You’ve made the decision – your old website has to go. Maybe it’s outdated, confusing, dysfunctional or just plain ugly. Whatever the reason, your website is not meeting your needs and is standing in the way of taking your business or organization to the next level.
So what next?
Before you take the leap to a new website design, structure and/or content management system, there are a few things you can do to make sure your new site will be as strong as possible. Now is the time to examine the way your site presents its content to make sure it’s both relevant to your site visitors and consistent with your business goals.
Coming up with a fresh design or installing a new content management system doesn’t automatically guarantee that the content will be presented in an intuitive way. Implementing a fresh design without giving some significant thought to the organization of the actual content of the site can be a costly mistake – a new look or a new system is not a fix for a poorly-structured website with boring content!
The following is a list of tools and tasks to help you prepare your website for a fresh start. I’ll be unwrapping them more in future blog posts, but this is a rough guide to get you started. And don’t panic – you don’t need to do all these things yourself. In most cases, you will be hiring professionals to carry out comprehensive information architecture as part of a website re-design and development. But some careful planning at the beginning of the process can help you achieve great returns on your investment.
Part One – What Do We Have Here Anyway?
Website Metrics (How is the website presently being used?)
How will you know what to change if you don’t know where the problems are? We always recommend setting up a Google Analytics account as soon as possible to begin tracking website metrics and provide useful data for site usability.
Detailed Site Audit (What is currently on the site?)
This is a comprehensive inventory of all site content. This inventory should list the filename, type and URL of every page, as well as images and any multimedia content. It’s helpful to assign pages unique ID’s that will correspond to the pages location on the Site Map.
Part Two – What Do We Need To Have On the Site?
Interviews (How are people using the site?)
Simply asking people (both inside and outside your organization) how they use the site and what kind of feedback they have on it will give you a great deal of information. Be sure to ask about what content they regularly look for, what sorts of tasks they carry out on the site and what kind of features they would like to see in the future.
User Profiles (Who is the target audience?)
A user profile or persona is a realistic (but likely fictional) example of a target audience member. We recommend the creation of 3-4 user profiles representing you typical website users. This will allow a better understanding the user process and put a typical inquiry into context.
Environmental Scan (What is out there already?)
Doing some research on what similar organizations are doing with their websites – finding out what works and what doesn’t – can be a very valuable exercise.
Part Three – (Re)Organizing the Content
Content Types/Data Modeling
Data modeling is a review of your site’s content, broken down into data types with detailed content information. Gather information for “Content”, “Name”, “Title”, “Body”, suggested fields, and publication workflow defaults. This is also a good time to establish naming conventions.
There are many firms that specialize in usability testing. Card sorting, for example, is a quick, inexpensive, and reliable method, which serves as input into your information design process. Card sorting generates an overall structure for your information, as well as suggestions for navigation, menus and possible taxonomies.
A sitemap (or site index) is a representation of the architecture of a web site. Card sorting can help organize content in a logical and user-friendly manner.
Part Four – Making Things Better
Editing Website Copy
How does the current site copy read? Does the personality match your organization’s identity? Would the text benefit from a professional copywriter’s touch? Does it need to be translated into other languages?
Ensure that site images and graphics are good quality, well-chosen, and meaningful, as well as attractively cropped and compressed for web.
Part Five – Working With Your Design and Development Company
Establish Requirements/Features for the CMS
Once you know what the goal for the website is, it’s time to choose an appropriate feature set. With Drupal it’s often not necessary to create customized features, as available functionality can be configured in many different ways. Working with a vendor during this process can help you plan a website that meets your organization’s budget, present and future needs.
Content Migration Plan
Will you export data from your old site? Can existing import modules be used to import? Is it possible to move the content using the MySQL command line? Or will a summer intern cut and paste the site to its new home?
Schedule a Website Review
On an annual or semi-annual basis, plan to review and compare website metrics to look for ways to improve the way content is organized and presented. Consider doing another round of usability testing.
Keep up to date with the CMS technology, security updates and new features. Work with a firm to optimize website performance and SEO.