Once upon a time there was a communications director of a non-profit organization. She was responsible for the organization’s website, media relations, social media, newsletters, and executive messaging. Over the last year, she has been hearing from colleagues that people can’t find things on the website and that it takes 3 days to get new content published to it. At last, she says, “We need to redesign our website!” It’s been 3 years since the last redesign and it’s not mobile-friendly. Everyone agrees, including the executives, and she gets approval to send out an RFP to find an agency to do the redesign.
Sound familiar? It should. For more than 15 years, a company website has been necessary. Sure, websites have changed over the years as more and more people rely on the internet for information and to do research, and mobile devices have become pervasive. And so has the cycle of expensive redesigns every 3-5 years, on average. And here’s what that looks like:
Stop the insanity
The definition of insanity is the doing the same thing and expecting different results.
Maybe some people have accepted this cycle as inevitable. But I haven’t. Because I believe that if you start with purpose and content, you can create a website that will stand the test of time. Ultimately, people come to your website for the content, not to see what color it is or what cool feature your development team came up with in their latest hackathon. Yet, time and again, content is the last thing done during a website redesign. What if you got your content ready BEFORE the redesign?
Having a hard time picturing that? It might sound crazy, but it’s different, so you might get different results and break the redesign cycle once and for all. Here are 5 things you can do without knowing what the site will look like or what platform you’ll be using.
Prepare everyone to be writers
The web is everyone’s job now, but few are prepared for it. Writing for the web (or email or social media) is a skill that needs to be learned. And everyone who contributes to the website needs to understand the basics so that they can write more effectively. Bring a digital writing workshop to your company. The (small) investment will pay for itself in the long run for both the organization and the people who receive it. Better web content will lead to more revenue and donations while creating more efficiency for the staff. Staff get a new, useful skill that could change the way they approach their work.
Start with a domain and content model
Forget the current site content inventory or starting with an audit. Start with understanding the subject domain in which you work. Your website is one window into that world. Talk to your target audience and subject matter experts and map their world. Then create a content model based on which parts of your domain you are prepared to deliver.
Now you can audit the content you already have and evaluate competitors – against the content model instead of the quality or timeliness of existing content. You’ll be able to see where you have gaps, too much, or are the best source of information. Maybe you have the opportunity to fill a gap no one else is filling. Or you might find that you’ve got a bunch of information that isn’t important to your audience. It’s easier to shift your priorities – now and in the future – when you see how you fit into the bigger picture than when you are focused only on what your organization is doing at the moment.
Define your website goals
Your website is one of the most valuable and important tools you have to support your business goals and mission. How can it do its job without having a defined job to do? Give it a job description along with performance measurements, and don’t forget the ongoing support it needs to achieve its goals. Good website goals should:
- Be measurable
- Help your audience complete their tasks
- Give you a return on investment
- Help achieve business goals
Your goals are another set of criteria to help you prioritize where to focus resources, along with your domain and content models.
Create a site map
A site map is how you organize the information on your website. Your design and CMS should support the content and relationships you create outside of the interface, not dictate them. Focus on the content and how easy it is for typical site visitors to find it. Think about discoverability and findability. How things are organized makes a difference for humans and robots (you know, the ones who are indexing your site for search engines and aggregators).
Do some user research like top task analysis, card sorting, and usability testing to meet user expectations and stay away from the org chart and internal perceptions. Remember, this is not the only chance you have to get it right. But get to a point where research (not intuition) tells you most people will be able to easily find what they are looking for. Once the site is live, you can let analytics guide what tweaks need to be made for better usability.
Core model content production
With your models turned into a site map, you can now start designing your actual content. When you design your content from the inside-out, you focus on the core tasks your audience needs to accomplish. Then you can create content that is useful. By useful, I mean that it serves both the audience and the organization. The image here shows how the core model is set up. Each page has a primary audience, user tasks, business goals, and core content. This process gives context to the specific page by defining how people get to the page and what they might do after leaving this specific page. You can accomplish this through a series of content design workshops with stakeholders who help each other stay focused on the user.
Ready to go
Now you can find an agency or web developer to create a new website. OK, so you could probably get that RFP out after you define your domain and goals, but you can keep going while you go through the process of finding the right partner. Whether you have a (virtual) stack of copy ready to go when the design and CMS are ready, or you create your content in parallel with design and development, you’ll be farther ahead than ever before (and of your competitors). Add a plan to keep it fed and cared for, and you’ll never end up back where you started.
When you work on your content before starting a website redesign you get
- A website design RFP that is very specific about what needs to be built, leading to better proposals and discussions during the selection process
- Early buy-in from entire organization
- Better ROI on your website investment
Doesn’t that sound good? How will you approach your next redesign? Does the madness of constant redesign end now?