It’s time to put a fork in traditional website design processes.
I’ve written before about how, as a corporate marketing manager, I dreaded it every time my boss would say “We need a new website.” Why? Because I knew it would take months of work, with finicky internal reviewers changing their minds every week or two on the message, the content, the design and the functionality. The agencies we hired would work heroically to try to keep the project on track and salvage any shred of profit that might have been there for them, but as clients we reviewed and revised our way out of the schedule and out of the scope.
Traditional website design is kind of an all or nothing proposition. While the scope of the project depends on the size of the company, the process typically involves a lot of upfront costs for planning, design and development. It also consumes a good deal of time and effort on the part of the internal marketing team, diverting it from ongoing marketing initiatives. Then you have to decide when it’s done. Really done. In my experience, a website isn’t done until the VP of Marketing or the CEO gives it his or her seal of approval. That can take a long time. Why does this take a long time? Because there is no objective measure for what makes a website good. And you rarely get good feedback on content and design until reviewers can see it in its near-live format—when changes are most expensive.
But the real problem in making a website redesign successful is the tortuous fact that you can’t test its performance until after you have built it and made it live. Think about that. You don’t know how your website will perform until after you’ve spent months on content, design and programming. You go live without any strong clues as to whether it will meet your marketing or business goals.
Traditional website development is done on the basis of a bunch of design and user behavior assumptions, and you won’t know if you made the right assumptions until, essentially, the project is over. Then you cross your fingers and hope that the site delivers measurable business improvement for the next two or three years, because that’s when you’ll be able to do another redesign to fix what didn’t work as planned.
That’s a huge amount of risk for very expensive, time consuming, resource intensive project.
A better approach is to treat a website redesign project as an ongoing marketing initiative rather than as a one-time project. Revise the site in phases. Tackle the most important priorities first, measure results, make adjustments, and then move on to the next priority. Say, for example, your primary concern with your company’s website is that it doesn’t generate enough qualified leads. You decide that you need 20 percent more leads from the home page. Create a landing page with a call to action for visitors to download premium content such as an e-book or white paper, aimed at your ideal customer. Promote it through your social networks and emails, or even make it a splash home page to see how it works.
If it gets you 20 percent more leads, great! Take what you’ve learned and finish your home page design around the kind of content people respond to. Start creating similar offers to test on product pages and other parts of the site.
That is a very simple example of what you can do use your existing site to learn about user preferences, behavior, and lead quality while you are going through the website redesign, but before committing to a final design or content. It is far more valuable to develop a new site over time, deliberately testing assumptions before permanently implementing them. When your team and your bosses see the results, they’ll start making decisions faster, trust me. Even better, you’re not pausing marketing activities while you’re redesigning the website, you’re advancing them.
Another drawback to traditional website design is that the web is constantly changing, so that what you drafted in January may no longer be relevant by June. It would be wiser and more beneficial to the company to view the website as an ongoing redesign, that is never really done because your customers and users never stop changing. Blending marketing with web design, and doing both on and ongoing basis, gives you the flexibility to always be ready to meet your customers’ needs.
Traditional website design should be abandoned right now. It doesn’t work and there are far better ways to use your valuable online real estate.