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Systems Alliance Blog

Opinion, advice and commentary on IT and business issues from SAI
Keyword: redesign

Ready to embark on a website overhaul? Here’s where to start.

At SAI, we interact with many types of clients, from non-profits to commercial organizations to educational institutions. Despite their unique characteristics, we hear the same core concerns over and over: We know our website needs changes, but we don’t really know how to go about the process of a redesign.

Does this sound familiar? As we’ve shared before, there is often little or no separation between your website and your organization itself. When interacting with your website, it doesn’t matter whether a user is conducting a complex transaction on a desktop or a quick search on mobile; they are making rapid judgments about your brand as a whole based on their experience.

Convincing key decision makers at your organization that your web presence needs attention can be challenging, especially if executives perceive “attention” as “spending a lot of money.” Getting internal support for a big project is harder for some organizations than others, and there are many variables to consider. Depending on the size of your company and the complexity of your website, you could be looking at a significant investment. The key is to influence decision makers of how the investment will ultimately help your organization meet its goals.

If the thought of obtaining buy-in from leadership for a website redesign seems daunting, read on.

  1. Form a committee.  Before the vendor is selected or the first piece of code is written, we suggest a meeting of the minds to agree on objectives. Identify a group of people who are representative of your organization’s goals and interests—about 4-6 key players. Try to select people who (a) have a stake (i.e., the website could actually impact their part of the business), and (b) have some sway. The key is to identify top influencers. 
  2. Set a recurring meeting. Ensure this effort remains a priority by treating is like a “real” project. Set a regular meeting schedule and collaborate using a project management platform to track notes and progress in a central location. We like Basecamp and Taiga, but there are unlimited options on the market. (And no, we don’t get a kickback for our referrals!)
  3. Define business goals. Work with your newly formed committee to identify 3-5 critical business objectives that the new website can help solve. For example, in a membership association, these goals might be metrics like “increase membership” or “increase sales revenue from existing members.”  Getting support from executives for a big project investment will be twice as challenging if you can’t tie the project to a few critical goals.
  4. Define vision and requirements. When you’re making the case that your website needs to be redesigned, it helps if you can articulate a vision for the site—specifically, who is your target audience? How does your web presence need to look and feel? Why/how is it falling short today? From a requirements perspective, what does the site need to accomplish at a bare minimum? What technical requirements ought to be considered (e.g. hosting, using a web CMS, etc.)?
  5. Identify success metrics. Executives think in terms of results, so identifying success metrics—and how you plan to track them—are key.  For a website, these could be tactical goals like increasing web traffic, reducing bounce rates or increasing online leads. You could also think more broadly by tying measurable goals related to sales revenue, market share, etc.

Converting Momentum to Action

Once you’ve formed your committee, identified business goals and success metrics, and presented this information to internal stakeholders, you’re going to run into the question, “how much is this going to cost?” That’s a tough question to answer, because it really depends on what kind of web presence you have today, and what capabilities you want to obtain in the future.

Do your homework to get a sense of the general investment you will need to make. Interview a few companies and ask for cost estimates. A more formal option is to issue a Request for Information (RFI) or a Request for Proposal (RFP) and compare different agencies. If you’re looking for more information, please message me and I’d be happy to connect you with some more tools.

The conventional wisdom has been that a website should be updated or redesigned every three years or so. That timeline has continued to shrink over the years to a redesign every 2-3 years, to a redesign every 1.5-2 years depending on who you happen to listen to, and your industry. Given the effort and cost typically involved in a major site redesign, investing in that effort every two years is not feasible for most organizations. So the question then is how can you keep a site fresh, incorporating new features and technologies, without a significant redesign project?...Read More

Do you ever notice that the more stuff you have, the more difficult it becomes to find what you’re looking for? Whether it’s your desk drawer, your closet or the contents of your computer’s hard drive, the more items you need to rifle through, the longer it takes to find that one thing that you’re trying to locate. Since we’re in the business of optimizing websites not organizing closets, I’ll focus on how this rule holds true for the findability of information on your website....Read More

To begin evaluating your redesign, you'll need objective and subjective measures for a 360-degree view of performance. For objective metrics consider starting with the following widely used Web stats:

