But trust us — as an agency that has built websites for hundreds of organizations — these stories about project nightmares don’t just come from clients. Agencies find themselves in nightmare scenarios as well.
For a client, a website project nightmare usually results from projects going over budget, running long, and failing to launch on time. Then, after launch, a client might feel like they’re left high and dry, managing a new site they don’t have the expertise to handle.
For an agency, a website project nightmare often results from last-minute changes to strategic direction, new stakeholders joining too late, or the client not holding up its end of the bargain (by, for example, failing to write the necessary copy).
The good news is that nightmares can be avoided for both parties if everyone goes into the website project fully prepped for what’s to come.
If you’re a business owner about to embark on a website redesign or other major project, take the necessary steps to ensure you won’t be wasting your time or budget on a project that doesn’t deliver the results you’re looking for.
When you keep these five steps in mind from the very start, you're more likely to end up with the website you need (while also staying on schedule and under budget).
Each agency has its own process, but a website redesign project generally falls into one of two categories:
Traditional website redesign
Growth-driven design (or GDD)
Traditional website redesign
The traditional website redesign process follows a linear path, from planning to designing, to developing, to launch. Each phase builds on the previous phase to move the project forward toward the launch.
Throughout the process, the client works closely with the designers, developers, and strategists at the agency to set direction and make sure everyone’s on the same page. A project manager keeps everything moving along, tracking the back and forth communication between the agency and the client, and documents the project’s progress.
After the launch date, the agency “hands over the keys” of the website to the client and the two parties go their separate ways. This approach tends to be quicker and slightly cheaper, but can be less effective in the long run.
The drawback of the traditional website redesign process is that it largely disregards user data, which is critical to maximizing conversions. There is a fair amount of guesswork, and the site is not tweaked or A/B tested after it goes live.
Once an agency has built the site and handed it off to the client, they’re on to the next project — and the client is left in charge.
If the company needs to make updates, run tests, or add new features, they have to work with freelancers or start a new contract with the agency.
A growth-driven design process starts in much the same way, with strategy and planning sessions, but the focus is on launching a small core of the eventual new site and then gathering data from this “launchpad” site to inform how the rest of the site gets built.
Over the next few months, more and more elements of the site go live as the agency tests and adjusts the site to improve conversion points, optimize copy and design, deliver a better user experience, and see how search engines and the target audience respond.
This takes a bit longer and costs slightly more, but the result is data-driven and, thus, more effective.
Often, the agency stays on in a retainer model. For a lower monthly fee, the client has access to strategists, designers, and developers who can help them learn the ropes, make adjustments, and test different layouts, copy choices, and designs.
The retainer continues for as long as the client needs to work closely with the agency — usually for several months.
Similar to the traditional website redesign process, there is careful project management at every step so all stakeholders can track progress.
5 ways to prep for a smoother, more successful website redesign project
Whichever method you choose — traditional or GDD — there will still be a good deal of prep work you can do to make the process go as smoothly as possible.
When you’re ready to get started, talk to your agency about who will be involved on their end, who should be involved on your end, and the amount of time that you need to set aside.
Focus on the following as early as possible so that you know you’re not going to hold anything up.
1. Complete a ‘discovery audit’
Before you even consider undertaking a website project internally or start working with an agency, you’ll want to complete a discovery audit. Take a look at your current site and get real about what is working and what isn’t.
Not sure where to start? Think back to pain points you have heard from your users and examine data, such as traffic analytics, conversion pathways, heat maps, and visitor recordings.
Are you lacking functionality? Are your visitors regularly dropping off at one point in the user journey? If your company has grown and changed, does your website reflect who you’ve become?
Then, take a look at competitor sites to get an idea of what’s standard in your industry.
These deep-dive questions can help you create a list of “must-haves” and a list of “nice-to-haves.” This will be helpful when you meet with a project manager or strategist. With a list in hand, you’ll have a more productive, focused conversation.
You’ll have a clearer idea of what your new company website must include.
2. Identify all decision-makers ahead of time
Imagine this: You and your agency get deep into the strategy and design process. Everyone is excited because timelines are being met, strategy is spot on, and the web designer is bringing your ideas to life.
It’s exciting and everyone can’t wait to move the initial web design into a fully functioning website — and then it happens. There is suddenly another stakeholder who needs to approve the designs before website development starts.
Everything grinds to a halt.
Not only does this sudden appearance of another team member slow things down, but it also has the potential to derail a project entirely and blow the timeline out of the water.
Don’t let sudden stakeholder additions take the project by surprise. Talk with your team beforehand to identify which team members will be providing final approval throughout the entire project.
This must include approval of strategy, wireframes, designs, development, content, and copy.
It is important to keep in mind that the larger the group of decision-makers, the longer it may take to get everyone on board with a decision.
