Migrating or redesigning a website can be a boon to any online business and their users. When doing so, there is ample opportunity to target and ameliorate issues that might be plaguing your users’ experience when navigating your site. Of course, data migration and site redesign can likewise be paths fraught with peril.
Make a mistake in your redesign and you’ll risk alienating users. When customers begin to feel like their experience isn’t being taken into consideration, you’ll lose traffic and revenue and risk alienating investors as well.
Many businesses make similar mistakes when it’s time to migrate, re-platform or redesign. As the owner of a digital marketing agency, I’ve overseen several site redesigns and migrations, experiencing all of the happy accidents and (not so happy accidents) that can occur. Below is a guide to help you navigate the process.
Deciding On Your Redesign
Reasons for redesign are fairly commonplace: Early mistakes in the development process often prove too daunting to fix due to time and/or finances. Create a highly strategized plan for overhaul. Focus on specific problems with UX or UI instead of redesigning simply because the site seems outmoded. Keep in mind that users may have simply wanted a few broken pieces fixed instead of a new experience. A whole new experience may be difficult or frustrating for returning or regular users to navigate.
Likewise, it may be difficult for search engines to crawl, index and rank pages that have gone through extensive updates or have been moved completely without attention paid to SEO.
Defining The Problem
Gather evidence showing where the missteps were in your initial design. Was there poor site architecture, difficulty in navigation or a lack of features? Understanding the specific problem (or problems) makes it easier to fix them faster while spending less.
Use an approach driven by data and analytics. Define which pages had better traffic — and which didn’t perform. Find where your users had trouble, and where they found success. When you’re considering those first few moves, think about your SEO objectives: generating and retaining organic traffic, improving rankings, increasing conversions and bounce rate, etc. There’s no point in going through an overhaul if you’re not going to increase organic traffic and decrease exit rates.
SEO And UX
Too often, businesses fail to strike a harmony between SEO and UX when going through their redesign. If your SEO is is too robust (with overstuffed keywords), user engagement might begin to suffer and conversion rates might reduce. On the flip side, if your UX team leads the redesign, you might expect to find decreases in organic traffic.
If you’re thinking about a total overhaul of the content portion of your site, first consider the potential pitfalls of such a move. To borrow a metaphor from traditional architecture, you wouldn’t just move a whole room without considering how it’s going to affect your floors, ceiling and walls.
As you might imagine, a new content strategy, no matter how fresh or innovative, can negatively affect the site’s architecture, structure and any internal linking. Not only will your users’ experiences be impacted, but so will the search engine bots that crawl the pages.
Strike a balance between writing for readers, but with an awareness for how crawl bots interpret information. The teams assigned to each should consider the advantages and disadvantages of the content strategy and feel comfortable bringing up any possible problems and giving suggestions going forward.
Examine and assess content strategies throughout the redesign. It’s going to be much harder to remedy problems after re-launch. While there is no one way to devise a successful content strategy, there is certainly a wrong way. Google can penalize you for writing only with SEO in mind, utilizing black hat tactics and keyword stuffing. On the other hand, writing only for readers and foregoing all optimization techniques will leave you buried in search engine results pages (SERPs). While content should always be informative and useful for readers, neglecting on-page SEO best practices, such as image optimization, keyword placement, and appropriate outbound links to trusted sites will hurt your rankings.
Testing The New Design
After you’ve done the work on the back end but prior to launch, test your new design with actual users. Have users within your site’s intended demographic go through and test arrangement, internal links and overall navigation. Depending on the size of your business, you may be able to get away with a small, remote group of users. But if you’re a larger company, consider implementing a more robust testing practice, such as onsite focus groups.
Detailing Your Success Metrics
Just before launching the site, outline and define the metrics you will use to determine whether or not your newly designed site is successful. Consider:
Backlink data and metrics
Determining A Launch Date
After testing, determine the best launch date. Give yourself some buffer time to deal with any UX or UI problems or issues with site migration, which can be notoriously difficult with regard to re-platforming. Avoid launching during the busy holiday season: Generally, late September through the end of the year won’t be ideal, as this will be an important time to have a fully operational site — not something that needs more QA.
Redesign, re-platform and/or migration can be a difficult process. But it can also be rewarding when you re-launch your site and find that user experience has improved, traffic is up and so are profits.