Foundations of a Good Website Redesign

Coca Cola's branding is cohesive across all of their web properties

Redesigning a website can be a scary proposition.  But after a certain amount of time, even the best design looks dated.  

There are several things to keep in mind anytime you undergo a redesign.  Some of them are easy and simple, some are more challenging.  

Since you have an active website already, the first place to start is to review the utilization of your current site.  The easiest way to do this is to use your metrics gathering tool.  If you don't have one, shame on you!  Go right now to http://google.com/analytics  and create your analytics account.  Follow the instructions provided by Google on how to install the analytics code.  It won't help with this redesign, but it will help in future redesigns and in performing minor design changes to improve the performance of your site.  The other valuable tool is Google's Webmaster tools that will give you insights in to your search performance.

Gather your background information

There are several metrics to pay attention to and all of them are available in Google Analytics, plus other analytics systems as well.  These are:
    •    Number of visits to your site, along with the number of visitors and the number of unique visitors.
    •    Your bounce rate, not only over all, but look at the bounce rate on specific pages.  
    •    What are your top performing keywords?
    •    How many inbound links do you have?
    •    Total number of pages indexed.
    •    Total number of pages that receive traffic.
    •    Most visited pages
    •    Most pages found through search

Make sure to note which tool gave you what information.  While Google processes both the webmaster tools as well as the analytics tool, there is some variance in what is reported by each one.

Identify your Redesign Goals

The first question you should ask yourself is:  Why am I redesigning my website?  Websites are redesigned every day for a variety of different reasons.  However, if your site is not functioning properly, that is the major reason for doing the redesign.  You need to have a firm understanding of why it is that you are doing your redesign.  Communicating those reasons can be challenging, so looking at it from an objective reason is often helpful.  There are a number of these objective points that you can consider when doing a redesign.
    •    Increasing the visibility of your website
    •    Reducing the bounce rate of your website
    •    Increasing the amount of time that people spend on your site.  
    •    Improving your domain authority
    •    Making your website work better through lead generation and form submissions
    •    Enhancing your SEO rankings for important keywords


 Are there specific branding guidelines?

Do you already have an established brand?  What is the color scheme of that brand?  People will forget many things, but brand coloring is something that sticks with people.   For instance, what colors are in the Coca Cola brand?  Now take a look at http://us.coca-cola.com.  See how their brand theme is carried throughout the website and virtually all of the web properties of the Coca-cola company?  Leaves you kind of warm and fuzzy, doesn't it?

What is the principle message of your site?

As you stop to consider what message you want to send with your website, it is important to understand your target audience.  Ask yourself: what would someone coming to my website who knows nothing about my industry want to know?  Keep it simple and in plain English!  Don't be afraid of citing specific numbers in your messaging!  Generics don't make people want to work with you.  Knowing that you have helped 2500 households recover from flooding does!  Don't be afraid to demonstrate your mastery of your industry.  It's not bragging or boasting, it is telling people that you know your stuff!

So, in developing the principle message guidelines you will want to consider:
    •    What is the mission statement of my company?
    •    What industry slang do I have on my site that the average consumer would not understand?
    •    What are some concrete numbers I can offer to demonstrate my strength in the industry?
    •    What about a human touch to my business?    •    What are your customers going to see as a value to them?

Protect your Search Engine Rankings!

There will be certain pages in your site that are very strong and easily found in search engines.  It is vitally important that you preserve these search rankings for those pages, even if your site URLs will change.  There is only one way to do this and it is tedious.  You have to build a 301 redirect strategy.  Take the top 20 (or more) pages of your site and ensure that you preserve their ranking by creating 301 redirects to the pages that will house the information in the future.  This also includes pages that have a lot of inbound links on them!  Inbound links increase your authority and help to boost your site's search engine rank!

Now that you have preserved your Search Engine Rankings, it is time to work on boosting your other pages!  The best way to do this is to focus on specifics.  For each of the pages on your website that weren't covered by the 301 redirect plan, you need to evaluate that page for the following:
    •    What is the focus of this page?
    •    Can it be distilled in to 1 or 2 keywords?
    •    Make sure to write a good meta-description that will hook people who are searching on the keywords that this page is focused on.
    •    Finally, use your best organizational skills to outline the page and then flesh the page out.  
    •    Always Always ALWAYS write for and to your intended audience.

Know Your Competitors

Pick 2 or 3 of your competitors and check out their websites.  What are they doing that you like?  What are they doing that you don't like?  By looking at your competitors, you can learn from their mistakes and victories to help improve your own website.  

Now that you have done your homework, and have floor plan, you are ready for the next step….  Creating a new design, and implementing that new design in your site.

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