The current assumption is that every business has a website, but it is wrong to assume that every business has a website that works! Yes it functions, available online, and all the buttons work, but most websites are underwhelming their owners and visitors equally. ‘So it is time for our website to have a facelift?’ I hear you say. Given that many companies rely on their web presence for survival, what normally follows next would be funny if it were not so serious.
Whenever I see companies that want to refresh, redesign or facelift their website, the focus immediately shifts on the aesthetics like the colour, where the navigation buttons go, and “wouldn’t it be neat if we could have these cute widgets!” Everyone gets excited about the prospect of a new website, and wants to have an input to the colour, the look, the navigation keys, etc. However, despite all the enthusiasm, nobody has even begun to think as to why they need a new website? What is the purpose of their website? What are the measurable benchmarks that will mark the new website better than the old one? What is it that makes the current website a failure? Designing a website is a mixture of art and science, but unlike the chicken-and-egg question, I can tell you that most definitely the science came first.
The most important start point of a redesign is the information and data on your current website. The source of your traffic, keywords, bounce rate, current visitor behaviour map (where they go, what they see and where they exit), highest visited pages, highest exit pages, average time on page, number of pages visited, etc. This range of data will give you a clear view of what is going on with your current website. This information indicates what is broken and what is working. Before you even attempt to redesign you website, you need to understand the current situation first. Without this data you are just guessing and at the very best you only have a 50-50 chance of getting it right, and at worst you will fail to improve. See my article on Website Statistics. (Click to read our article on the importance of website management and statistics)
Now this is a particularly hot potato with an existing website. Websites tend to take on a life of their own, with growing content that was never intended to be there to start with. However, the culture of “It is on the website” has meant we end up with all sorts of files, PDF, datasheets, etc. on the website that are all complete nonsense and frankly are cluttering up the space. Be brutal and get rid of the content that is not necessary. Most websites can lose 30% of their content without suffering functionality or performance. Remember you are not Wikipedia and nobody should expect you to be. Imagine your website as your briefcase, and ask yourself, if I had to carry all this stuff in my briefcase would I still chose to have it with me at my next customer appointment?! For example, pages that have 80% or more Bounce-Rate should go. A real example is a client of ours that we reduced his website from 2,500 pages to (wait for it…) 110 pages!! His ranking did not get hit, his traffic went up by 30% and his bounce-rate fell from 60% to less than 15%. Result!!
Once you have a clear understanding of the current activity and traffic on your website, you can start to think about your navigation logic. Navigation logic is not the same as the actual navigation keys. It is a logical map that interconnects different pages, groups of pages, and sections of your content together. It is a logical connection rather than physical connection between content pages. This should then result in an easy-to-navigate and logical grouping of your website content, which flows naturally and presents the visitor with the logical next step of their journey through your site. Understanding your visitors interaction with your website content and mapping their journey is critical in creating a commercially successful website.
Once you have a clear view of how people navigate your site, you can then arrange your content in a logical grouping. Groupings might not necessarily be what you originally intended, as this is a customer driven process, rather prescribed by the people who know the website inside out. It is your visitors that determine the logical grouping rather than your marketers and product owners.
Once you have your navigation logic and content grouping, you can begin to design your navigation map. It is the actual grouping of your content that will determine the navigation keys, styling and connections, not the personal likes or dislikes of horizontal or vertical navigation. Some visitors find horizontal navigation preferable, just as many people will find vertical navigation more logical. You cannot keep everyone happy when it comes to the aesthetics as they are personal preferences, so ignore these bias-based judgments and trust the science. Have you ever left a website because you don’t like horizontal navigation layout? No of course not. But I bet you have left a website where the navigation did not make sense and left you frustrated. Another real example is of our client where we reduced their Bounce-Rate from 55% to 26% by simply moving the order of the navigation keys! The only reason for the high bounce rate on their homepage was the order in which navigation key was presented. It was that simple.
Now we get to the bit you all like! Yes you do have to employ really imaginative and creative people to design that special website, but as every designer will tell you without a brief they cannot get it right. You now need to document all this information creating a clear and concise ‘Design Brief’ for your website design artist. They need clear guidelines, direction, and information so that they can execute on your plan. What they do not need is a design-by-committee process. Search the web and find some sites that you like the aesthetic look and feel, so that your designer can get a feeling of your personal taste. With the aid of your design brief and full information, you should have a pretty good chance of nailing the design that is a winner.
I know all this sounds like a lot of hard work and number crunching, but this is the only way you will end up with a successful website facelift. Otherwise a few months down the line when the euphoria of the new website launch has died down, you will come to realise you have spent a lot of time and money without any results.
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