If a web site contains outdated content, if it's difficult to use, or no longer reflects the image of a business, a business owner could run the risk of turning off customers and prospects. And that means they not only lose credibility in the marketplace, they lose revenue opportunities.
THE WHEN AND WHY OF REDESIGN
Businesses redesign their web sites for a variety of reasons. "I think many companies decide to redesign their site because something has changed," says Emily Cotler, owner and creative director of Waxcreative Design Inc. and co-author of Web Redesign 2.0. Either they have a new product, their industry position has changed, or their audience has changed their expectations, habits, or technological capabilities. But it's often hard to identify how the web site should be redesigned to meet the challenge of those changes."
Before making a decision to build a web site, consider the future prospect of a redesign, Ask why you'd want to redo your prospective site. Has your business grown or changed? Do you want to upgrade to a more professional look? Do you want to update a static HTML site to a more dynamic site? Or does your future site simply have problems that need fixing?
Once you've outlined your goals, you'll know whether you just need to completely overhaul it.
TIPS FOR A SUCCESSFUL DESIGN
Here are seven design tips to help you build and rebuild a web site.
1. A user should be able to easily find what they are looking for. In other words, it should be functional. The content should be current and relevant. "It's just good planning to ask a lot of questions and analyze the site from all vantage points before any building commences," Cotler says. "But you need to be asking questions the whole way."
2. Look at your prospective online competition. Go ahead. It's important to see what they're doing. In fact, you should always keep a close eye on your competition for new technologies, keywords, and new ways to communicate. After all, web surfers are fickle. If you're not keeping pace, you could be losing customers to more dynamic sites.
3. Define your audience and listen to them. Review your customer data to determine who your customers are. Then, ask them what they'd want from your site. "I would design an informal survey to go to a good bunch of people to start getting feedback," says Sherie Presta, owner of Chicago web design firm Sherie Presta Creative Services. "You'll start hearing the same things over and over and it'll become clear what they want. They'll be doing your homework for you, because they look at everybody else's sites, too."
4. Compile your "wish list." Once you've defined the ideal user experience and the functionality you need to achieve it, start compiling a list of things you'd like to accomplish. Because you probably won't be able to do everything at once, prioritize the items on your list and do what you can, when you can. Here are a few things to consider, if you're not doing them already:
* Capturing customer data and adding dynamic elements like surveys, newsletters, or regular promotions can make a site more interactive.
* Increase page loading speed by optimizing graphics so they're small in size.
* Improve navigation with a system that's simple and consistent from page to page.
* A web site should be easy to update. A content management system can do this.
5. Apply your brand personality to your web site. "This is where you look at your colors, your typography, and all the traits of your brand, which will come through as an overlay of the user experience and functionality," Presta says. But don't try to do this yourself. It's important to bring in a web site design professional early in the process. "Without a [professional] asking questions and challenging assumptions, you are really just stabbing in the dark," Cotler says.
6. In addition to helping you develop a site design that integrates your brand, a professional web designer can help you create a new site map and navigation system. (Often, the designer can do all the necessary HTML programming, too.) While your site's design is critical, so is the content. Assign the responsibilities of content development to a search engine optimization specialist and make sure that person collaborates with the designer to ensure that everything works together.
7. Budget time and money. Don't take a step before you know how much time and money your project will require. If you've done all your homework, you'll be off to a good start.
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