Web redesign process checklist

Wed redesign

There are many good reasons to redesign a website, whether to switch to a different Content Management System (CMS), make your site responsive and mobile friendly, improve the SEO beyond the limitations of your existing site or for the  actual web redesign itself – to improve the visual appearance of your site.

The majority of our clients already have an existing website and therefore most projects we undertake are redesigns, normally for one or more of the above reasons, so we have plenty of experience in managing the web redesign process.

We recommend going through the 9 part checklist below as you complete the different stages in your redesign project.

 

Checklist centre - Planning your new website1. What are the goals of your redesign?

2. Is a total redesign required?

3. What do you want to keep?

4. Draw inspiration from other websites

5. Identify your Unique Selling Points

6. Optimize your website for other people

7. Optimize your website for search engines

8. Implement a 301 redirect strategy

9. Factor new content into the process

 

 

1. What are the goals of your redesign?

The first item on the checklist is to ask yourself is what is the objective of your redesign?  Write a comprehensive list of goals (which will probably include some of the points in the first paragraph of this page) and categorise them into ‘essential’ and ‘desirable’.  If you’re getting quotes from a few different web design companies, then it’s best to familiarise yourself with the correct terminology for what you want, to ensure that different companies will understand your requirements.

Planning your new website rather than diving straight in will save you a lot of time in the long run.
 

2. Is a total redesign required?

If your site was made many years ago, odds are that you’re looking for a total redesign, as technology has progressed so much in the last few years that it’s unlikely an old site will be easy to edit, responsive, have optimal SEO, etc.  For that matter, it’s also unlikely that it will reflect your existing company, which will have also changed in this time.

If it’s a more recent site, it may be that you need a complete redesign, but rather an alternative solution, for example:

  • If your site keeps crashing or going down, you may need to switch hosts.
  • If the functionality works great, but you want to upgrade the design it’s possible (but not guaranteed) that a professional company will be able to install a new theme or template on the existing site.  If this is the case, you’re best searching for a company that specialise in the CMS or software that your site was originally created in (for instance we specialise in Drupal and Wordpress sites) as they may be able to completely redesign the appearance of your site without starting from scratch with a new CMS.  This is a very cost-effective solution and depending on the CMS is often possible.
  • If your site works well and looks good, but isn’t performing well with search engines, then an SEO company will be able to give you better advice than a web design company.  This may be a case of adding more content to your site, building links to it from other related sites, etc. and not a fundamental problem of the site itself.
     

3. What do you want to keep?

If you do decide that a total redesign is required, there will probably still be aspects of the site you want to keep, even if it’s only the written content on some of the pages.  Early on in the process, write a clear list of the functionality, textual content, images, etc. that you want to keep.  Migrating this to your new site, particularly if you’re changing CMS will be a significant part of the job and it’s best if the new developer knows this from the start.

If you’re not sure which content is useful, free tools like Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools can tell you which pages are visited the most, how long people spend on the site, etc.  Many hosts also offer their own statistics packages.
 

4. Draw inspiration from other websites

Before starting the redesign, research what your competition are doing and decide what you like and what you don’t like, particularly in terms of site structure, content and the overall approach.  You don’t need to copy this, it can just be useful for inspiration.

If you’re looking for inspiration for the visual design itself, then we normally recommend checking non-competing sites.  (For example, if you’re targeting London, look at sites targeting New York or Paris).  It’s far better to draw your inspiration on the visual aspects of the redesign from websites that are NOT competitors.
 

5. Identify your Unique Selling Points

When redesigning a website, it’s a good opportunity to review your business as a whole and ask yourself what your unique selling points are.  What is it about your company or service that makes you stand out from the crowd and makes your offering truly unique?  What do you offer that’s different to everyone else?  Why should customers choose you over someone else?

Once you’ve established your unique selling points, ensure that these are included in your new design, both by featuring them on the home page and by having obvious links to them in your menu structure or Featured sections.
 

6. Optimize your website for other people

When you have an idea of what your new site should look like and say, ask friends, family or existing clients for input.  Most people are resistant to questionnaires, so you may well find that you get better input from talking to two or three people than you would from sending out twenty questionnaires.

