5 Prep Secrets for a Smoother, More Successful Website Project
Start planning before you talk to an agency:
Complete a "discovery audit."
Identify all decision-makers.
Identify tech needs.
Write your copy.
Gather branding requirements and assets.
We’ve all heard them before, the tales of seemingly “simple” website projects that turned into nightmares.
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, 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 project fully prepped for what’s to come.
If you’re a business 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).
So, let's dive into the details:
What the typical website redesign process entails.
Each agency has its own process, but a website redesign generally falls into one of two categories:
Traditional website redesign.
Traditional website redesign
The traditional website redesign process follows a linear path, from planning to designing, to developing, to launch, at which point the agency “hands over the keys” to the client and they go their separate ways. This approach tends to be quicker, slightly cheaper, and less effective.
The drawback is that this method 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.
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, and deliver a better user experience.
This takes a bit longer and costs slightly more, but the result is data-driven and, thus, more effective.
Whichever method you choose, 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 a website project internally or start working with an agency, you’ll want to complete a discovery audit. Take a look at your 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?
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.
2. Identify all decision-makers
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 designs are bringing your ideas to life.
It’s exciting and everyone can’t wait to move the designs into a fully functioning website — and then it happens. There is suddenly another stakeholder who needs to approve the designs before website development starts.
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 seal of approval includes 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, as well as a strong desire to move things forward.
3. Identify tech needs
When a project begins, the client and the project manager get started, eager to deep dive into the prep and planning of the new website.
But this will only progress smoothly if all parties know the scope of the project.
To avoid future impediments that can be as small as a pothole or as big as a Jersey barrier, make sure project managers and developers will 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. Maybe you don’t know what you need.
Whatever the case, it’s best if the agency knows as much as it can as early as possible.
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.
It’s likely that you’re not going to just use the copy from your old site, after all. With a redesign, it’s likely your entire page structure will change and the text on the page on your old site simply won’t work. Some copy may get transferred, but with a new homepage, service pages, landing pages, and more, you’re going to have your hands full.
Start reworking your copy early in the process, before design. 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. When the copy is created before the design, the designer has the ability to create a page that accurately navigates the user through the page and to the overall objective, whether that be clicking a call-to-action or completing a form.
Though you can’t write too much 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 new site will need.
This will create a more efficient and effective design process.
5. Gather branding requirements and assets
As a final nightmare scenario, picture this: Your 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 square 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.
By addressing this at the onset of the project, you’ll allow the next steps to move forward with fewer hitches.
At IMPACT, we work with clients over the course of several months, planning, designing, and launching a core “launchpad” site, then gathering data to better inform the rest of the site, which launches over the next few weeks and months. Then, we train our clients so that they can update, adjust, and test their site. We want them to confidently use their new site — and we want that site to grow with them — long after their work with IMPACT is complete.
Designing a new website is an exciting venture for any business, but it is an unfamiliar one 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
All too often, businesses see a new website as the solution to their 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.
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.
Elements of a Great They Ask, You Answer Website
Transform your website into your best salesperson and get set up for inbound marketing success!
In this course, you’ll learn:
What content and features your website needs to succeed with inbound marketing
How to design your website to best educate your audience
How to gradually make improvements or redesign entire elements of the website