Managing Your Website Redesign Project – 22 Point Checklist

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I know many of you are thinking it’s time to redesign your website, but you don’t know where to start or how to manage the project. Let me share my experience with you in hopes that it will make your website redesign process smooth and efficient.

After 11 months of hard planning and implementation, multiple website graphics and layout choices, and lots of coding (1,200 pages!), we launched the new-and-improved version of the Passion For Business website several years ago. Poor Aly, I think his fingers are whittled to the bone with all the website coding work he did. He got a much-deserved vacation after that launch!

We learned a lot along the way about managing a website redesign project and making sure it matched our business and marketing goals. Let me share that wisdom with you, in the hopes it will help make your own website redesign project run smooth.

The checklist below is written for you; you may be delegating pieces of this work to graphic designers, website designers, copywriters, SEO experts, or your administrative assistant. Make sure everyone knows what’s expected of them during each step in this checklist:

  1. First, know that this is going to be a long process, so find that extra bit of patience. It will pay off big time, trust me. There will be any number of times that you want to cut corners or give up an important feature that’s a pain to code. Stop. Breathe. Start again.
  2. Make sure you DO need and want to redesign your website. Not sure? Take this self-quiz: Is It Time To Redesign My Site?
  3. Write everything down – don’t trust your memory on something this important. Keep your ideas and your To Do list in a Project Plan file so everything is at your fingertips in one central location.
  4. Start the redesign process by asking the big questions: What are the goals of my business? What role(s) will my website have in reaching those goals? Who will visit my website and what do they need/want to find there? What is my business brand and image? Is it time to give my brand a facelift?
  5. Decide what content you need on the site, then organize that content into logical “buckets” so that it’s easy to design the menu/navigation structure, and easy for visitors to find what they’re looking for. Make a list of each individual page and file that needs to be on the site.
  6. Decide which extra features you need on your site: will you have a newsletter sign-up box, a free offer, sidebar advertisements, a blog, video files, audio files, social media, etc.?
  7. Design the graphical page layout to include your logo and business colors, making sure there is enough room on the page for sidebar advertisements, sign-up boxes, etc. This is the time when a good website designer can make this process easy.
  8. Remember, the reputation of your business relies on professionalism and a professional look — this isn’t the time to cut corners with do-it-yourself graphic work, logos, navigation, or website page layout. A good website designer can target your website graphics and layout to your audience, and can make it user-friendly. A poor website design will have people walking away from your site instead of sticking around. Read this blog post on How to Choose a Website Designer if you need more tips.
  9. While your website designer is working on some preliminary designs, it’s time for you to edit and/or write your website text. Take a look at all your existing pages: are they talking to the audience and helping them solve a problem or reach a goal? If you’re not good at copy writing, consider hiring a copywriter to help you with the text updates.
  10. While you’re busy writing, don’t forget SEO work to increase your rankings on search engines. Choose your keywords and make sure those keywords are in your text. Note: there’s more to SEO than putting your keywords in your text, but choosing and adding your keywords is the first step.
  11. Once you choose the website design that works best for your audience, your brand and your business goals, now it’s time to start coding. You have several options when coding your website: your website designer can code it for you, or you can use a platform like WordPress. Even if you use WordPress, there’s still a HUGE amount of coding to do, so if you are not deeply familiar with CSS or PHP, hire someone to do the coding for you. Typically you can find a website designer who does both the graphic design and the coding, or who works as a team with other professionals to get your site done.
  12. DO NOT code directly to your existing domain, overwriting your existing files. Create a “testing” folder to put new files in. Even whiz-kids can make mistakes, so create a duplicate site for testing before you make your new site live to the public. It let’s you build and test new pages as needed and will save you oodles of grief later.
  13. Make sure you code the SEO in the behind-the-scenes coding (tags) to help with your search engine rankings. Choose a website designer who has a lot of experience with SEO so that you can be assured this work is done correctly. Remember, there is more to SEO than the text and code on your website, but you  must do these two things correctly FIRST before other SEO work can be done.
  14. Once the site is done with the initial coding, TEST the website in all the standard browsers to make sure it’s compatible: Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari and Opera. Test it in several versions of these browsers as well; not everyone is using the current version of browser software. If you’re not sure which browsers your current website visitors are using, you can find this information in your Google Analytics statistics. (It’s under the Audience/Technology area of Google Analytics.)
  15. Test to see how your site looks on both PCs and Macs. (This is a good time to get your friends involved so you can see your new site on their browsers and machines.) Test on smart phones, tablets and laptops, including all mobile browsers. Make sure your new site works on ALL hardware platforms and screen sizes.
  16. After you do the testing, you’ll probably find that your site looks great in some browsers/machines and awful in others. This requires additional coding to test the browser version or screen size/resolution the visitor is using and write code to make the site look the same in all browsers. (Now you know why you pay a website designer to do this work! :))
  17. Test all links. Okay, so now you’ve got your final website design. It looks great in all browsers and machines, and the text and graphics are extraordinary. Now is the time to test all links (both the links in the menu/navigation and the links in the text). Make sure all links open to the appropriate page, file and/or external websites. Patience, my friend, do this slowly and properly. If you have bad links on your site, you’ll lose visitors and Google doesn’t like a site with a lot of bad links.
  18. Now test all forms. Sign up for your own newsletter, your own free offer, contact form, or any other form you have on your site, and make sure each form does exactly what it’s supposed to do. Sick of testing yet???  :)
  19. Now you’re ready to go live. But wait! I’m only going to say this once (loudly): BACK UP YOUR EXISTING WEBSITE and BLOG. Trust me. If you overwrite files and something blows up, you’ll be happy that you can easily put yourself back to the old site while you fix the problem.
  20. Take a deep breath, and upload your new website design to your hosting.
  21. Once it’s live, test again. All of it. Seriously.
  22. Tell your audience your site is live, invite feedback, and tell them if they find a problem with the site to please let you know about it. It’s great to have a lot of people checking out your new site to make sure there are no mistakes.