  • Growth in traffic to key sections of your Website
  • Visitor navigation patterns – are visitors actually going to the pages you want them to, and how are they getting there
  • Change in abandonment rate on key pages
  • Referrer statistics – where is the traffic coming from
  • Growth in conversions – however defined for your particular business, e.g. sales leads, online transactions completed, customer inquiries, etc.
  • Pay-per-click advertising activity (if applicable) – growth in click-through rate and more importantly, conversions.
  • Number of pages updated or created on a monthly basis (fresh/relevant content is critical)

Drilling In

Going a step further, consider which specific metrics make sense for your site and business. Your answer will depend on industry and organization, so consider these examples:

  • Retail – growth in number and value of online transactions, basket composition (cross-selling effectiveness), reduction in phone/email customer service inquiries, growth in customer feedback on products/transactions (engagement)
  • Higher Education – Growth in number of applications for admission and requests for information, growth in giving/donations, increase in yield (shows engagement with prospective/accepted students).
  • Healthcare – Increased number of appointments via online channels, growth in online transactions and services (increasing operational efficiency), improved customer/patient satisfaction.
  • Associations – Membership growth and renewals, product/service sales to members, reduction in phone/email customer service inquiries.

Subjective Metrics
Beyond objective metrics, it is useful to understand how site performance impacts internal and external stakeholders. In terms of internal stakeholders, interviews can be used to understand what, if any, impact your Web transformation had on those aspects of the business that are most directly affected by your Web presence. For external stakeholders (your Website visitors) you can accomplish the same thing with an online survey. Yes, surveys can be hit or miss, but they’re still effective if properly implemented.

The Bottom Line
Your Web transformation project can have a significant impact on your organization’s success. Simply going through the motions, e.g., improving the UI, does not guarantee your site will end up performing any better. And, sometimes, even well-planned projects miss the mark – thought this is a far from tragic outcome if you know how and why.

The intent here is to understand the impact of our efforts – if all positive, then an opportunity to demonstrate in a reasonably objective way, the transformation’s impact on our business and view into the return on investment of our efforts. If our analysis indicates our efforts have not been as successful as we would like – no need to panic, since we should have the information we need to make appropriate course corrections. Either way, this measurement activity provides us with actionable information to help us optimize our Web management efforts – and this is in reality a never ending – and rewarding – process.

So, you’ve just spent several months, a significant slice of budget dollars and plenty of staff hours on a major Website redesign or transformation effort. The site looks great, the project team gets well-deserved kudos and the executives are pleased. But, how do you know if your effort was successful? And then how successful? Do the benefits of the redesign offset the investment of time and money? How do you know?

In many cases we find there is too little emphasis placed on measuring the success of a Web transformation effort. It tends to be a substantial investment of resources, yet many organizations have no sense of the return on that investment – whether that return is even positive. Why is this important? 

The days of the “about us” brochure Website are long gone. Your site is a strategic sales, marketing and operational resource. It supports key business objectives, or at least it should. While the specific objectives will vary by organization and industry, at a high level, your public-facing Website should drive revenue, decrease costs (usually by optimizing or automating operational processes)  and / or increase customer satisfaction or engagement. Ideally you want to measure the effectiveness of any change to sales/marketing efforts or operational processes. If the change yields positive results, then great! If not, figure out why and make adjustments. Of course it’s difficult to make adjustments if you don’t know whether or not you’ve made a positive change, and why.

So, how do you measure the effectiveness of a Web transformation effort? It’s much more than “we’re getting more visitor traffic” or “the site looks better now than it did before.” This brings to mind the infamous “putting lipstick on a pig” analogy.  If the site looks good or attracts more visitors, that’s nice, but is that really having a positive impact on your key performance indicators (KPIs)?

The goal is to determine if the Website is doing a better job of achieving those key business objectives after the transformation effort. To do this, we first need to define appropriate KPIs. You’ll want to do this before the transformation so you can establish a baseline for comparing before and after results.

Ideally this measurement process should be an ongoing activity, part of the overall Website management process which enables continuous incremental improvement. After all, your site is not static, hence there’s an ongoing need to evaluate objectives and adjust course accordingly. At minimum you should review metrics before and after the transformation and then once a month, looking at year-over-year and month-over-month comparisons to factor out seasonal trends.

In my next post we'll look at three ways you can measure success.

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