A Few Things to Consider When Redesigning Your Website

Aaron Branson
October 29, 2010
User Experience Design

So, it’s time for a redesign… reskin, refresh, overhaul. However you choose to say it, it’s time to give your website a significant update to get it back in line with your organization’s changing objectives and competitive landscape. Now, while we realize there is a LOT of factors to consider in such a project, I wanted to take a moment to pick out five things that either may not be so obvious or tend to get less attention than they deserve. We call this undertaking a redesign “project” for a reason – your website involves input from many people across many functions of your organization and there are many big and even more small things that can slip through the cracks.

Given that we at Roundedcube FINALLY got a chance to redesign our own corporate site, these smaller factors are fresh in my mind. You know the old saying “the cobbler’s children have no shoes”? Well, if you don’t, then its time somebody comes up with a more modern analogy. But if you do know the phrase, let me tell you that its’ oh so true. We’re typically so busy with our clients’ redesign projects that our own site often gets the shaft. So, it’s with a huge sigh of relief that we actually have launched a new design of our own, which you are looking at right now. At any rate, before I get further off-track, let me get to the list. I hope this list helps by either pointing out issues you consider or at the very least stress that these issues require some deeper thought during your project planning.

  1. Importance of User Familiarity
    Before you push a single pixel in Photoshop or sketch a wireframe, ask yourself how important is it that your existing users feel familiar with your website. Can you really “overhaul” your website? Or will your existing users freak out by losing what they’ve grown accustomed to? The answer to that depends on the nature of your website and your users. Take Amazon.com for example. That’s a website most of us are very familiar with. Can you remember Amazon announcing a massive redesign? I’m pretty sure the answer is no; at least I can’t. That’s because of the nature of the website. Amazon wants us to be familiar with the site and not introduce a single obstacle that may hinder our purchase. If you compared Amazon.com in 2000 to 2010, there is probably a big difference, but it was gradual. Do you need to “evolve” your website like Amazon does or is it acceptable for your organization to make a major change? Something to think about.
  2. Link Retention
    Your current website has additional value that you may be forgetting about. All of those page URLs are out there – search engines indexed them, customers may have bookmarked them, partners may be linking to them. Don’t redesign your site architecture and nuke them! You’ll lose search engine positioning that takes a lot of time to rebuild and have a lot of customers and partnered irked by broken links and unable to find their favorite pages. Take an inventory of all of your important current URLs and before you launch, map these current URLs to their new counterparts using 301 redirects and also consider custom 404 pages to help people find their way for any stragglers that didn’t get mapped to new pages.
  3. Manageability
    As you design and architect this new website that offers great value, is clearly organized, easy to navigate, and looks fantastic, have you considered how these attributes of your design can be effectively managed so it stays that way? With each great new feature, module, video, etc. and the user experience they provide, think about the flip-side. How can I practically keep this updated? Do I need to have someone spend hours in Photshop, Flash or produce a video every time we have an update? Weigh the pros and cons and settle on the right design direction. Consider your content management system and how to architect it for your business users’ “user experience”.
  4. Fully Leverage Your Content
    Make the most of your valuable content and do your users a favor by cross-linking your content pages where it’s most relevant. Supplementary link examples like: Related Pages, Similar Stories, Product Accessories, Also Viewed, etc. go a long way in getting users to the information they want (or didn’t know they wanted) and keep your users engaged and get the most of your site.
  5. Don’t Be a Trend Zombie
    This one lately has been my biggest pet peeve. With social media still growing as a category of the latest, trendiest gadgets and bells and whistles, so many organizations are inclined to make design decisions on the sole basis of “because it’s cool” or “because that other site does it”. Now, I’m not knocking social media tools as a whole by any stretch of the imagination. And this tip goes beyond just social media. But tools like: a Twitter feed, Facebook’s Like Button and Like Box, ShareThis widget and the like can offer some good value to your users and help cross-promote your web properties (i.e. website, Facebook page, Twitter page, YouTube Channel, etc.) But I just advise that you do your homework and make sure you really have a “business case” for using them. In some cases, I’ve really had to plead with clients that just wanted to have the coolest thing at the expense of cluttering their site and making really important content hard to find.

I could go on, but I’ll spare you. I hope these five items give you some food for thought. I’d like to hear your thoughts on these issues and if you have some others that you feel strongly about.

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