With that in mind, aim to keep the number of decision-makers low. Identify the impactful individuals who have a clear understanding of your organization's objectives, the authority to give approval on behalf of the organization, and a strong desire to move things forward.
Website projects can easily be derailed if approval power and chain of command is not determined beforehand.
3. Identify tech needs
When a website project begins, the client and the project manager get started, eager to dive deep into the prep and planning of the new website.
But this will only progress smoothly if all parties know the project scope beforehand.
To avoid future impediments that can be as small as a pothole or as big as a Jersey barrier, make sure project managers and web developers have full access and login credentials to your current website, including hosting platform and domain name system (DNS).
If you’re expecting integrations with other platforms, they’ll need those too.
Maybe your current host won’t be able to accommodate your new, bigger site. Maybe you need specific plugins, APIs, or integrations. But it’s likely that you don’t know what you need.
Your project team will be able to figure all of this out — but they need to do so as early as possible.
Avoid “scope creep” during later phases by sharing as much information as you can during the planning phase.
4. Write your copy
Here’s a dirty little secret about website projects: One of the most common delays is not complex development processes or intricate design work. It’s copy.
Clients typically write the copy that will populate their new site, and it’s easy to underestimate the size of this task.
Why? Because it’s not just copy for the headline for your new homepage. It’s every bit of text on the entire site, from homepage, to service pages, to landing pages, to “about us” pages, and more. After all, you’re probably not going to just use all of the existing content from your old site.
With a website redesign, it’s likely your entire page structure will change and the text on the pages on your old company site simply won’t work. Some copy may get transferred, but with so many new pages, your team is going to have its hands full.
Start reworking your copy early in the process, before the design phase even begins. The role of design in a website project is to enhance the power and presentation of the copy, not the other way around.
When a webpage is designed before the copy, designers then have to mold the copy to fit within the design. Although this is not an uncommon practice, it is less effective and can sometimes get messy. When the copy is created before the design, the designer has the ability to create a page that smoothly navigates site visitors through the page and to the overall objective, whether that’s clicking a call-to-action or completing a form.
If you can’t write all of your copy beforehand, you can get started by building out a plan and making sure your team has the bandwidth necessary to write, edit, and approve the copy your site will need.
This might feel like it’s the bare minimum, but any effort you put toward this task will create a more efficient and effective design process.
5. Gather branding requirements and assets
As a final nightmare scenario, picture this: Your web design project has moved along through planning and into launchpad design without a blip. The strategy has been agreed upon, copy is moving along smoothly, and a general branding guide has been established, containing logo variations and several fonts.
But when the designs are presented, the colors aren’t right (your CEO doesn’t like that new shade of red). There is too much whitespace and only rounded corners will be accepted.
This feedback is helpful — but not at this point! Design specifics should be clarified upfront, with all branding guidelines approved as early as possible.
Branding requirements don’t constrain a designer. Rather, they help provide direction and allow both the client and designer to be in alignment going forward — and they result in a better experience.
By addressing branding concerns at the onset of the project, you’ll allow the next steps to move forward with fewer hitches, and your team will get the quality website it needs.
Plan ahead to start fast
A website redesign is not something to rush. Although you’re undoubtedly eager to get that new site up and running, the fastest way to do it right is to go slow. Do what you can ahead of time to ensure your website project is completed on time and under budget.
Designing a new website is an exciting venture for any business, but it is an unfamiliar process for most — and it’s expensive as well. To get the most out of your investment, do the work beforehand that ensures smooth sailing once you begin — and make sure you’re working with a company that’s aligned on your goals and outcomes. Don’t get rushed through a process that will have such a large bearing on your company’s future. Your agency should be your trusted partner, after all.
If you go into the process with a clear idea of what’s to come and what’s expected of you, you’re more likely to come out on the other side with the website you need.
But remember, a website will not automatically solve your marketing problems
While a beautiful, clean site is certainly an asset, it is not a business strategy in and of itself. Without a full-fledged marketing and sales strategy, a website can easily be just another shiny object that is trendy but not helpful.
A website is one of your business’s most cherished assets: a 24-hour marketer and salesperson that helps bring in customers. But, just like with any asset, the strategy behind it determines its value.
If you’re entering into a website redesign, don’t expect a flashy new website to be the panacea you’re looking for. Instead, plan on making your website redesign part of a larger strategy overhaul that ensures it will work in tandem with other marketing and sales initiatives to bring in revenue. This means content strategy, search engine optimization, a clear plan for conversions, and a bunch of other stuff (email marketing, automation, sales enablement, video marketing, and more).
Without these plans in place, your new website could end up as little more than an interactive billboard. Sure, people will like it, but how much direct traffic are you really expecting? Organic traffic doesn’t show up if there isn’t great content to bring it there.
Do what you can to make the redesign process go smoothly, but don’t lose sight of the larger strategy needed to ensure your website actually delivers the results you’re after.
And remember, don’t let an agency rush you through the critical early stages.