When I started my job four years ago my job description included migrating our website into a new content management system including a full site redesign. This past spring, that finally happened.
As a planner, I outlined the entire process, got the necessary parties on board, and planned for a full site redesign including a significant content restructure. As a little bit of background information, our organization is composed a variety of departments, all with different needs, and different functions for their website. A solid plan with deadlines and tasks was a must.
For anyone that is lucky enough to be in a position that requires a full redesign, I offer the following three things to keep in mind.
- Use your analytics wisely
- Focus on user-centric thinking
- Don’t skip the story boards – that means full story boards
Starting the redesign
The first thing I did was take screen shots of every single page of the website and copied all of the content into a word document. I walked through all of the content with the staff and asked them to improve their individual departmental sections. They key is to anticipate what content will be necessary when the site actually launches. The web site will not be launched over night, so it is very likely that the content that is currently there will not be applicable when the site launches.
We had a great deal of redundant content. It was important to communicate the importance of links and anchors in order to help supervisors understand how to reorganize content in a way that would not overwhelm their customers.
The second thing I did was run a Google Analytics report for the previous fiscal year and compared that to the fiscal year before that. Any pages that received less than 100 hits were removed and the content was eliminated or restructured.
Using analytics also helped determine pages that had too much or too little content. Page bounce rates, exits rates, and entry rates are all tools that can help determine if the content is meeting users needs.
Implement user-centric thinking
After working with departments to remove redundant content and updating old content, I was ready to break the news that our entire navigational and content structures were going to change.
Each department was accustomed to having their own section of the website. The site was structured in a way that said, “Here are our departments and here’s what we do. We hope you already have a general idea of what you’re looking for.”
The problem was that if customers were not acutely aware of the name and purpose of each department, the content was difficult to navigate. All of the departments had a great understanding of their services. Removing ourselves from our departments helped us realize that our current structure may not be as intuitive as we thought.
Instead we looked at the content and said, “What do our customers need” and then we directed them to a section of the site. Customers looking to plan an event now went to a section called “Plan an Event” which housed all of the information from every department that they would need to plan their event.
You can find room set up information, availability, catering, campus and departmental policies, and pricing information for every area (available for reservation) all in one location.
The web banner of each section would change so the customer knew whom to contact for various aspects of their event. If the sub-page referred to catering, the catering web banner, complete with contact information, was displayed in order to assist the customer in the best way possible.
Changing the content structure and navigation in order to better meet the needs of our customers was no small feat. All departments had to be on board with the change and all of our professional and student employees had to be retrained in order to be able to effectively utilize the site.
We already knew that a migration into a new content management system and a full site redesign meant our URLs were all going to change. This aided us in the decision to restructure the site because no matter what, all the promotional materials had to be redesigned.
I’ve heard horror stories from other organizations that this fact was not clearly communicated up front. They were in for an unpleasant surprise when they discovered that their marketing materials, though brand new, were outdated with the wrong website.
Additionally, the website redirect for us meant that all of the individual pages on the old site would be adjusted to redirect to the home page of the new site. Meaning that if a person was looking for the page advertising the bowling ally, they would be directed to the new website homepage and not the new website bowling page. Thus, more training and marketing materials were needed before implementing the new site.
The importance of storyboards
I have always understood and appreciated the value of storyboarding videos, websites, and other interactive pieces. This project was accomplished with the assistance of our information technology department and so our design elements were very limited. As such, the final content was delivered to departments was word documents instead of full site mock-ups with images and content together.
After the site was launched, there was some concern with the content structure. I believe this was due to the significance of the content restructure in addition to the timing of the project overall. The site restructure began in early spring and the new site was launched in August. Departments did communicate the because of these two constraints, visual tools would have helped them through the process.
The timeline length, though necessary, was also problematic. Some departments were unable to adjust their content for the launch and instead focused on what was needed right now. Additionally, July and August are busy months for our organization, which prevented some departments from dedicating the time and resources to their web content.
There is no magic formula for launching a website and again, it will not happen overnight. We waited four years to migrate our content and even though the time frame wasn’t ideal, we made it work. If I had it to do over again, I would have dedicated the time to creating the full storyboards in order to better showcase the site to all departments.
The staff and student employees are now fully embracing the site including the user-centric structure. The user-centric focus is a significant change for our organization, but it is spilling over into our promotional materials as well. We created a series of new brochures (yes, brochures) that feature a “choose your own adventure” theme focusing on how to help customers get the most from our organization.
In the first two months since the redesign our website traffic has reached almost 40% of the total overall website from the entire previous fiscal year. Departments have also increased the number of online tools they are utilizing, specifically web forms, which has streamlined office productivity.
Redesigning a website will not happen overnight and it will not be an easy feat, but keeping the ideas mentioned about in mind can make it a much easier process.