce content is undoubtedly the most difficult thing to evaluate and one of the main causes of delay. It’s sometimes a good idea to outsource the content.
In our case, even if most of the content was written in-house, we were pleased to retain the services of an experience web writer: Julie Rochon.
Website design is crucial and probably deserves a whole series of posts because it stirs up intense discussion.
Your website’s look creates the first impression of your business. If you were to ask people their opinion of your new website, chances are they’d first comment on the visuals. “It looks great!” Or: “That is so different and fresh!” Or: “I could never live with such an ugly website.”
Captivating visuals are increasingly important. For proof, simply look to the growing popularity of visual social media platforms such as Pinterest, Instagram and YouTube. Your site is no exception: it will be judged by its appearance. That is why we recommend using professional-quality images, pictures or videos.
You’ll have to decide whether you want to get your pictures from an image bank or do a professional photo shoot. Image banks offer high quality at an affordable price. And sometimes, they’re the only reasonable alternative. Imagine you need a picture of a cloud or a plane. You wouldn’t hire your own photographer, would you?
Yet anybody can buy from an image bank, so the same picture may appear in other marketing materials. Your choice depends on your concept and budget. If you can, use the services of a professional.
In bNurture’s case, we were happy to work with the talented Elizabeth Delage because this seemed to be the best approach for our design concept.
But a beautiful site is not enough! If visitors don’t find what they’re looking for, or if they don’t do what you want them to, your site won’t fulfill its purpose.
There is no denying that visual content is very trendy. However the “wow” effect is no substitute for a web strategy.
Which brings us to the obvious next question.
Content or web design first?
Defining the concept for bNurture’s website went relatively smoothly because the web strategy provided a clear direction. Our designer used the strategy to propose responsive web design concepts that supported our goals and objectives.
At this stage, most agencies develop wireframes to help their clients see how blocks of text and visuals will be integrated. The problem is that clients often approve the wireframes before developing the web content. Then when they start the web writing, they realize that the copy needs to be rewritten or organized differently to communicate their message more effectively.
Since we have our own professional designer, we could work on the content and web design regularly. Some content was posted with little or no edits, whereas other pages needed rewriting. The advantage of this iterative approach was that we never felt limited by the design or the content. Because, beyond creating a beautiful website, we wanted first and foremost to offer an enjoyable user experience.
Given this close collaboration between design and content, we were able to skip the wireframes and work directly with mock-ups. Our designer created mock-ups for desktops, tablets and smart phones. Our web integrator told us this level of detail made his job easier and spared us any unpleasant surprises.
What if we had to do it all over again?
We know that bNurture’s website is not perfect. Although the website redesign project didn’t provide all the answers, it definitely gave us a scalable platform and a framework for continuous improvement.
In the next few months, we plan to regularly look back at our initial web strategy to determine whether the new site is helping us to reach our objectives and which initiatives produce the best results.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned with this project, it’s that a website redesign should not be handled as a special project every three or four years, but more as a marketing asset to optimize on an ongoing basis.
1 W3Techs, Usage of Content Management Systems for Websites, consulted April 7, 2016.