Congratulations, you’ve done it! Have a huge party to celebrate!  :)

(If I’ve missed any steps, please leave a comment and tell me about YOUR website project experience!)

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Category: Internet & Social Media Marketing, Managing Projects, Tasks & Time, Website Planning
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Who Owns Your Website?

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Recently I heard a story that bears repeating:

Several years ago, a well-established company had hired a website designer to create their website for them. After working with this graphic artist for several years, they decided to move to a new graphic artist (my colleague). At the same time, they decided to move to a new hosting company, so they simply copied their website files from the old hosting company and moved them to the new hosting company. After all, they owned the website, didn’t they?

The surprising answer is No. Since the previous graphic artist  and the client didn’t have a “work for hire” written agreement, many courts would say that the previous website designer (not the client) still owned the work. And “work for hire” agreements might not cover the copyright complications of both the graphics work done on behalf of the client, and the software coding work done.

It would seem to me that a fair resolution to this type of case would be to use the assumption that the website designer was doing work for you, and therefore you own the work. In the legal world, this may not be the case, as websites include both graphic work and software coding work. These two types of work are protected differently under copyright law.

You can read more about this type of situation here:

“Who Owns Your Web Site Anyway? The Surprising Truth…”

If you’ve hired a website designer to design your site, check your written contract. Make sure it clearly states that YOU own the website upon full payment to the designer. If you never had a written agreement with your designer (or if your current agreement does not have this clause in it), it’s time to re-negotiate with your designer. Get it in writing. This is no time for verbal agreements.

When we ran a website design firm, our Passion For Business website design contracts clearly stated that the client owned the copyrights to the work we did for them. There are a few places where this may not apply: if you purchase stock photography or graphics for your site, then the original artist owns the copyright, and if you purchase a theme (like a WordPress theme), the theme designer still owns the copyright to their design work. Most stock photo and theme websites will grant you a license to use the photo/artwork, but will not give you the full copyright to the work. (This is also the case if you use plugins for your site/blog. The original designer/coder of those retains the copyright.)

If you feel awkward or embarrassed to speak with your website designer and ask for this in writing, then you are putting your business success in jeopardy. Don’t delay. Take care of this immediately.

