For many years now, majority of website projects I have worked on involved redesign of existing sites. Rarely have I come across a client inquiry that calls for development of a totally new website. There are still a lot of small businesses that do not have websites and there will be new businesses starting up all the time. Still, I believe we will be mostly busy with website redesigns as technologies and business needs change.
Although you have an existing site to work on, redesigning a website is not necessarily easier than creating one from scratch. The good thing is, there is a lot of information and past experience that can help. Features that have worked or did not work will help in determining the functionality of the new site. An existing site will also give you a lot of insight about your customers and how they interact with your website. All this input is definitely an advantage, but creating a new design that will achieve what you expect from your online presence is still a challenge.
Some groundwork may help ease this challenge and improve the chances of developing a successful redesign. Regardless of whether you outsource it or handle it in house, consider answering the following questions before you start your website redesign, so you can start your project on the right track.
I also should add that, what follows is not only related to redesigning an existing website. These questions apply to any website project even if you are building your site from the ground up. So, keep on reading even if you are starting a brand new website.
How do you describe your business?
Even if you offer the same services or products that others do, your business has its own personality and way of doing business.You need to articulate what is special about your company and what sets you apart from others in your industry.These characteristics you identify for your business should be integrated in your design and the message you convey to your customers through your website. In summary, your website should reflect the personality of your business.
What is your Goal?
What do you want to achieve with your redesigned site? Selling more products, signing up more customers to your services, improving customer service or expanding to new markets may be some of the possibilities. You may have multiple goals. Then, you also have to prioritize them and determine which ones are more important.
Your current site may have the clues you need. With experience in what works or does not work online for you company and your customers, you can determine a better direction for your online presence.
Who is Your Target Audience?
The design and functionality of your website depends very much on who will visit your site. Age, gender, location, online activity, profession are some of the characteristics that have direct impact on which sites people visit and how they use them.
If you are in business you already should have an idea about who your customers are. This is a great starting point. However, don’t forget that your clients who prefer to shop at your brick-and-mortar store may be different than the ones shopping online. Your existing site can help you in determining who your online customers are and what they do when they are on your site.
What does your competition do?
You should already know who you are competing with. As it is the case with your target audience, your off-line and online competition may be different. Keeping this in mind, reviewing your competitors’ sites will provide you a lot of intelligence in what is possible and what you can do better to differentiate your site from others. You never know, you may even find out that you don’t have to do much to dominate your online territory, if your competitors don’t do a good job with their online presence.
How will you maintain your site?
I believe this is very critical. You have to maintain and update your site on an ongoing basis, if you really want to achieve the goals you have set. Consider the availability and capabilities of your resources. This will help you identify the features and functionality you can include in your website.
Will you have a dedicated person who can handle user requests through live chat? If your answer is no, don’t worry about adding live chat functionality to your site. Do you have anybody who can create quality content and periodically write blog articles? If yes, you should definitely have a blog.
What is your Budget?
No matter how you answer the questions presented so far, your budget will determine what your website will look like and how it will function. It is essential to come up with a realistic budget and determine your primary and most urgent needs that fit into that budget. Your website project will not end when the site is created and launched. You will have to maintain and promote it, so you should consider the cost of these activities in your budget.
You should realize that what you spend on your website is an investment. Doing it right, which comes with a higher price tag, will be a better investment with a better return down the road. However, if you really are on a tight budget, you can prioritize your goals and grow your web presence gradually.
If you are handling your website redesign in house, you definitely need to go through the process and come up with the answers to the questions I listed before. If you will be working with an agency, it is really the agency’s job to ask you these questions and determine the direction of your website based on what they gather from you. However, being prepared would definitely help. It will save time, energy and even may shave off some of the project cost. By the way, if your agency does not approach you with these questions, you should start worrying about their competence.