How to Prepare for a Small Business Website Redesign

So you’ve been saddled with trying to get your company’s website redesigned. Can be a bit overwhelming, right? How do you know what you’re supposed to know without having to become an expert yourself? How can you be sure you’re not going to be taken advantage of? What features are crucial and which ones are nice-to-haves? Okay, take a deep breath. There is a lot to cover, but it’s really no where near as bad as it could be.

First things first, why are you redesigning your site?

You may state the obvious, “I want it to bring in more sales!” Or “I need to promote a music festival!” Or my favorite, “I don’t even know, but it’s super old and we really need to update the look.” Look, I can’t even tell you how many decade old websites I’ve had the pleasure of updating. It’s a thing. And these are all good answers because they establish a need and a goal. This part may seem tedious, but whatever designer you hire is going to ask you exactly this. Why? Because they need to know how they are going to make you happy, and the only way they can do that is if they have a tangible goal. Outlined and in black and white. It’s also what will show that the terms of a contract have been fulfilled. Also super important.

What are you bringing over from your current website?

Let’s take a look at what you’ve got going on right now. Do you have an about page with old team members on it who have moved on? What about expired products or services? Do you have documents that need to be updated? Product pricing charts, spec charts, or brochures?

What about your tried and true content? What do you have on your site that’s been working great? Has anything been working great? This could even be just a page you constantly refer to – even if it’s your Contact page. Speaking of your Contact page, how does it look? Your phone, email, fax (fax? who still uses a fax? OK, I do…), your social media – does that look good? And if you have forms on your site, like a contact form, who does it go to? Basically you want to roll through your current site and take an inventory of how your content looks; what needs to be updated and what do you want to keep. Your designer is going to need to know what is being brought over so they can take the type of content into consideration when they do their style guides. You don’t have to be perfect here, but they are going to need to know if they will be providing layouts for spec sheets versus blog posts – or both! Don’t get overwhelmed if you have a lot of content, or even a little but are short for time. Really what the designer needs is just an idea of what they are working with so they can provide you with something you’ll be able to move forward with. And one last thing, if you find you have a ton of content that needs updating, go ahead and bring it over to the new site. A website is never complete. It’s like a living, breathing document – it will ALWAYS be changing. So if sorting through content is holding you back, just bring it over or you’ll never get started.

Who are your competitors (or similar businesses) in your area?

Now the fun part – we get to be spies! You know who your competitors are – even if you’re a church and your goal is to reach more potential parishioners, you know who other local or national churches who are doing something cool, or have methods you admire. Now let’s get snooping! Check out the other sites – are they all dated? Is one using some cool web tricks?

You’re going to want to record the following for your designer: Company Names, Web Addresses, and a short list of the things you admire/hate on their site. Try not to pull more than 5 things per entity. Your designer is looking for what you like and dislike with this list. What you’re actually doing is building your own style preferences here, while also giving your designer a leg up when it comes to beating out what the other guys are doing! Can a designer take care of this? Sure – but we may end up focusing on the wrong people. At the end of the day, you know your business far better than we ever could, so a list like this is just beyond helpful!

Take Stock of Where You’re at Now

It’s time to figure out how your current site is doing in Google. This, by the way, a designer can totally do for you, but you may have to grant them access – which means finding your usernames and passwords for your hosting company.

You’re going to want to know what your analytics look like. This means your site’s traffic, Alexa ranking, what are your top keywords, etc. You can get most of these by visiting these two sites:

  • Alexa Ranking: http://www.alexa.com/siteinfo
    Here you can see (without a login) how your site is doing compared to all the websites in teh world. More than likely your site will be ranked in the millions. #1 at the time of this writing is Google, #2 is YouTube, and #3 is Facebook. To give you an idea, creationdepot.com is (as of January 2018) ranked at 1,973,873 globally, and 270,205 within the United States. If you never update your site, is it quite possible that your site doesn’t have a US ranking at all. Don’t fret, it just means you never change up your website, something you should do at least quarterly – even if it’s just sending out holiday greetings on your blog!
  • Site Rankings via Google Analytics or CPanel/Hosting Company
    This one can be a bit tricky if you’re no-tech/low-tech. Most likely your hosting company uses a piece of software called “CPanel” – short for control panel – as a user interface for interacting with your hosting package. If you have it, you should be able to get to it by typing in your domain name /cpanel (i.e. yourdomainname.com/cpanel) Now even if they don’t, they most likely have some sort of site analytics software, you just may have to browse through their options.

