Having worked with a number of associations and non-profits over the years, MOSAIC understands the challenges of revamping a website. Given its importance, the implementation is critical. However, what a lot of organizations may not realize is that the planning that goes into a website redesign is equally important as what ends up on screen. You can save time ($$$), resources ($$$) and improve the overall experience just by doing a few things up front.
Here are 5 things to consider before jumping into any redesign.
1. Doing it yourself versus hiring an outside agency
It’s not unheard of for associations or non-profits to redesign their own websites. Many have very talented designers and developers who work together with the marketing department and various internal teams to produce a successful redesign. The main issue, of course, is bandwidth. Because redesigns don’t happen every year or even every few years, you’ve likely structured your teams to do other, ongoing work. Asking them to take on all the responsibilities of a redesign, in addition to their current duties, is probably neither realistic nor practical. Getting something completed within a reasonable timeframe can be a heavy lift. In addition, for the same reasons, many associations don’t typically employ experts in UI (user interface) or UX (user experience) designers – considerations that are essential for a website redesign. So, many organizations will opt for getting agency help. If you do decide to use an agency, here are some steps to follow to make sure you are choosing the right one.
Step 1: Develop a full RFP and decision matrix with critical criteria to score the various agencies.
This is especially important if you decide on a design agency via committee, which many non-profits do.
Step 2: Ask for examples of previous work (other website redesigns they’ve done) and knowledge of your particular industry.
This will give you a way to evaluate the design aesthetic and attention to detail.
Step 3: Have the agency walk through its proposed redesign process and expected timeframe.
Listen, in particular, for any unnecessary steps or other ways an agency may be trying to pad its overall proposal.
Step 4: Ask about the agencies’ hourly rates.
The reality is, website redesigns are notorious for going beyond the agreed-upon scope. Typically, as the website develops, the message, flow, and user experience become clearer. To no one’s blame, changes will be made and costs will be incurred. Understanding the hourly rates becomes particularly important because addressing cost overage issues can be an unpleasant conversation. Ask the agency to always give heads up when anything is going above the original scope so there are no surprises in the end.
Step 5: Figure out where the agency’s responsibilities end and where yours start.
Are you hiring them to design the experience but have your developers implement it? Are you creating new designs and providing new content, or is the agency? Are you going to re-platform the design on a new CMS, which agencies can help you with, or, are you simply implementing it on your current platform without them?
2. Re-platforming on a new CMS and implications for your CRM
When it comes to redesigns, associations and non-profits often decide that it’s time for them to upgrade their CMS, as well. And typically, that’s not a small matter, as your organization must choose the right one based on many key factors, including:
- The type of developers you have. (Are they WordPress or Java experts?)
- The number of image, video, and content assets (digital asset management) you want to store and manage.
- This is particularly key if you sell books or other digital publications.
- The number of system users, permissions rules, and workflows you need.
- The connections you have between:
- Your website and your marketing automation platform (HubSpot, SharpSpring, etc.)
- Your website and your marketing attribution platform (Ruler Analytics, Branch, etc.)
- Your website and your CRM/AMS (Association Management System) (iMIS, EMS, etc.)
- This can be especially tricky if you use the latter for e-commerce. Make sure to think through the checkout process, and consider how you’ll want to store unique customer web activity in your AMS/CRM, which many associations do today.
The choices here are pretty varied. According to some recent research, about 50 percent of associations use WordPress as a CMS, as it’s free out of the box, but has also been prone to security issues when open-source plugins are not vetted and updated on a regular basis. Some use more sophisticated systems such as Adobe Experience Manager (Java) or Sitecore (.NET), while others might go with a boutique firm’s headless CMS such as Brightspot, a “headless” architecture that uses an API-first approach to reach customers with content anywhere in the buying journey, even off the website.
The bottom line is that if you do a redesign that includes moving to a new CMS, you might certainly need an agency that specializes in implementing your designs on those various platforms. So, be sure to ask, as that some agencies work better in some CMS types versus others.
3. Rethinking your taxonomy
Before you do a redesign, it helps to finalize your taxonomy. This is different than your site map and navigation, which are also important to have worked out before you begin. Taxonomy can drive content on and to certain pages, regardless of page/site structure. It’s one way in which users can navigate your website, through content pieces that are tagged to the set topics you define.
The reason to get this together ahead of any redesign is that the taxonomy really helps you think about the content and how it all relates to each other. If you don’t have a consistent approach to your taxonomy and aren’t rigorous in applying those tags consistently, you might end up excluding pieces of content that would be relevant to another portion of the site. As you think about the UX design, you’ll likely want that taxonomy pre-loaded into your CMS and have it show up on the various pages of content. Just note: An agency can certainly help you think through this, but just know there will be an additional labor cost for that effort.
4. Doing some of the audience research on your own
Any good agency that does a website redesign will propose doing additional audience research and develop persona types on who the website is serving. It’s good to learn and confirm if there are, or are not, audience challenges with the current website. Unless your organization is trained in this area, it’s probably worth letting the agency do that work because it will result in a better user experience design. That said, as a non-profit or association, there’s a lot of research you may already have and can provide that will help you save time and money. This could be your membership surveys, demographic breakdowns, data from one-on-one interviews or focus groups, Google analytics data on your current website, or any additional marketing attribution research. Doing some of that research upfront will mean less research that the agency needs to do.
5. The importance of transferring your SEO equity from the old site to the new site
We often see cases where organizations launch a redesigned website and their search engine rankings plummet. That’s because the organizations often create new pages at new URLs, but those new URLs don’t have the SEO equity that the old pages did. So, one thing you should always do when redesigning is to audit your current site and get a finalized list of all publicly available pages. For any new redesign, you’ll want to make sure that the existing pages transfer that SEO equity to the new, equivalent page on a one-to-one basis. The best way to do this is to use a 301 redirect that automatically takes a visitor from the old page to the new page. Your developers can certainly assist you in helping both get an accounting of the current pages and then set up mapping so you don’t have to add the redirects manually one by one!
Of course, there are many more factors and considerations ahead of any website redesign, but these five are some of the most common best practices that MOSAIC employs in the discovery phase of our web design process. Even if you hire outside to help, these five steps will shave countless hours off the final bill from the agency, potentially saving you thousands.
Want to talk through a project? Feel free to contact us. Being a DC-based, integrated marketing and print company, MOSAIC has worked with many associations and non-profits and can certainly lend a hand!