Overhauling our website was challenging, even for a seasoned project manager.
Despite out current website (version 4.0) being less than 18 months old, we decided to completely redesign the company website as a huge amount had changed in that time – not just for us but for the digital world as well:
- We had doubled in size, moved office and had a more evolved service offering – the website no longer reflected who we were and what we wanted to do for our clients.
- Design trends had changed, HTML 5 was released and mobile had become an important factor – the website needed to look good and be responsive as more users were visiting us from phones and tablets.
MintTwist 5.0’s journey started with an extensive planning period. Due to time pressures for the last website, we went straight into design. We ended up with a great website but it was bloated with unnecessary functionality and irrelevant features. This time, we recognised that more consultation was needed to deliver an improved website.
There were two stages to this:
- Analytics analysis – delving into the website statistics told us what was working and what wasn’t. The website had performed well compared to version 3.0 but we knew it could be better. Gathering this data has also formed the benchmark for 5.0.
- Stakeholder consultation – I decided on three groups: sales, web marketing and the managing directors. They all used the website for day-to-day client work or for actually doing work (i.e. digital marketing).
Many companies feel that they have to survey all staff when redeveloping their website. I disagree with this as it usually leads to the website being too internally focused in its structure and goals. People will always happily give you an opinion about the company website; few want to make the new website happen. Take the few that do and make them a part of the journey – they will become advocates for the website.
Surveying our external audience was crucial. We divided them into two groups:
- Prospective, unknown users – we used a third party testing system that recruits anonymous testers. We gave the testers a brief and then analysed their feedback. This was useful in understanding behaviour and motives for the audience we don’t hear from.
- Existing clients – we conducted short phone interviews with clients to get honest feedback and understand how they used the website.
Gaining insight from external audiences can be time-consuming. However, it is as important (if not more) than harvesting internal feedback. Our website is for an external audience and their opinions and behaviour must be considered.
I took our internal and external audit outputs and created a report for the managing directors. Four themes emerged from the report:
- We needed a design that reflected our abilities and creativity
- Be clear about our work and who we do it for
- Inform our visitors by providing more useful documentation such as briefing templates and guidance
- Refocus our digital marketing efforts to get the right audience to the website
Before starting the design, we had to agree on the above so that the project would run smoothly. Getting buy-in from the stakeholders and senior company members prevents hold-ups and any ill feeling from developing.
Website planning questionnaire
The superheroes theme was with us from the start as the design evolved.
Evolving a superhero theme
During the planning period, we had agreed that the website had to be simpler and reduce the amount of content on the page. This has resulted in a much cleaner and less cluttered look.
Since the last website had launched, responsive design has become a key consideration for website redesigns. Our mobile traffic was up and we needed to serve these users by providing an enhanced mobile experience. The new website is now fully responsive.
Going fully responsive
The new website uses the Zend framework and our updated MintTwist CMS. This admittedly took longer than anticipated; however, the additional time was important in order to ensure the website would perform correctly for users and our digital marketing efforts.
While Juan built the website, we worked on revising our content. This is an ideal stage to do this even though it wasn’t especially exciting…a lot of tea and chocolate got me through it.
We kept our testing to one week due to our deadline (30th April). It is easy to endlessly test until the website is perfect but this is dangerous. Many projects end up in testing purgatory if you take this approach. During this period we constantly asked ourselves “Is this necessary for go live?” If not, then it went on a wish list or a post go-live list.
Inevitably we thought of other things we would like to have on the website that were not part of the original brief. This “scope creep” wasn’t too bad (I’ve seen worse). These ideas are now part of our post go-live list for review once the website has bedded in.
We launched on 30th April and we have spent the first week clearing up the issues that have come up. This always happens and most of them are related to the website being moved onto a different server. Taking a “soft launch” approach gives us time to tidy up and correct any glaring mistakes before officially launching it to the world. Telling everyone the day the website launches can be disastrous.
No website will ever be 100% when you launch it. It is nerve wracking but I did get to a point where it would be easier for the website to be launched than be caught between the old and new website.
We monitor the website every day, however, we will be doing additional analysis at the end of its first quarter. We will run our third party user testing, collate client feedback and internally review (essentially a mini-version of the internal and external audit). Understanding the perceptions and behaviour on the new website will allow us to continually improve it.
- Managing expectations – aggregating everyone’s perceptions and requests for the website is hard. Disappointment is inescapable as it is impossible to satisfy everyone’s request.
- Content – I got bored of this quickly and it became a chore. But, it was worth the work (especially after web marketing reviewed it) when I saw the words come together with the design and its impact is already being seen in our rankings. If the thought of writing content wants to make you gently weep, consider employing a copywriter.
- Keeping in scope – everyone has an idea but that doesn’t mean you should do it. Ideas will come up during a project but the question should always be “Is this critical for go live?” 99% of the time the answer will be no.
- Making the decision to go live – we launched the website knowing there were minor issues but in the end, for the sake of my sanity, going live has made it easier to manage the project. It is easy to make excuses. I made a final list and my instinct was that we ready after this.