Creating an excellent user experience requires a good chunk of up-front planning and research. Before I embark on a website redesign, here are the six things that I always do. I keep doing them because they make my work better. And when I skip one of them, I definitely regret it.
1. Conduct a content inventory:
Make sure you account for all the nooks and crannies of your site.
Why? A content inventory outlines all the elements/pages within a product. Completing an inventory helps you answer the question “What do we have?” You need to get a good handle on your content before you consider redesigning anything. You need to complete a content inventory so that you can do two very important things next:
- Identify who owns each page or piece of content.
- Delete old or bad content.
How? If your site is small (100 pages or fewer), try a manual content inventory. During a manual content inventory you click through every single link and document it. This is the surest way to capture every, single page. If your site is on the larger side, try an automated inventory tool. An automated inventory tool crawls the site and spits out a list of pages. But know that these tools will almost always miss some (or many) pages.
2. Identify your primary audience:
Define your primary audience.
Why? If you design for everyone, you design for no one. Get specific so that you can design an experience that meets your audience’s needs. Look for trends and identify audiences that are most likely to help you reach your organizational goals.
How? Pull existing audience information you have from:
- Previous audience research (interviews, surveys, etc)
- Social media
- Email newsletter lists
- Donor lists
- Event registration
- Your colleagues who are in contact with audiences often (Help Desk / Front Desk, Event Coordinators, Donations Team, etc)
- How to Define Your Target Market
- Never Ask What They Want — 3 Better Questions to Ask in User Interviews
3. Understand the current challenges:
List three major issues you want to solve with the redesign.
Why? If you’re investing your resources in a redesign, you need absolute clarity on what you’re trying to fix.
How? Interview your colleagues, particularly those who:
- Write, post, or edit content often (writers, web managers, digital directors)
- Speak with your audiences often (help desk, membership coordinators, community managers, event planners)
- Maintain the site (developers, system administrators)
Ask them what’s working and what’s not. Ask them what they’d like to see improved in the next year. Don’t problem-solve. Just listen. Write up a summary of what you heard, especially any trends.
4. Review your analytics:
Understand what current site visitors are doing (or not doing).
Why? You can review your site analytics and get a quick overview of how your site is currently performing. Analytics data can help you identify areas that may need improvement or further investigation.
How? Start by answering a few questions (see the link below for all 11). Here are some of my favorites:
- How are visitors discovering the site? Through search? Other (referral) sites? Emails? Social Media? Advertisements?
- What content is the “best” at drawing visitors in and engaging them?
- What percentage of content is visited on a regular basis? Are there pages that receive little or no traffic? Is it because they are poorly linked to? Out-of-date? Irrelevant? Boring?
5. Check out your competition or industry peers:
Take note of things that they do well and that you do better.
Why? It’s important to understand the landscape of options available to your audiences. Your goal is to determine what you can do differently and where you have an advantage.
How? Make a list of five competitors (or comparators). Evaluate them based on:
- Content (quality, voice and tone, messaging, topics covered)
- Ease of use
- Design aesthetic
- Be sure to note areas where they excel and trends across sites.
6. Prepare your stakeholders:
Get your team ready for this wild ride!
Why? It’s always wise to socialize an idea and prepare your team for what’s ahead. You need to prevent surprises and generate energy. Plus, projects run more efficiently when teams can agree on:
- Who’s part of the team (not too many people!)
- Who needs to review and approve work (not too many people!)
- Who has the final say (one person)
How? Discuss who will be on the redesign team. Create a RACI matrix. Ideally, teams are small (1-3 people) and have decision-making authority.