Too often, we see marketers and business owners embark on a website update or overhaul for all the wrong reasons:
“It’s been three years since we launched the site.”
“Competitor X just launched a new site!”
“My nephew the artist says blue is out and purple is in.”
Any of these might be valid reasons to redo your site — well, maybe not that last one — but none on their own would be enough to warrant the expense, hassle and disruption that a website update typically entails.
Here are a few things to keep in mind as you consider what comes next for your website:
Know What you Want Your Website to Do
If you don’t know what you need your website to do in order for it to be a productive part of your marketing, you’re throwing darts. Blindfolded.
So before you begin, gather your Marketing 101 materials and review whether what you’ve defined still applies:
- Who is your audience?
- How are you segmenting your audience?
- What action do you want the audience to take?
- What kind of content do you need to create to encourage engagement?
- What calls to action will move prospects to the next step in their buying journey?
You should also have a solid idea of what role your website plays in your marketing. Though there are elements you’ll need no matter what role it plays, a website built to be the initial point of contact for most prospects, for example, will differ from a website that plays a supporting role for an outside sales team.
Understand How Well Your Website is Performing Now
Here’s the part of the process where you may wish for Doc Brown’s DeLorean. If you don’t have good metrics in place measuring how your website is performing, you probably aren’t going to be able to go back in time to gather them.
Those metrics will give you insight into how your audience is finding you, what kind of content attracts them, and how they are behaving while they are on your site.
Metrics can tell you where you are losing visitors because of disconnects between their expectations and the reality of what your site is presenting or how it’s organized.
If you don’t have metrics to rely on, all is not lost. You can still gather important intel by asking questions.
Talk to Prospects, Clients, and Your Team
Though more time- and labor-intensive than parsing good metrics data, user research of some kind is a step you shouldn’t skip even if you do have metrics data. Conversations about your website will paint a more multi-dimensional picture of your marketing than data can alone and can help you tease insights out of what might otherwise appear as noise.
Your aim is to find out what is working for site visitors and what is not. This can include UX issues — user experience — like poor organization, confusing navigation, or a lack of search capabilities.
Questions about technology can also yield valuable information. Is the mobile experience bad enough to drive people to their desktops? Are pages frustratingly slow to load? Does the site make it easy to find related content that is likely to be of interest to a visitor reading any particular page?
The goal is to ensure that site visitors can easily find the answers they are looking for.
Define How to Measure a Site’s Success
If you are working without analytics data, congratulations. You are starting with a clean sheet and can set up (or have a pro help you set up) your analytics dashboard to highlight the information that will help you decide whether your site is working well and, most critically, continues to show performance improvements over time.
If you already have a dashboard set up, now is the time to review it to keep the information that factors into your marketing decisions and eliminate any noise that is distracting you from making those decisions quickly and easily.
Build for Iterative Improvement
No matter where you’re starting from, your goal must always be to keep improving your marketing results over time. This does not mean making change for change’s sake, or doing large-scale updates for reasons like those I mentioned at the top of the article. (Because just as quickly as blue is the in color, it’s going to be out again …)
It means relying on the data and anecdotal information you get that tells you that your site either isn’t performing as well as it could, or that something new is coming along that you need to start preparing for now.
Note that this isn’t just about working with a good web developer; they aren’t any more adept at seeing into the future than anyone else. It does mean thinking through a range of possible outcomes with your full marketing team.
- What would we want to do if the new website (and the marketing surrounding it) performs well?
- What are we prepared to do if the marketing underperforms our expectations?
- What ideas have we set aside now that might be useful as we seek further improvement?
You should also be mindful of the not-always-easy-to-define line between interactive for improvement and creating Frankenstein’s Monster. Updates done poorly will affect site performance, as the site is bogged down with extraneous plugins and other add-ons and duplicative code. User experience suffers if the carefully crafted branding is ignored in favor of expediently adding a new feature.
Iterating isn’t something to be done on the fly. It needs to be done every bit as thoughtfully as the original site planning. Because these are most often small changes, you should still be able to implement quickly without making sloppy updates.
One final note: most of these ideas apply not just to updating an existing site, but also to building a brand new website, whether for a new organization or a new product or service line. Know your audience, understand why they’re visiting your site, and build to encourage them to engage with your content and expertise.
Andrew Schulkind’s recently published book, Marketing for Small B2B Businesses – How Content Creates Marketing Muscle and Powers Traditional and Digital Marketing, is available on Amazon and elsewhere.