With the understanding that many businesses have far more shared challenges than unique ones when they approach a website redesign project, here are seven valuable lessons to share in hopes to inform and support your efforts to expand your digital reach and web presence.
LESSON ONE: ESTABLISH YOUR VISION AND GOALS.
Your internal team must define a unified vision for your new website and the institutional goals it will help achieve. Having support from your executive board and investment from a cross-departmental internal team from the project’s infancy creates feelings of mutual responsibility in the project’s success and ensures the project aligns with long-term organizational goals.
LESSON TWO: CREATE A CONTENT STRATEGY BEFORE YOU START YOUR REDESIGN.
With your new vision and goals for the website, create a clear interpretive plan focused around your defined audience. Spending time to reimagine what type of content, existing content and new content would best serve your new and existing audiences, organization goals and the form the content would be make the greatest impact. Taking time to planning for new content needs and functionality will helped to eliminate challenges when defining the information architecture. Taking the time to discuss how the website should properly serve the goal of the institution and audiences needs will help to avoid being boxed in by old website structure and content. Think of websites like Google or AirBnB who’s landing pages and information architecture choices are driven by a clear user path and company’s website goals.
LESSON THREE: HAVE THINGS IN WRITING.
Communication is the key to a successful project. A good project manager should ensure that everyone involved has a clear understanding of the project. With so many moving parts and tight deadlines, it can never hurt to set the expectation from the beginning that everything needs to be in writing. As wonderful as modern project management tools are, things still do slip through the cracks. Every meeting should have a clear agenda and objectives to keep everyone on task. Designate a note-taker at each project management meeting to circulate a wrap-up of discussion points and assign action items. This will reiterate understanding and define responsibilities.
LESSON FOUR: LEVERAGE YOUR DATA AND USER STORIES.
When starting projects and initiatives that have the potential to cause internal disagreement (such as prioritizing content and overall vision), lean on data, user stories and your external website vendor to facilitate, mediate and guide major decisions. Test your assumptions with your users to validate your ideas or concepts. Your users are there to save you from yourselves.
LESSON FIVE: DEVELOP A CONTENT SCHEDULE AND CREATION PROCESS.
If you plan to have multiple content creators, develop a consistent process for creating and approving content. Take steps to ensure staff are properly trained and develop a content schedule, creation strategy and approval process to streamline internal communication and improve your online presence by having a consistent voice, scan-friendly content structure, search-engine-optimized information and focused messaging.
The challenge of having many content creators means the possibility of having many different voices throughout the website. Consider having one copy editor to review and adjust the writing in order to conform to a voice and tone guide. If your organization does not have an audience-focused voice and tone guide, we recommend taking the time to develop one.
LESSON SIX: TEST, AND THEN TEST AGAIN.
As new content is created and website features added, make an effort to test with different website user groups. Build time throughout the process for formal testing that can be conducted before and after launch. User testing can also be a strong tool to settle internal disagreements and assumptions about content needs and website components. Don’t forget to also test for accessibility issues.
LESSON SEVEN: LISTEN TO YOUR USERS.
User feedback is extremely important when developing a new website and content. Solicit, listen to and evaluate user behavior online to avoid making decisions based on your own assumptions or preconceptions. Listening to our audience informed many of our content decisions and the way it was delivered.
Be mindful when there is user confusion; ask yourself critical questions about the design as well as the messaging points. So often, we try to solve all user confusion with copy edits and more explanatory text, but this doesn’t always work. Adding text can muddy the clarity of information; sometimes the issue is with the design.
RECOMMENDED ADDITIONAL READINGS:
- Boag, Paul. (2014). Digital Adaptation. Smashing Magazine.
- Boag, Paul. (2017). User Experience Revolution. Smashing Magazine.
- Lencioni, Patrick. (2006). Silos, Politics and Turf Wars. Jossey-Bass.
- Nielsen, Jakob and& Hoa Loranger. (2006). Prioritizing Web Usability. New Riders.