When the time finally comes to tackle a website redesign, it's difficult to contain the excitement. There are so many things you just can't wait to have put into place! Then come the first steps to making it all happen.
Excitement turns to fear and trepidation as you try to craft a plan and put together the resources to turn all of your lofty ideas into reality.
Suddenly it begins to seem more and more like a home construction project: lots of advice from many sources; warnings about rip-offs, scams and slick tactics; choices for things that could go into, on and throughout your new website; decisions about who should do what, how long it should take, and how much it should cost. Finally, you're lost in so many details that you're not sure where to start.
Here are the most common red flags that your website redesign is not on the path to providing value and what you can do to avoid them.
1) Lack of strategic direction
Just like a home construction project, getting the blueprint wrong throws the final outcome into question. The worst part is you might not even realize anything is wrong until the construction team is long gone. In order for a website to have business value, it must be designed based on your business goals.
The high level goal is always the general notion of “getting more business”. Unfortunately, if that’s all that comes to the planning table, you could go live with a beautiful website that really does nothing toward meeting your business goals even though the site looks exactly the way you pictured it.
Providing strategic direction for your website should not be an easy step, so the first indication of trouble is trotting out a quick laundry list of all the bells and whistles you've dreamed of having on your website to stand as your plan. Instead, you should start with putting your business goals at the heart of your planning.
Your new website should be firmly rooted in driving business objectives. A good approach for this is to take your list of wants and incorporate them in a way that aligns with your business goals, the needs of the ideal site visitors and the technical realm of SEO. You'll need a workhorse vision where your website is built to play an active role in your sales and marketing efforts rather than operating as an elaborate, fancy brochure.
You should encourage a lot of questioning from those who are helping you. Why do you want the items on your wish list? You should have valid business reasons for them before you make the decision to incorporate them. Set a firm deadline for this exercise to make sure your project stays on track. Don't end up stalled due to avoiding making some tough calls. You'll likely have to cut some things you have on your wish list in order to add others that offer more value.
2) A narrow focus of ranking on page one of search engines
For many businesses, the most basic notion of having a website in the first place can be rooted in the idea of popping up on page one of Google and other search engines. The latest best practices in the SEO arena are very important and will definitely play a role in your website redesign, but it will involve more than a narrow view of whether or not your website appears on page one for a few keyword search terms.
Currently, more than 200 factors determine whether a web page will be served up in search results. No one can promise a rose garden of page one ranking for particular search terms and those that do are more interested in cashing your check and dashing out of the picture before you realize you aren't getting any value.
Instead, focus on using the specific language your marketing personas will use to research a problem that you can solve. Work to build content on your website that clearly conveys what you offer and how you can help them. Your website content should be tailor-made to attract your perfect customer by addressing problems, demonstrating your knowledge of how to solve them and providing useful resources.
3) Lack of understanding of how websites are created
Typically, there is a web designer and a web developer involved in creating a website. A designer makes things look beautiful and a developer makes sure things work like they’re supposed to. Often, when this distinction isn’t understood, it leads to a less than stellar website because a vendor is hired who is good in one area and not the other.
You should consider a team of professionals for the delivery of your project so you have the expertise to provide maximum value from both aspects within your project budget. You should also expect guidance for situations when a compromise is needed to align function, beauty and budget.
4) Unrealistic timelines
Getting it done fast may mean cutting some hefty corners. Someone who is overly eager to please you by promising your website in a very tight window of time is likely going to lead you to a poor outcome.
You’ll either get a website in short order that is a complete waste of money – since there really wasn’t time to build anything other than that – or you’ll be caught in a stall where the super low price vendor said yes to all your unrealistic demands, took your check and then took his time getting around to your job.
The ideal person for handling your project examines your wants and needs for the website before there is any commitment to a specific timeline. You should aim for an up front discussion about how much time it will take – whether you’ll like the answer or not – and the option of rolling your project out in phases. This approach allows you to get what you really need in a realistic time frame, test the value of your ideas along the way, and make adjustments according to outcomes.
5) Poorly considering who will be involved in the web design process
Having only a few people within an organization involved in guiding how the website will be done can be a path to disappointment, but on the other hand too many people can bring a project to a halt when everyone can't come together on the decisions.
Modern websites should speak to the needs of customers and prospects in a way that inspires them to want to do business with you. Like with so many other things in life, moderation is the key. It's important to have those on your staff who are directly in touch with the needs of your business involved in some of the planning discussions or you could miss out on some very obvious content for your website.
