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Purpose & Pitfalls of Website Redesign

Duncan Haughey

Documents showing website design

There are many reasons to redesign your website. The most common are, keeping pace with changes in web technology to meet visitor expectations, and changes in the way you wish to promote your organisation and brands. What follows are some of the common pitfalls of website redesign projects.

The Design

When using a design agency for your project, you will receive some glossy designs that look great on paper. The designer will have populated them with content that fits the design. But, how well does this work in the wild?

If you haven't briefed your agency about the plans for your website, you could face problems.

The design needs to be flexible if you intend to have different languages, or full and light versions of the website.

A common mistake is not making the design flexible enough to cope with different languages, extra content, alternative layouts and other future changes.

The solution is to create styles that can grow with the website. Implementation of a grid-based layout for web pages can help. The grid will help in organising content and future additions and updates may be easier if there are specific places for the content to go. Make background images large enough to cope with other languages and extra content. A term for this approach is 'flexibility within a framework.'

Creating a Content Plan

During the redesign you will want to reorganise and remove content. This is a major undertaking and the most important part of any redesign project.

As with any major undertaking you'll need a plan. Before you start, create a detailed content plan and work out which content (pages) you wish to keep and those you wish to move into your new taxonomy. Check your website statistics to work out which are the most popular and least popular pages. This will help you decide which pages to keep, and those to discard. If you don't use a web stats package already, try a free solution such as Google Analytics.

Keeping Valuable Traffic

If you do move or delete your content pages you risk losing valuable search engine traffic! Search engines don't know where the pages have gone, so remove them from their search indexes and soon, many fewer visitors are arriving on those pages.

Check your website statistics before removing any pages to ensure you are not losing significant amounts of valuable traffic. For every page you move or delete create a 301 redirect ¹ as part of the go-live.

Rather than removing good referring pages that don't work for you, think about changing them to better fulfil your needs. Make them more useful and more engaging for your visitors.

Improving Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

Many organisations still have a long way to go when it comes to ranking well in the organic (unpaid) search engine results. There is a degree of mystery surrounding Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), ² but there are plenty of simple steps you can take to improve your ranking.

Start by following three simple steps:

1. What do my Visitors Want?

Begin by understanding your visitors' needs. Try to put yourself in their shoes, what types of people are coming - are they students, job seekers, consumers, investors. Are these the people you want to attract?

Use keyword research ³ to identify your target market and work backwards from there.

The objectives of keyword research include:

  • Identifying the broadest possible set of keywords used by visitors.
  • Discovering which keywords are most popular and represent the primary targets for SEO.
  • Identifying keywords whose search engine ranking is realistically obtainable by SEO.
  • Identifying visitor language that can influence branding and messaging.
  • Developing new and adapted content based on visitor terminology.

What are your visitors trying to achieve?

  • Do they want to find information about a certain topic?
  • Do they want to buy something?
  • Do they want to compare one service provider with another?

What's on their mind?

2. Give Them What They Want

Once you understand what your visitors want, you can start providing content rich pages addressing these topics. Get the pages linked from others related to that topic and make sure it's easy to get to the banana. Banana you ask?

Marketing guru Seth Godin compares web-surfers to the monkeys in scientific experiments who need to go through certain steps to get a banana. If it isn't clear where the banana is (the website's main benefit), the monkey (consumers) won't bother to look for it.

Advertise your pages anywhere your target market goes, either by buying space on high-ranking websites or publishing your views and links on those sites.

3. SEO Factors

As I said before, there is a certain degree of mystery surrounding SEO, but there are plenty of steps you can take to increase your organic search engine traffic.

Firstly, don't spend time exploiting gaps in the search engine algorithms. Any gain from this is usually only temporary.

Start by checking the basics:

  • Meta tags: does every page have a unique and well written title and description?
  • Keywords: do your keywords appear on pages in the headings, body text, and link text?
  • Cross-linking: do you have links to other relevant and complementary content on your website?
  • Incoming links: do you have links to your pages from other websites, these count as 'popularity votes' for your site in the search engines eyes. Who do you know that might link to you?

You'll never have a better opportunity to do this. However, you won't see immediate improvements in website traffic; it can take several weeks for the changes to take effect.

In Summary

  1. Websites need to change as organisations change and to keep pace with visitor expectations.
  2. Make sure your website design is flexible. Don't fall into the trap of having to involve your design agency every time you make a small change.
  3. Create a content plan, before you redesign, so you understand what it is you are aiming for and as a way to measure progress.
  4. Don't lose valuable traffic through ignorance. Check your website statistics to identify good referring pages before you start moving or deleting them. If you do move or delete pages create 301 redirects.
  5. Make the redesign an opportunity to improve your Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and increase your organic search engine traffic.

...and finally

Everything takes longer than you think, so allow enough time to make your website redesign project a success.

Definitions

¹ A 301 redirect is a method of telling web browsers and search engines that a web page or site has been permanently moved to a new location. Usually a 301 redirect includes the address to which the resource has been moved. Web browsers will typically follow 301 redirects to the new location automatically, without the need for user action. Source: Web 1 Marketing

² Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) consists of various techniques that seek to improve the ranking of a website in search engine results. Websites should be optimised for keywords that are frequently searched upon by prospective customers. Optimisation includes incorporation of these keywords into copy, page titles, link text, and various other elements of the website. Source: Web 1 Marketing

³ Keyword research is the process of determining what keywords are used in search engines by potential customers. Source: Web 1 Marketing