What happened to my colleague in the above situation? She had to completely re-design her client’s website to comply with copyright law. It was good news for her: a nice revenue stream and a new, ongoing graphic design relationship with the client. It was bad news for the client: they had to pay for a brand new website design or risk being sued by the previous graphic designer. In the end, the client got a better website than they had before, but at the cost of a lot of time, money and frustration.

Read the companion blog post: Has Your Website Designer Disappeared? for tips on what information you need to get from your website designer to protect your website.

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Category: Website Planning
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Top 10 Website Mistakes: Are YOU Making Them?

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Although personal and business websites have been in existence for more than 10 years, I’m still seeing small business owners make the same mistakes on their websites. Here’s a list of the ones that will drive people away from your site and cause you to lose business (and your reputation as a professional business person).

  1. “Under construction” signs on your site pages. Websites are intended to be Living Documents. They are supposed to change and grow. Putting an “under construction” sign on your website marks you as an amateur. If your site isn’t ready to show to the public, don’t publish it to a public location.
  2. Visitor counters. Visitors generally don’t care how many other people have visited your site. If the visitor counter shows a low number, that can be a psychological turn-off to people; if it’s too high, people might believe that you’ve forged the number. Take the visitor counter off your site and use your website statistics to get a more accurate assessment of the people visiting your site. If your hosting company doesn’t provide good statistics, get a new hosting company or consider using Google Analytics. Note: Google Analytics won’t show you every statistic in relationship to your site. For instance, it won’t show you have many search engine “bots” (spiders) have crawled your site. But what it does show you is great detail about other things that really matter.
  3. Lack of copyright statements. Everything you write, and your website design itself, is copyright-able. Make sure you include copyright statements on every page, and update the year in the copyright statement as appropriate. Nothing screams “not-up-to-date” like having a copyright statement from 1997 on your site. While you’re at it, make sure you submit your site to the Copyright Office for your country. In the USA, you can visit the Copyright Office website here.
  4. Overuse of technology. There are some really great, cool and wild techie things you can program into your website. But if they are going to distract the visitor from your message, or if they’re going to slow down the loading of your page, ditch the extra technology in favor of simplicity. This includes large Flash shows when your site opens, animated graphics and other large graphics, as well as scrolling text and audio that comes on as soon as the person hits your website. Recent surveys show that people crave simplicity and easy navigation in sites.
  5. Passive verbs. Use active verbs and active sentences when writing your site’s copy. Active verbs are powerful and lend energy to your site. Need to brush up on using active verbs? Check out the Perdue site.
  6. Long sentences. When people read long sentences, they have to keep the first part of the sentence in their mind when reading the last part. People are easily distracted (especially while surfing the web). Help your visitors by keeping your sentences short and crisp.
  7. Long pages. Studies show that most people will not read a long page of text off of their computer monitor. They’ll either print it, or they’ll scan it looking for major topics and bullet points. Keep your pages short. If you have a lot to say, consider creating a series of pages that explain your topic, with good navigation between each page. Also, since people DO print web pages to read later, make sure your contact information is at the bottom of each page. Hint: print some of the pages from your website to see if they print properly.
  8. Not identifying the benefits of your products or services. People make purchases for two reasons: to get rid of pain or to get pleasure. People want to know how your products and services will help them with their specific pain/pleasure situation. Instead of telling them that your widgets are made from steel and are 3 inches across, tell them that your widgets will stop their faucets from leaking for a lifetime, thus reducing stress and annoyance.
  9. Forgetting to ask the visitor to do something. In marketing, this is known as a Call To Action. Tell your visitors what you want them to do next. Sign up for my newsletter. Call me. Order today.
  10. Believing in “build it and they will come.” It might have worked in the movie Field Of Dreams, but the reality of internet marketing is: build it, MARKET it, and they will come. Once you’ve built your website you have to tell people about it. Think of your website the same way you’d think of a box of brochures: if you don’t get them into the hands of people, they’re not worth the money you spent to create them. Use internet marketing techniques, including search engine optimization, to increase the traffic on your site.

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Category: Website Planning
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