A guest post by Sam Templeman, McBru’s interactive design intern – Website lifespans are notoriously brief. It is uncommon today to find a tech B2B company website unchanged for more than five years; some website life cycles last two years or less. As an interactive designer, I’ve had the pleasure of working on several website refresh efforts, and I’ve found that certain guidelines hold true regardless of what kind of client you are designing for.
- Set clearly defined goals. A website refresh is a big investment, so make it worthwhile. Before you begin, document the goals you are looking to satisfy with a new web presence. A website refresh may be part of a larger company rebranding effort, or it may reflect a desire to incorporate new web standards and best practices. Whatever the case, make sure you have a definition of success to guide you.
- Involve all stakeholders. When constructing a blueprint for your new website, it is important to consider the needs of all stakeholders. The needs of your target audience are paramount (assuming your new site will be user-facing), but you mustn’t overlook the long-term needs of the site’s maintainers. Oftentimes the person or persons responsible for adding content and making updates to a website are not the same individuals who constructed the site. Involving these people in a website redesign from the early stages can help improve usability for them down the road. Remember, nothing facilitates fresh web content better than happy content creators, and that means a simple, hassle-free process of content editing.
- Do your homework. Without a clear understanding of your audience, you are leaving the success or failure of your new web presence up to chance. If at all possible, conduct research on your target demographic so that you have hard data on which to base your design decisions. If you don’t have the budget to support on-the-ground information-gathering, there are still useful tools like Google Analytics that you can tap into for insight into the behavior of your web visitors.
- Re-examine your content. In addition to crafting new, fresh content, a website refresh is a great opportunity to reduce redundancy and streamline your new site’s content. Does each member of your staff need his or her own biography page, or is it enough to have a single staff page? There are a number of useful tools that can help sort out these kinds of information-architecture-related questions.
- Learn from your mistakes. If you or your company is undertaking a website refresh, you already have the benefit of hindsight. Conduct a thorough review of your existing website. What is working well? What’s not working well? You may already know the answer to these questions, but keep an eye out for the small things you may have overlooked in your current site (does your current site have a useful 404 page?). Let this knowledge inform the design of your new site.
- Take advantage of new web technologies. The rapid evolution of the web can make keeping up with new technologies a challenge, even for dedicated web developers. In most cases, you will be best served by turning to the new HTML5 and CSS3 standards. These tools will help ensure that your site remains semantic (good for search engine optimization!) and efficient.
Have you or your company undertaken a website redesign? What kinds of guiding principles would you add to this list?
Image: Patrick Haney