December 31, 2009 | Web Design
It’s that time of year when everyone’s talking about resolutions. Eat better; Exercise more; Be more productive! And if you’re a business owner you may have “Re-do my Web site!” near the top of the list. But, like a goal of “eating better”, the goal of “improving a web site” is equally vague and hard to follow through on.
To actually see results you need a more specific goal, a clear motive for doing it, and steps to follow along the way.
I hear many people say they want to “re-do” their web site. And often times there are problems on multiple levels, but defining those different areas can help you put together a plan to address them.
Frequently-updated, compelling content will drive traffic to your site. You look at your site and see that you have out-of-date content, and no systems in place to update content easily.
Ask yourself why it’s not up-to-date? Are you sending updates to your Web developer, or do you do them in-house? Do you have an easy-to-use and affordable system? If it’s too expensive to make updates (ie you go through your development firm) it’s probably better to sink some upfront costs into a Content Management System (CMS) that will pay for itself in the long term. If it doesn’t get done because it’s “nobody’s job” you need to assign the task to someone (with a deadline) or hire a Virtual Assistant to help.
Professional help: A professional Web developer can create a system that allows you to update and add content easily. It’s not necessary that all content be refreshed quickly, because information like your contact information probably doesn’t change too frequently. Therefore, you could either build a CMS to run your entire site, or you could have certain areas that are updateable such as a blog, news area, articles library, etc.
Help yourself: As much as we may all wish it to be so… a CMS does not magically update itself. Someone needs to generate content, and it then needs to be added to the site. Whether you use a CMS or send updates to your Web development firm, you need to build a schedule to keep on top of this. You may want to write out an editorial calendar with ideas for blog posts. You may want to assign different team members to keep up-to-date with different content on the site. You may find paying a writer is marketing money well-spent.
Your Web site needs a compelling design, branded to match your corporate identity. If you have been relying on a design or template that does not reflect your identity, you are confusing your customers and diluting your brand. And a poorly designed site projects an unprofessional image.
Why is it so poorly designed? Some sites start out poorly designed: you used your neighbor’s highschooler to design the site; or you built a site with a clumsy-looking template. Other times, as content balloons the design no longer holds the information well. You need to reorganize information and redesign the navigational elements. For example, there are sites that I was once very proud of, that now look horrible because of all the jerry-rigging we’ve done to add in new content and elements.
Professional help: It’s probably time to pull in a professional for this problem. Don’t be afraid to go back to your original designer and ask them to upgrade the design. Or if it was a DIY job the first time, find a professional Web designer. Together you can work on parameters for the redesign. It may be mostly reorganizing content into different navigational buckets, or it may be a larger scale redesign to accommodate changes in your business.
Help yourself: Take a critical look at all the new content you’ve added. Yes, adding content is good (see above); but it needs to be organized. Also, inform your designer or developer about ideas for future content. If you’re going to do a redesign, make sure it will house not-yet-created content too.
A well-designed site should work for your company. It could be making sales with an e-commerce site; showing off your capabilities with your portfolio; building trust and credibility with a blog; etc. Even a business that is primarily referral based (my own business for example) will benefit from a highly functional web site.
Why is it not working? Many times a web site is not working optimally on more than one level. Maybe you dislike the design and it’s hard to update. Or, you are ready to add a blog and you want to better highlight your client testimonials. Maybe you love the design, but need to develop landing pages for click-through advertising. Maybe you’re not having good search results and you have no idea why.
Professional help: After you identify your problems, it may be clear the type of help you need: a web designer, a CMS-builder, a Google Adwords specialist, etc. But if you have multiple problems, you may need an expert’s help to sort it out and help you prioritize. If that is the case, you’ll probably want to arrange a meeting with more than one Web development company. Many companies will sit down with you to assess your site’s weaknesses and to propose and estimate on a solution. However, you may want to take some extra time with one firm, (or two) and pay them for a more full assessment of your site. Spending some more time upfront, will make sure you’re using your time and money wisely as you start a redesign. Your Web design team can create a plan to prioritize the redesign based on your goals and your budget.
Help yourself: Figure out a budget for your Web site redesign; this will help you prioritize the steps in the project. Be realistic about what you want to take on. If you know you won’t keep up with a blog, find another person to write for you, or don’t bother adding one to your site. If you want your Web development firm to handle updates, work out a schedule and payment plan together.
Just like so many resolutions out there, redoing the Web Site can be tackled, but you’re more likely to succeed if you replace your vague goal with something more concrete (ie Redesign the navigation to incorporate the content we’ve added over the past 18 months).
And here’s the great thing… Have you ever thought: “If only I had a professional chef, I’d eat better.” You can hire your personal chef (ie developer/designer) to get your Web site working for you. It will still need your help to keep it looking good and up-to-date, but with the right tools and systems in place, it will be much more manageable for you.