What should your new website do*
(*To get what you want, you have to know what you want)
Earlier, I talked about some of the tell-tale symptoms of needing a new website. There’s never seems to be a “right time” to replace a site (life goes on with or without the internet), and to make it harder senior level staff often aren’t willing to accept the need for a change. Yes, they do have a better line of site over the financials, but they’re also more remote from customer communications. If anyone’s going to know the time is right, it’s you. This means there’s a bit of persuading to do.
If you’re confident that it’s time for a digital revamp, then you need to work out what the new site could be like. You’ll be doing yourself a massive favour: it’s good to alert other people to problems, but infinitely better to offer a solution. Don’t worry about going into loads of detail, just have an idea.
Here are the 5 questions to ask when working out what sort of website you want:
- What’s the purpose of the site?
- What kind of structure could it have?
- Which additional features/ functions would be helpful?
- What could it look like?
- Will the site meet our future customers’ needs?
(Just so you know – I’d normally go into a lot more detail on each of these but with technology and best practice changing so fast, it makes more sense to provide these as a check list with quick explanations for each question.)
Why do you have a website? It’s a difficult question to answer. Believe it or not, it’s not just because everyone else has one. Weirdly, it seems you have to have a presence in the virtual world before strangers to take you seriously in the real world. No website suggests no company, and no one will take the time to contact you if they can’t find any info online.
Ask yourself this: should our business operate along side the internet, with the internet or because of the internet? Depending on your answer you’ll have an idea of how important the site is and therefore what its purpose should be. (Answer one: you’re after a presence/ portfolio site, answer two: your site’s a secondary shop front, answer 3: your website is your shop. If you can’t sell online, you won’t at all.)
Now you know what you’re there to do. So who are you here to serve? Businesses, governments, the public, or a mixture of all three? Remember that your website is for everyone and it’ll be visited by people on totally different continents who may or may not be potential customers. This doesn’t matter; you need to make sure that everyone can use it, but that it appeals to your customers the most.
2) The structure
I love information architecture and usability, but I also know I’m in a tiny minority. You don’t need to worry yourself with site maps and wire frames, unless you too are a fan and have experience with it. Just focus on the parts and the structure will work itself out.
Knowing why you have a website will help you understand what it should do and what information it should contain. Look at the pages that are on the site (e.g. “about us”, “our values”). Is there anything extra that you want or need to say? Using your current site as a guide, write a list of all the top level information you want to communicate on the site. Highlight where your current site is lacking: this will show you the state of your online presence and where it needs work, helping to persuade the decision makers.
3) Features & functions
Depending on the type of information (text, images, videos, interactive tools), the amount of information and the kinds of things people will do on the site you can decide on different sizes and styles of sites.
It’s impossible to cover all the different types, sizes or styles of site out there but here’s a rough guide to the different scales:
- one page website (link)
- a company portfolio
- an online catalogue
- a multi-product corporate website
Using the list from step two, you can work out what size of site you need. Remember that less is often more- don’t make it bigger than it has to be. You also need to think about the kinds of functions the site would have. I’ve put down a few examples below to help:
- image gallery
- intro video
- case study feature
- downloads section
- blog or social media feed
- map (local or national)
- branch finder
- interactive feature
Pick the top top three that your site doesn’t already have, and focus on adding these this time round. Also, if you’ve got any to add to this list, feel free to add these in a comment below.
4) The “look”
This is the first thing any potential customer/ employee/ supplier will notice so it’s essential your site looks and feels right. We’re talking about more than just design; we’re talking about the entire user experience. This relies on the layout, a clear hierarchy of information (from page titles, to headlines, to summaries, to content), an easy to follow navigation, and then those final touches that subconsciously connect people to your brand.
Bear in mind that you might not need an entirely new website. It’s perfectly possible to refurbish your current one, keeping the same structure and content but improving the page design (aka a” reskin”. This can be useful if all you’re doing is changing the brand). As long as the user experience is a positive one (an easy to use site suggests a good customer service), then the refresh can be as large or small as you want.
5) The future
The final stage is to think about the future. Up until now we’ve thought about what the things your website needs right now but these are bound to change in the future. It could be you’ll need a bigger site as you produce more content and your company grows. Likewise, you might find updating your site becomes too laborious as business picks up and you have less time to promote yourself. We need to consider both scenarios and plan for each one.
Technology IS changing, faster than ever before. By the end of 2011 most people in the US and EU 5 will have smartphones, not to mention tablet devices. The internet is no longer on your desk and websites will need to cope with thousands of different devices accessing them, each with their own quirks. If your customer is sophisticated or more likely to adopt these technologies early on, then think about what they’ll be doing in 2 years time, let alone now. The changeover to mobile devices is predicted to happen within the next 18 months, so save yourself some hassle and build a site that works now. Design your new site to outlast its predecessor.
Finally, remember that the best move is to be flexible. No one can guarantee the future; all you can do is prepare for change. A new site, properly coded and tested from scratch will give you the extra flexibility of growing, changing and adding bits on. You need to remember that nothing online is fixed, that it’s always in beta, and everything you do can be a tried out first. A good website from a good designer/ agency can constantly be added to, and evolved. Experiment with one form of social media, and if it doesn’t yield results try something else. Never stop trying to find what works for you and your company, and you’ll always be ready.
How to persuade your boss to revamp the website: