“Our clients are confused and complain to us.” “Website is frustratingly slow.” “It seems dated.” “The competitors look modern and rank higher.” “We are losing business!”
These meaningful gripes add up. Eventually, they cause companies to redesign their site. Executives make the go-ahead decision, allocate budgets, align priorities, and form stakeholder teams. The team’s draft RFPs, then source and evaluate vendors. Everyone works hard to steer the project through months of meetings, designs, implementation, and acceptance procedures. Finally, no — FINALLY — the new site goes live.
“Wow. It’s nice, I guess.” “Faster, I think?” “Better than before, but looks kind of weird on my phone.” “Why did it take so long?” “Wait, how much was it?” “Clients struggle to figure it out and are annoyed.”
Underwhelming results are surprisingly common. But the most impactful miscalculations occur early in the project and are straightforward to remedy. Based on experience, we have compiled the key factors that appear underestimated the most often.
Because of corporate complexities or team dynamics, many redesign projects launch under unreasonable time pressure. Artificial or overly aggressive timelines tend to influence a number of other factors too. Too often, the stakeholders try to substitute assumptions for genuine discovery. This is particularly true with respect to development of thorough User Personas and User Journeys. Constrained by time, these exercises are demoted in priority or afforded only a surface treatment. For example, direct user interviews are not conducted and instead stakeholder-provided descriptions are adopted unchallenged. Doing so presents project risk. While the project stakeholders’ vision and client understanding is valid and valuable, it is sometimes biased to specific aspects of their particular client relationships or time frame with the company. Direct interviews and current site analysis may yield unique, unexpected discoveries indicating customer goals not currently or fully serviced. Improving the value proposition to align with these goals will contribute significantly to the ROI of the redesign effort. Such opportunities to interact with your users are important and rare, and rushing past them to form conclusions off of assumptions is a basic mistake to avoid.
Timelines are not the only project constraint with significant impact to outcomes. Budgets can serve to prioritize and trim scope — an always helpful lever — but inappropriately low budgets can trigger economic traps with relatively inexpensive steps skipped in service of fitting a task into a number. This is a significant risk too. Turning meaningful choices into missed opportunities saves no money over the lifecycle of the redesign project. In particular, short-term budgetary concerns can override the need to perform a clean slate Platform Assessment on CMS projects. Formally evaluating a few potential website platforms to determine the optimal choice in support of requirements is never a waste of resources. There simply isn’t a single best CMS that works for everyone. Picking one based on online reviews (even if they’re from Gartner) and then searching for a vendor who has heard of it is not a process that yields optimal long term ROI and business value. Invest in a deliberate and unbiased choice of a platform and avoid this problem.
Every project concludes with a backlog of “least priority” features that are to be addressed across maintenance or in follow-up phases of development. This is normal. The risk of a wrong decision rises when valuable aspects of a project are traded for temporary or superficial gains. Prioritizing an approval cycle of a visual design deliverable or catering to prolonged consensus building around specific, but relatively minor elements of the redesign over vital considerations — such as mobile and responsive / adaptive architecture — introduces limitations that often can only be remedied through a complete re-design. An assumption about an audience, and the way they access the site today can hamper the digital property when the same users increasingly visit the newly deployed site on their mobile devices. Simply choosing a “responsive theme” is rarely a complete solution to this problem. In the end, long-term project goals and vision are too important to allow cursory, short term gains to trump these considerations.
Making decisions based on things that just “feel right” is a risk. If you are feeling tentative about measuring your baselines and then planning to work to improve them it may be a sign of a lack of confidence in project decisions. A company undertaking a redesign project is usually at the tail end of a prolonged cycle of pain and suffering of the old site, therefore, spending more time analyzing it may seem counterintuitive. Often, this is reflected in how SEO concerns are treated within the larger context of project requirements. For the best results, the SEO objectives must not be addressed as a secondary follow-up to the rest of the process. To optimize discoverability, relevance, and eventually conversion and acquisition, these objectives must be factored into the Information Architecture phase, or even earlier into the User Journey creation. Measuring user statistics before and after a complete redesign is a powerful way to demonstrate the realized ROI of the overall effort. It is additionally a fantastic way to highlight and showcase the stakeholder success.
We hope that this list may help avoid a basic mistake or four. But any example can rarely stand in for real experience. And while participating in the creation of a new website for your company is exciting, we recognize that stakeholders cannot always control the budgets they want or have the luxury of time they need. To make the best tradeoffs and decisions, it helps to have a partner in the trenches of the redesign effort who has experience building beautiful things that actually work. That’s the goal we set for ourselves. Call or write us — and we’ll be ready to help. Because the number one way to avoid common pitfalls is to — get an expert — or in other words “someone who has already made all the mistakes which can be made, in a narrow field.” (Niels Bohr)
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