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June 6, 2018   |   10 min read

5 Steps to Support a Successful Website Redesign

Getting ready to perform “surgery” on your site? Follow these guidelines for a safe procedure.

Although the decision to undertake a redesign brings about excitement, it might also spur feelings of trepidation. Why? Because a full-scale website redesign is, by nature, very invasive.

In many ways, it’s like having an operation—likely to cause temporary pain and discomfort in the name of achieving long-term health.

For example, one who undergoes shoulder surgery won’t be better-than-new immediately after the procedure. It takes time for the joint to heal and regain its pre-surgery level of performance before noticeable improvements are enjoyed. The same holds true for websites that are re-skinned. Time is often needed to let changes take effect before a site surpasses pre-redesign levels of performance (read: traffic, engagement and conversion levels).

That being said, there are still several basic considerations that can be taken pre- and post-redesign to help support this highly involved process. Looking to pull off the smoothest of website “surgeries?” Follow these five tips:

1. Choose a realistic launch date.


We know you’re excited to boost the health of your website, but redesigns are delicate procedures that take a lot of time and unexpected turns. Plan accordingly!

One of the biggest mistakes you can make is not giving your team enough time to successfully complete the project. Pressure to meet an overly aggressive launch date can lead to cutting corners and sacrificing best practices for whatever will fit within the timeline.

And as common as it is to push back a launch date, try and choose one that has room for flexibility. If a new site must go live by a specific date, start your planning process as soon as possible to allow for wiggle room if things go awry.

Additionally, just as you wouldn’t schedule a surgery a week before vacation, make sure your launch date does not butt heads with a time you’ll be out-of-office. This means avoiding a site launch during:

  • Weekends
  • Holidays
  • Days on which key players are on PTO

Even the most well-managed redesign is likely to result in a handful of bugs. Having team members readily available to monitor the new site is key to keeping these issues under control.

2. Ask questions before you start.


A lot of questions. Don’t hold back. The more information you have going into a site redesign, the better. You wouldn’t show up for surgery without hounding your doc for information first, would you? Take the same approach with your site. For example, you could ask:

  • What are the business and marketing goals you seek to accomplish through this project?
  • Will your top-level domain change or stay as-is?
  • What are some basic practices that will help shape your URL structure?
  • Is your new site going to be www or non-www? HTTP or HTTPS?
  • Will your new site be significantly larger or smaller than the current one?
  • Will it include more than 50,000 pages at the time of launch?
  • Will content from any separate domain or subdomains be integrated within the new site?
  • Do you have multiple Analytics accounts?
  • Are you currently using or planning to use any third-party scripts (i.e. Facebook Pixel, AdWords, etc.)?
  • Will your new site contain any sections that get regularly updated (i.e. newsroom, blog, etc.)?
  • Are there any limitations associated with your chosen CMS?
  • And many more…

Consider no question off-limits. Thinking through even the smallest items up front can save your team from getting trapped by conflicts of interest or having to re-do work mid-project. Additionally, solicit questions from all team members: Web Dev, Design, Content, Search, Analytics, ADA Experts, Social, etc. Don’t just consult a strategist or single group of specialists. This will ensure your redesign takes multiple perspectives into consideration as it progresses—a MUST HAVE for success.

3. Develop a redesign checklist.


In the case of most surgeries, tasks must be performed in a certain order before and after the procedure. Failure to do so may result in the inability to proceed, or an extra-long recovery period. For example, if a patient forgets to stop eating the night before surgery, a doctor cannot safely perform it and may need to reschedule.

The same general concept applies to a website redesign.

Prevent any mishaps by generating a chronological list of to-dos, both pre- and post-site launch. A simple Excel or Google Doc will do the trick! This documentation allows your team to prioritize items and reduce interruptions or roadblocks to the project’s workflow. To help further illustrate this point, a few examples include:

  • Any character count limits within the CMS should be documented prior to designing templates or developing copy.
  • Compression of large images should occur prior to their upload, rather than uploading first and waiting to test for page speed issues post-launch.
  • A content audit, sitemap, functional specs and URL structure should be set in stone to help establish all content that will live on the new site, before a redirect map is created.

But don’t stop there! Take your checklist a step further by including who is responsible for each task, the completion status of the task and a section for additional notes. This extra info will make it easier for all team members to see exactly where you’re at in the redesign process, and when they can expect to take part.

4. Think critically about your site’s content.


If “conducting a content audit” isn’t a task within your checklist, it should be.

Just as a doctor assesses a patient’s key vitals before diving into surgery, assessing a site’s current content as well as identifying any gaps early in the process can help safely inform future tasks. For example, knowing which pages will be staying/going plus any new pages that will be added make it easier to develop a site’s structure/hierarchy, a working sitemap and eventually a redirect map.

Looking for a starting point? Try jump-starting your audit by:

  • Pulling a list of pages that exist on the current site
  • Using Google Analytics to identify pages that have historically performed well/not so well
  • Sifting through intel from a keyword intelligence tool to see which terms/topics present the best content opportunities for your site
  • Scanning through competitors’ sites to identify any additional content gaps that may exist

Ideally, the end product of your content audit should include a list of pages to keeppages to remove and pages to create. Additionally, if it’s being recommended to create a “Resources” or “FAQ” type section, be sure to account for the individual resources/questions that will be included and whether they will live on separate pages or within the main one.

5. Monitor your site post-launch.


Immediately after surgery, patients are taken to a recovery room for close monitoring. The same should be done for a new website.

A good way to keep an ongoing eye on your site is by verifying it within Google Search Console—a tool for webmasters that offers intel on traffic, indexation, page errors and a host of other considerations.

But don’t forget the value of manual spot-checks, too!

Assign sections of the site to different team members; ask each person to scan through the pages, double-checking for proper content quality and functionality.

And if you do find something that needs fixed? Keep calm and know that it’s normal. Even the smoothest of redesigns is likely to result in a post-launch error or two. The trick is catching these errors out-of-the-gate so they don’t hinder a user’s (or search engine’s) experience.

Ready to redesign?

As you plan your project, remember to be:

  • Realistic
  • Inquisitive
  • Chronological
  • Content-focused
  • Ready to monitor

If you are committed to reskinning your site, following these guidelines can help reduce post-launch errors and overall “recovery” time.

Here’s to the long-term health of your website!

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