Ideally, the person in charge of crafting your new website will use your business goals, input from each department (marketing, sales, customer services) as well as your best customers to uncover functionality and messaging that needs to be on your website.
6) Not having a contract or clear Scope of Work (SOW)
Avoiding having a formal contract in place may seem like a win with the notion of allowing for unbridled creativity and endless revisions. However, simply "letting things evolve" as you work through the process without defining expectations, pricing and timelines in writing is a big mistake with website projects. Since each side can have completely different visions for the outcome, a lot of disappointment can be avoided by putting some things down on paper before any work takes place.
Reputable firms will bring paperwork to the table that provides a reasonable amount of definition but still allows the flexibility required for such a creative process. This becomes especially important when work is going to be divided between your in-house staff and an outside vendor. You'll need clear definition for who is doing what to avoid confusion and unnecessary delays.
7) Failing to examine data from your current website before designing the new one
Many people aren’t well informed of the mechanisms to gather analytics for their websites much less actively pay attention to them. Scrapping your old site without taking a close look at its shortcomings reflected in this type of data could lead to a repeat of the same failures.
Find someone who can guide you in how to get this information and what to look for in the data. You'll want to know some average figures that show how many visitors come to your website each month and some general information about how long they stay, new versus repeat visitors, etc. Examining past performance is key to having your redesign attempt to fix problems and lead to future success.
8) Going for WOW
We all want people to come to our website and be captured by the sheer awesomeness of it. But "going for wow" can leave you going broke when skipping over the consideration for the user expectations and experience.
It might look really flashy to have things whizzing around the homepage and popping up to surprise people but such tactics can have the opposite impact on the site visitor when it slows them down from accessing the content they expect to see. The priority should be providing the most efficient path for your target audience to gain access to what they need when they land on your site.
9) Not using a CMS
Sometimes simply leaving it up to the vendor for how a website will be built can lead to a site that cannot be edited or updated by anyone on your staff. A CMS (content management system) is a platform that can be used to build your website and often allow those with no knowledge of programming to make some simple updates to website pages.
When a vendor has complete control over updates even small changes can take forever – if they’re done at all - and lead to a lot of extra fees to make them. Choose a system that offers flexibility for you and your staff to make some simple adjustments to page copy or switch out pictures, calls to action etc. without having to wait in line, pay another fee or both.
10) Website limited to being updated every few years
The common method most businesses take with the company website is to invest a lot of time, attention and money once every few years to give it a nice, big facelift. The next few years are spent sweating out the time it takes to make it to the next update.
Modern methods for website projects include a detailed plan for growth that incorporates the fluid, rapidly changing landscape and a website that is a living part of your marketing efforts. No more once and done website projects that take forever to launch and end up partially out of date almost as soon as they're published. Instead, aim for a website that operates as a marketing vehicle that receives constant attention, aligns with your budget and changes with you as you grow.
11) A free website from a friend or family member
The free website doesn’t make much of a brother-in-law deal when it ends up doing harm to your business. Avoiding the price tag of calling in a professional seems to save you money today, but costs you a fortune in the long run in missed opportunities. By failing to invest in a website that drives leads you can nurture to become customers, the money you saved today won’t compare to the cost of lost time.
12) No comprehensive, scalable strategy for lead generation
Historically, the approach to website creation has been a loose configuration of ideas brought to the table by everyone involved in the project. The goal is simply a final consensus as to whether all involved liked the finished product. The range of complexity can be as simple as an online brochure to a giant website full of pages but neither delivers any measurable ROI.
These days the trend is to build a website that is an inbound marketing hub for your business. Every page built for a purpose with a clear call to action guiding site visitors through the buyer’s journey. The pages working in a synchronized effort to generate marketing and sales qualified leads. A definable, scalable process that can be measured and adjusted to influence the return on investment.
To make sure that yours does this, carefully review the 12 points outlined here. Use them to give you a new perspective. Identify your business goals, gather up the right people, resources, and processes needed to build your website to function as a more integral part of your business. Just like electricity to power lights and office equipment, think of your website as the source to generate leads and sales on a daily basis.
With this approach, instead of feeling anxiety, dread and disappointment you'll be happy with a website that is an asset delivering measurable, and much more visible return on investment.
Originally published Dec 29, 2015 1:00:00 PM, updated July 28 2017