    Or, if you know you have Google Analytics installed, that would be preferable as they are more the industry standard (and can give you access to a lot more Google-centric information!). Either way, grab your stats for the last 30 days. What you’re trying to do is establish a snapshot in time of where your current site stands. This will give you something to compare against after the new site has been launched. Specifically, you’re looking for how many visitors come to your site, and what keywords are they searching for to get to your site. Those two things alone are the top indicators of your site’s success with regard to traffic.

Let’s Talk Looks!

While this is most definitely the job of the web designer or agency you hire, make sure to come to the table with an idea of what you like (you’ll have an idea of this from our competition spy exercise above). What you’re trying to do here is give the designer a sense of your style, or the style you want your site to convey.

Different industries tend to have different design styles. To give you an idea, if you’re in the gaming industry you’re probably looking more at a site that has a lot of design gimmicks in it such as parallax scrolling, loud graphics, fly out menus, etc. If you’re more of a corporate business that may work with a kind of dry or hard to convey topic like logistics, the site may be more stiff. You may be looking at a more neutral color palette, with generic stock photography. Hopefully they can make it a little more exciting than that, but you get the idea. Different industries generally lend themselves to different design styles.

You’re going to want to bring the following to the table:

  • A list of sites you find easy to use – doesn’t have to be in your industry
  • Colors
  • Fonts
  • Site functionalities/features
    • sticky menu
    • modal (in-page pop up) windows
    • login/password protected part of the site

Finally, Timeline and Budget

These last two items. timeline and budget are vital to have worked out before you ever talk to a web designer. Sure you can ask them to give you an estimate/quote without telling them the budget, but your quotes will be all over the place, guaranteed. Getting a quote from a designer or agency is a bit like trying to buy a mattress. The baseline and overhead costs are different for each firm, so your prices are going to be based on different foundations. Some firms have more experienced developers or designers, some hire overseas help (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing if done with integrity), and some are just out to see how much they can get out of you. So expect your quotes to be on a wide range. When you give them all a budget to work within, most will stick to the max end of that budget and give you a list of what you will get for that. By giving them all your price, you now have a baseline by which to compare them each against one another. For $10,000 company A can give you the world, but they haven’t been in business very long and their staff aren’t that experienced. Company B also will do the site for $10k, but has a quicker turnaround time and an extensive portfolio.

Speaking of turnaround time, you really need to be sure to set the designer’s expectations here. Yes there is a bit of a bare minimum time needed depending on what you’re trying to do, but you have goals and deadlines to meet as well. I generally estimate 6 weeks for a basic site – this includes back and forth, multiple designs and development/coding. That being said, if you have an event coming up, yearly promotions, a product launch, know you’re going to be pitching an important client, or even if you have got to get this thing billed in this fiscal year for budgetary reasons – these are all things you have to tell your designer as early in the production period as you possibly can. They have things they have to work around themselves, including overhead, a project board, vacations, etc. When you’re comparing contracts, being able to complete the site within a certain time frame may be an important thing to you. Make sure you ask for a milestone schedule or a calendar, so you have an idea of when you can go live. And then throw that out the window. Okay not really, but realize there are a million things that can change that schedule and it will never go according to plan. One thing with a website redesign is both sides have got to be flexible. Have goals to shoot for, otherwise you’ll never be able to plan, but something, something, will happen that throws that off.

Wrapping Up

And that about does it. Jumping into a website redesign, small business or large, isn’t a simple thing. It’s completely worth it though. And once you as the customer get the contract settled and your content to the designer/agency, you pretty much need to just step aside and let the magic happen. You’ll be provided with some designs to choose from. Make your comments. They’ll make revisions. You’ll make comments again, and they’ll provide finals. Approve the finals and they’ll create code. Once you approve that code, the site goes live. Then you’re set for another ten years.