How to tackle the five trickiest elements of a website overhaul

Brit Booth is vice president of marketing at Perfect Day. Brit is a marketing expert with extensive experience in leading creative teams, brand building, and thought leadership. She has held leadership positions in marketing departments across a variety of companies, most recently Perfect Day and Chewse.

Depending on what your company does, its website falls somewhere between extremely important and everything to your business. For a global brand, maintaining a website that feels modern and that appropriately reflects the company’s purpose and voice is an ongoing task. And sometimes, it requires a major rethink. Is that a disaster waiting to happen? Only if you don’t plan for it properly.

A great website relaunch requires you to be equal parts creative and project manager. Both are a little more challenging to pull off in today’s pandemic world because there are a lot of right hands needing to know what left hands are doing. Of course, that’s tougher when every single meeting has to be virtual.

For a lot of companies, however, the pandemic has made a website overhaul a challenge they can’t delay; they’ve had to suddenly reimagine who they are and what they do in order to compete in a fully digital retail space. And even in normal times, companies periodically need to refresh or relaunch their sites, either because they’re planning a pivot or because the current site has become dull or static.

How to overcome the top five challenges of a brand redesign

Throughout my career, I’ve had a hand in revamping a good hundred or so websites. And though no two are the same, common themes emerge. Here are five of the most challenging aspects of a redesign and tips on how you can approach them and reboot your brand with style and confidence:

1. Inspiration: Marketers spend their lives poking around the weird and wonderful corners of the internet. But when it comes to redesigning a website, they often forget to use these journeys as a source of inspiration.

Keep track of sites you like and don’t like, and then channel that information into a detailed brief for your creative team. The keyword is detailed — not “here are some sites I like, and here are some I don’t.” List exactly what aspects you like and how they can be adapted to your business. And don’t leave out any specifics of what you hate, even if they’re minor. Otherwise, your team won’t know what to avoid, and you’re bound to stumble on some land mines when you review what they’ve created. Those revisions will eat up your time and budget.

2. Audience: A website can be messy or unmemorable if the team creating it doesn’t know its audience. Sounds obvious, but knowing your audience isn’t easy. You might have multiple audiences that engage with your brand in different ways at different times. You might have a mix of B2B and B2C messaging, and people who hit your homepage need to know where to go next to engage rather than bounce.

You can create order out of chaos by defining your core audience groups. Put yourself in each audience persona’s shoes to explore the user journeys you’re offering them. What’s the common ground that all your audiences need to touch? Make that the place visitors land. Then, figure out clear paths for each user persona to get to more targeted content. Prioritise whom you need to talk with most, and tailor the bulk of your content to them.

3. Decision makers: Having too many people with decision-making power dooms creativity to a slow death by consensus. The key deciders — those who do have veto power — get to say what stays and goes in terms of design.

They also have to approve the content. To do that, they have to be willing to listen to and trust the groups that inform them. That includes subject-matter experts (cross-functional folks who ensure content is factual and thorough) and scrubbers (editors, prospective customers, and other fresh eyes who review the site in a testing environment). Many different people with different perspectives will contribute to your site, but when it comes to final decisions, those need to come down to a group that’s as small as possible.

4. Written content: The verbal has to guide the visual. A lot of sites start with pretty pictures, and admittedly, you can get mesmerised by photos, videos, and icons during wireframe reviews. But if your copy is still in the lorem ipsum stage, your core messaging might end up stifled as the writers force it to fit.

Remember that visuals are the show pony, but copy is the workhorse. Writing copy for a website is more daunting than most people think. You don’t realise just how much is needed until you start, and if you want a blog because all the cool brands are doing it, guess what? You have to fill that blog with copy, too, and many teams underestimate how long (and how many rounds) it takes to nail the copy.

With this in mind, identify a team of writers and editors and put copy at the front of workflow. Your writers will need access to subject matter experts within the company as well as analysts and SEO experts who can ensure your site meets critical business metrics. And — don’t skip this — make sure you have a copy editor who reviews everything the public is going to see. The best writers might deliver fairly clean copy, but a copy editor will always find something that would make you look sloppy if it were to go live unedited.

5. Expectations: A redesign is a major project, and people tend to have major expectations for its rollout. They expect too much for launch day — a perfect website that delights users like a fireworks display. But more often than not, websites launch as works in progress.

That’s not to say that you don’t put out a great product at launch, but the most sophisticated testing software and rigorous quality assurance testing still won’t catch everything. Bugs happen. There will be that guy who visits your site with a mobile Android using Firefox on slow Wi-Fi who happens to see stacked copy. You just can’t predict every scenario.

Putting it out there

There’s no law saying you have to send a press release when you flip the relaunch switch. Soft launches are a relatively safe route that let you test with real users and make fixes before the grand reveal. Just make sure your company leaders know this is the plan. Otherwise, they might panic that the whole world has witnessed every little bug and bounced irretrievably.

Having the courage to put work out into the world and finding out what people think is the only true way to seek perfection. And I do mean seek because perfection is never really attained. A website lives and evolves, and you probably launch your overhaul with 2.0 and 3.0 already in mind.

Keep that work-in-progress mindset and nurture your new site with commitment and attention. Welcome feedback and don’t lose sleep over the bugs. With the right planning and attitude, you’ll create the website that is the face your company needs to show the world — even if there are a few stumbles.

Photo by Visual Design on Unsplash

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3 comments on “How to tackle the five trickiest elements of a website overhaul

  1. Derick on

    This is super helpful. We are starting to navigate a new website right now, and this gives me new ways to think about it. Especially around content, we were not planning appropriately.
    Thank you – great article.

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