Visitors might arrive on any page of your site, therefore it’s essential to include all the most important points on every single page as part of the template.  Examples of the essential things to include are:

  • Links to all your main product lines or services.
  • For local businesses (e.g. service providers targeting a specific city) mention the city name or area you target in the footer of every page, as well as mentioning it elsewhere on the main pages, so when potential customers arrives on your site, they immediately know that you’re local to them.
  • Consider having a random testimonial on each page, or link to the latest blog item, so that pages update regularly and keep repeat visitors interest.

It’s also essential that visitors can read all the information, therefore ensure your font is large enough to read, that colour-blind people can still read it and that you don’t have rapid animations that are too distracting to the eye to allow visitors to actual digest the written word.

Having a responsive website also means that visitors on mobiles or tablets will see your site looking its best.
 

7. Optimize your website for search engines

Before completing a web redesign, we would as standard complete keyword research to identify how popular different keywords are for our clients.  If you have a selection of product-lines, it’s possible that you’ve unwittingly named one or two of them something that virtually no-one searches for and that be renaming them to a more popular term, you could gain ten times as much traffic to your site.

With one of our clients, one of their main product lines wasn’t performing well and our keyword research indicated that it only had 40 searches a month on Google.  We identified a different term that could be applied to their product line which had 1,600 searches a month.  This simple change significantly increased their sales.  Keyword research is therefore an essential step to take before doing a redesign.

 

8. Implement a 301 redirect strategy

This really falls under ‘Optimize your website for search engines’, but is such an important point and is often overlooked, so we’ve given it its own heading.

When completing a redesign, the URLs or web addresses of different pages on your site often change.  If you don’t do anything about this, then this causes four major problems:

  • When you first launch your new site, if someone finds your site in a search engine and visits a page that no longer exists, they will see a default ‘404 Page Not Found’ error message.  Over time Google and other search engines will index the new site and remove the 404 pages from their index, however during this time you will receive a considerable drop in traffic.
  • Anyone clicking a link from another site to a page that no longer exists receives the same 404 Error message and they may not be able to find that content again, causing you to lose that customer.  Other site owners are also more likely to delete the link if it goes to an invalid page.
  • This also breaks internal links on your site and while you may update links in menus, it’s easy to overlook them when they’re part of the content of a page.
  • Google will discount ALL the links to the pages that give 404 Error Messages.  One of the main measures of the reputation and trustworthiness of a site that Google uses is the number and quality of links going to a page.  If pages give 404 Error Messages, then they will lose 100% of the benefit of any links going to them, meaning that sites with large numbers of missing pages will see a huge drop in traffic.

The best way to resolve this is to add 301 Redirects which forwards both search engines and visitors from the old page to the equivalent new page and is the best SEO strategy for this.

To determine which your most important pages to 301 redirect are, you can use Google’s Webmaster Tools.  You can then either add 301 redirects to the .htaccess file, or for the main CMS systems (e.g. Wordpress and Drupal), install modules that let you easily add the 301 redirects.  These CMS's also let you create custom 404 pages, so that if you overlook some pages in your redirection plan, you can create a custom page that provides recommendations on where visitors should go to.

If you have a new domain name, then to redirect your old site to your new site, you can either forward it at the domain level, or ideally add the following code to the .htaccess file:

RewriteEngine on
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^example.com [NC,OR]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^www.example.com [NC]
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ http://new-website.erm/$1 [L,R=301,NC]

Where example.com is the old website and http://new-website.erm is the new website.

 

9. Factor new content into the process

If you’re a large company and a new product line or service would mean weeks of production time, then you it’s probably easy enough to modify the new website template at a later date, however for small businesses, it’s best to factor into the process potential future developments from the word go.

A good CMS will let you change the majority of aspects of your site, including the menu structure and will allow different menu titles than page title (e.g. if a page is called “A checklist for how to make your computer secure”, the link to it can be called “Computer Security Checklist”) and doesn’t need to be the full title.  When you’re considering which company will redesign your site, it’s therefore worth checking how much control you will have over your site going forward.  It’s also worth considering whether to include something in the site design that will be difficult to change later if you decide to expand your site’s content.
 

Checklist Conclusion

It’s tempting to dive straight in when starting a website redesign and set arbitrary deadlines to get the process completed as quickly as possible, however it’s worth reading through this checklist and having a good think about your objectives and putting down in writing the most important decisions early on.  With thorough planning, the end result will be clear communication between you and the redesign company and a website that fulfils all of your goals.