Vision Before Technology
We’re constantly being asked what it takes to successfully rebrand a Web site. Too often, we’re asked specific questions such as, “Should my site be programmed in Flash?” or “Are drop-down menus a good idea?” But questions like these don’t get to the heart of the issues you need to consider when rebranding your Web site.
The biggest—and most common—mistake we see is that organizations begin their redesign without clear goals for the initiative. Most sites are redesigned for purely cosmetic reasons, overlooking the more crucial content, navigational and marketing challenges.
Here are nine steps that can help ensure that the site you design today will be an effective investment for years to come.
1. Start with a plan. A properly executed wireframe—like a blueprint in architecture—shows you how the new Web site will function before it’s built. It is far easier to move a wall’s placement during the planning stage than an actual wall during the construction phase. The same principle applies to Web sites.
2. Don’t be seduced by technology. A Web site that is well-thought-out and easily navigable will always outperform the latest technology in the long run. Hot technological features should be integrated only if they serve the needs of the site. Don’t feel you need to include the feature du jour just because everyone else is doing it.
3. Get buy-in from all stakeholders. Too often, we see one person or group push for a Web site overhaul without seeking buy-in from their colleagues. Web site redesigns require an enormous investment of time, and the late entry of a key decision maker undermines the intentions of the group. Anyone worth getting feedback from should be involved during the planning stage.
4. Consider the writing on the wall. Seek feedback from your customers about what is and is not working on your existing site. Send out a questionnaire, conduct a phone interview, make a few house calls … whatever it takes. You should hear what the people who use the site are saying.
5. Guarantee freshness. One of the biggest challenges with any Web site is keeping the content fresh and encouraging repeat visitors. Plan specific areas on the site that can pull feeds from your blog and designate areas that can be updated seasonally. This flexibility will allow your site to evolve naturally over time without changing its fundamental structure.
6. Be memorable. Web sites should give something back, rewarding the visitor with every click. That means turning the ordinary into the extraordinary. This can be done with an interesting navigational element, a splash screen to set the tone or simply the way the content is written. If people are looking at your site, they’re probably also looking at your competitors’ sites. So you have to be better.
7. Plan to promote from the beginning. If you don’t tell people about your new site, no one will ever hear about it. We have seen the greatest sites launch—draining all their budgets in the process—only to end up with no results. A detailed marketing plan will enable you to create innovative promotions that will drive traffic to the new site.
8. Search and succeed. The best sites are ones that make effective use of search engine optimization practices.This elusive art is something that should be considered from the outset, as it can affect the site’s content.
9. Hire a professional. Since your Web site will likely be your most important marketing tool, you should find the most qualified team to lead this initiative. The best way to evaluate various teams’ work is to review their sites and speak to their clients.
Following these steps will ensure that your investment of time and money is successful, generating income for you and value for your audience.
Marc S. Levitt is a co-founder and creative director at MSLK, a graphic design firm based in Long Island City, N.Y.