One of the major challenges we face with any new website redesign project is helping the client understand how much work is really required to make the project a success. Some struggle with what content needs to stay, and which content needs to be reworked to better convey their business. Some clients struggle with the idea of how radically different web design is from the last time they did a site design project, when animated GIFs and drop shadows were still acceptable. But one thing all clients struggle with, is knowing where to start, and how to prepare for the project before they even bring in a consultant or agency to assist.
1. Do Some Research on Your Competitors
Understanding where your site stands among the competition is a great first step, as it allows you to know where you have room to grow, and find out where your weaknesses are. Start with the companies at the top of your industry that are most like yours, and make a list of features and functionality that you aspire to have. The goal of this is not to just copy those sites, but to help your web designer understand what’s working in the industry, and get acclimated to your preferences and taste.
Obviously, the companies at the top of your industry may be somewhat far removed from your current level of direct competition, so next you’ll want to research the 5 companies you perceive as just a notch above you, that you’d like to overcome in the next 12-18 months, and run the same activity with those sites. Make note of their blogging strategies, their product messaging, and especially their SEO keywords that overlap with yours. The goal here is again, not to copy your competitors, but to improve on everything they do well, and leapfrog them in features and functionality to gain a competitive edge.
Agency Tip: Use HubSpot’s Marketing Grader at Marketing.Grader.com to get your Marketing Grade, and find out where your site may be lacking technically.
2. Build a Sitemap with Calls to Action
If your site redesign involves new pages, removing pages, or restructuring of content, it’s helpful to build a basic sitemap that will allow your web designer a high-level view of how you want the site pages structured in the new design. This isn’t to say your designer may not have some changes or suggestions for how to improve this, but it’s a good starting point for putting together an accurate quote for the project proposal, and also gets the project rolling much faster if you’ve spent some time doing this internally before bringing in outside help.
Basic Sitemap Example:
Once you have a basic sitemap created, another good exercise is to create one main Call-to-Action for each page and list it beside the page to clearly identify the goal of that page, and what the focus should be for pushing a visitor through the site. If you’re just building pages to hold content, and have no real goal for visitors who visit them, you’re going to see a much higher bounce rate, which means readers are just leaving the site without being convinced to complete some sort of lead generation step. As we all know, there’s no point in driving traffic to your company’s site if you’re not using it to generate leads.
3. Do a Page by Page Content Audit
If you’re considering a site redesign, you’ve probably already put some thought into how your content needs to be altered, or added to. Using your basic sitemap from Step #2, create a Word Doc for each page that outlines the content you want to have included on each page of the site as a cliff notes version for your web designer. Be sure to add notes about the design, features, and layout if you have any, but be open minded if the web designer wants to make changes to what you suggest. Remember, web designers want your input, but you’re hiring them for their experience, not just for their ability to code. (Hopefully.)
Agency Tip: I’ve probably only had one or two clients ever be at this stage before they contacted me, and I don’t expect more than 1% of our projects to ever be this prepared going into them, but I can promise you that your money is better spent if you’ve really invested some energy in preparing yourself for the process, and the web designer will most likely bend over backwards to keep a client as prepared as you if it means they can ignore at least one other client who just repeatedly says “Make it Pop.” during design review sessions, in favor of working with you.
4. Have Your Branding Guidelines Properly Defined Ahead of Time
This advice is only for those of you who are not doing a branding and website redesign as a package deal. If you’re only working with a web designer or agency to build the new site, and will be providing them with the necessary branding and assets, have those assets ready before you kick off the redesign. Nothing slows down a site redesign like a rebranding that’s still in process.
Your branding guidelines will also largely dictate the direction your website redesign should take, so doing them in the reverse order would not make much sense anyway. The differences in what a corporate brand and an agency brand may look like from a web design perspective may seem trivial to some people, but for a web designer it can mean opening the door for so many more creative options for your site. The more they understand about where your business is headed from a branding perspective, the better the results.
5. Write an Amazing Creative Brief
Now that you’ve done the legwork needed to properly define your project, it’s time to put this into a comprehensive and digestible format that you can hand to a creative team to quickly get them up to speed. A creative brief is a comprehensive document outlining the background, purpose, goals, and deadlines for a project. By putting together your own internal creative brief for your website redesign project before meeting with a digital creative team, you’re showing that you understand what is required of this project, and more importantly, what your goals are for it.
The Web Designer Depot has a great piece on how to write a great web design creative brief that’s intended for freelance designers, but it should help you also understand why this is such a critical step in the process as a business owner and client as well. Use it to build as much of your creative brief as possible, and know that the milestones and agency side additions will be applied once you’ve found the right team to handle your project.