Ten Sure-Fire Ways to Screw Up Your Next Web Redesign (Part 1)

  • Brad Ettinger
  • December 2, 2014

Before you embark on your next website redesign project, why not make things really challenging? At Velir, a Boston-based digital experience agency, we’ve helped lots of organizations reach new levels of digital maturity and an improved website performance. Along the way, we’ve also uncovered some common mistakes that will keep just about any web redesign from achieving its full potential. Here are ten simple ways to derail the most well-intentioned project – even though they’re all too easy to avoid.

1. Don't worry about digital strategy – jump right to visual redesign.

Mention “digital strategy” at your next meeting and you’re sure to get some skeptical comments – maybe even a few eye rolls. It’s not surprising. These days, organizational digital strategy is often tossed around as the great panacea; a magic elixir that will make everything better, the Holy Grail every organization should strive for. But who really understands what digital strategy is, let alone how to develop and document it?

The truth is that digital strategy is critically important for organizations that use technologies to conduct their core business operations (which is just about every organization we know). While developing and documenting a digital strategy can be time-intensive, it can also be simple and straightforward.

Think of digital strategy as the way your organization will use technology to better achieve its mission and how it will reach its short- and long-term operational goals. As technology and customer behavior evolves over time, so should your digital strategy, allowing you to take advantage of new ways to stay competitive and relevant. It’s important to step back from your web design to think this through a bit. By aligning your customers’ behaviors, organizational goals, and available technologies, you’ll get a solid foundation for how you structure your web site as well the features, functions, and design elements of your new web presence.

2. Archive of all the content you've ever created, on your site.

So, your company has been around forever. Long before Al Gore created the Internet, departments all across the organization were hard at work creating really important content for your customers, board members, and stakeholders. Now that you have a chance to restructure your web site, why not accommodate all that good stuff and make everyone as happy as possible? Be all-inclusive – go for depth and breadth!

One of the great challenges – and opportunities – of a redesign is that it forces you to think carefully about what content you will provide to your customers and how you will provide it. While every Subject Matter Expert in your company will surely consider theirs critically important, content must be prioritized based on what users want and balanced by what the organization wants to provide. This is the time to make hard decisions around content archiving in order to ensure that your systems and your customers aren’t weighed down with outdated, unused content. Take inventory of all content stores and challenge anew the value and market demand of each.

3. Data doesn't tell you what to do. So disregard it.

If you’ve worked with web sites and digital offerings, you’ve no doubt had some exposure to metrics and analytics – those handy reports generated to help you understand how your product is being used and by whom. An important step of any web redesign is to glean information from your current web site’s usage data. However, your ability to defend the conclusions drawn from that data might be difficult, given inevitable inconsistencies and internal skeptics who would much rather trust their gut than faulty data.

All data has its limits but rather than disregarding it, you should be careful about making assumptions, and plan on testing hypotheses as part of your website redesign effort.

Here’s an example: Let’s say usage data indicates that customers who buy your core product online overwhelmingly arrive at the product page through your web site’s search engine, not through your web site’s navigation. This may be attributable to a highly effective search engine, or it may be the general behavioral model for your typical buying customer. A third scenario might be that customers are trying to find that product in the navigation and can’t, so they use a search engine instead.

Even if you lack the analytics to prove or disprove this theory, its good practice to test what the data may be telling you. Watch actual users during the design phase of your project, accommodate ongoing testing of key user behaviors, and analyze the associated data as part of the redesign process. You won’t be sorry.

4. Structure your website along organizational lines.

Organizations typically structure themselves by departments, roles, and responsibilities. We follow right along, classifying our colleagues and their work products by level, title, division, department, group, and so on. The Annual Report comes from the Communications Department, product sheets come from the Sales Division, etc., etc. As a result, many organizations try to structure their website along these structural boundaries. At Velir, we've found that one of the primary reasons this happens is because it’s a quick, easy way to establish responsibilities for content publishing (i.e. “that’s your content, you handle it.”)

Here’s the rub: If you structure your website to mirror your organizational structure, you’re assuming that structure makes perfect sense to your customers. Yet, this inside view is often irrelevant to end-users. It could even be confusing and alienating. If a typical user wants to get product information, do you let her get it all on one page – or do you force her go to the Product Group’s section, then over to the Marketing Department, and finally, to Sales in order to make a purchase? Your site’s content architecture should be strongly driven by the user and balanced by the organization’s goals and needs.

5. Above all, cater to your boards, committees and company leadership.

It’s bound to happen: just as you’re proudly previewing your web site’s new design and architecture to the board, (at least) one board member expresses her profound disappointment in the structure, design, colors, home page content, or (fill in the blank here). She will use phrases like, “that’s not what customers want” or “I don’t think that’s how our customers use the site.” And there you are, stuck like Aron Ralston between a rock and a hard place – but without a pocketknife. Go ahead, give in. In Board Members We Trust.

Unless, of course, you have data. Beautiful, redemptive data showing exactly what customers want and how they will use the web site. Board members typically don’t realize that they may not be representative of your core customer audience. This is particularly true of member organizations whose Boards are comprised of highly engaged members with a true insider’s view of things and passionately held beliefs. If you collect information about your users and what they want, you’ll be ready to justify your decisions in a way that transcends these individual board members’ perhaps-slanted perceptions of the user base. With luck, the data – and your new web site – will prevail.

Make sure to read up on part two of this post, 5 more ways to screw up your web design.