Just about any website can use a redesign every few years; consumers place more trust in sites that look up-to-date and user-friendly. Too often, web design is planned only from a pure appearance perspective, but there are many other factors to consider before a single line of code is written. In woodworking, the saying goes, “Measure twice, cut once.” The same principle is true for any web development project—strategic planning is just as important as project execution. Without the right plan, any web design will be less successful than it should be.
If you’re planning a new web design in the near future, here are a few key web development questions you should ask yourself before you get started:
What are the goals of the redesign?
This might seem like an obvious question, but you’d be surprised at how vague some of the answers can be. You might just think your site’s web design needs a fresher look, but be as specific as you can about what you’re trying to accomplish, whether it’s more conversions or better branding. Come up with one to three major goals for the redesign, and then for every decision, judge how it accomplishes those goals.
What does your audience want?
Look at how your goals blend with what your audience wants. Take a look at the queries they use to get to your site, and plan your web development accordingly. For instance, a customer who gets to your site by typing “digital camera comparison” probably wants something different than one who searches for a specific brand and model of camera. Take a look at how customers already use your site—can they find what they want easily, or do they get frustrated and leave? If you have the resources and budget, you may want to choose a focus group of users who can report on their experiences with your site, or, if you can, watch people use your site in real time to see where potential problems lie.
How can you make your site navigation clearer?
Do your users see a long list of links on any of your pages? Or do you just have a single search box? Either approach can be frustrating for the consumer. Keep your most important categories easily accessible in your main navigation, and divide them into categories on the next level. Be sure to include a comprehensive sitemap somewhere on the site as well.
How can you improve your site copy?
The copy on your site is crucial for many reasons. It can persuade consumers to buy a product, convey important information, and help search engines categorize you. Copy that’s too short, too long, or riddled with grammatical problems will hurt your business. An experienced copywriter should be part of your plan for your new web design. Discuss your broad goals with your copywriter so that he or she can plan appropriate calls to action within the site copy.
Is the graphic design helping or hurting?
Fancy flash intros are fun to look at, sure. But they may also drive impatient customers away from your site. Be sure to have both a prominent “Skip intro” button and an alternative page without Flash. Similarly, elaborate graphic design can look visually amazing, if done well—but be sure that it’s also user-friendly and accessible. No matter how nifty it looks, it won’t serve its purpose if the design is too busy, too low-contrast, or too colorful. When in doubt, less is more.
What features do I need to add to my site’s design?
No matter how great your current site is—even if you’re just changing a few elements of appearance or navigation—consider the various elements that might help your site do its job better. Would your users appreciate a library of useful how-to articles? A product comparison guide? A forum for asking questions and getting answers? Live chat with a customer service representative? Ask your customers what they want. Take a look at your top competitors and see what they offer-chances are, you’ll be able to offer more.
With some strategic thinking about your new web development project, you’ll be able to head off potential problems and maximize your returns on the time and money you put into it.