One of the most common conversations we have with potential clients is about their website.
Whether they’re looking to simply spruce up the content, re-orient the website within their overall CRM & content marketing approach, or overhaul the whole shebang as part of a broader rebranding initiative, the website is almost always a central part of the discussion — and with good reason.
With all the chatter in recent years about the rise of social networks as the platforms where the world congregates, there was a moment in time when it appeared that websites may have passed their best-before date. After all, why need a website when all the eyeballs are on Instagram and Facebook?
Well, the last couple of years of scandals at the various social networks have tilted the conversation more towards taking a balanced, multi-faceted approach to a brand’s online presence. The role of a website within this broader digital ecosystem has in many ways never been more important. Like with anything, the magic is in the balancing act of various channels, not in over-indexing in any one area for long.
So, with this in mind, I thought I’d take this opportunity to share Stack Creative’s philosophy and approach to how to evaluate the role your website has in your company’s marketing efforts — as well as all the factors that go into a successful website, which stretch well outside the bounds of the website itself.
Your Website is Everything
Your website encapsulates your brand.
Your website tells the world who you are, what you do, and why they should care.
Your website is your company’s always-on place of digital authority.
Your website synthesizes your brand strategy with your marketing strategy with your content strategy with your social/CRM strategy, in a way that no other single platform does as equally.
Your website is the most crucial area of overlap between 1) providing key information and actions to your users or customers while 2) infusing the experience with the brand’s visual and verbal identity in order to make them feel something emotionally while 3) optimizing for conversion and search and 4) acting as the point that all communications, campaigns, TV spots, pre-rolls, social ads, or emails point towards.
Your website is the first thing you think of when you embark upon a rebrand, and it’s the most distressing ongoing reminder when it no longer accurately represents who you are and what you do.
And above all else, your website is never finished. Instead of viewing it as a set-it-and-forget-it initiative, it’s a perfect arena for continual improvements over time, evolving as your business does and as your customers’ needs change.
So, with that established — how could we better approach a website redesign project, to help address any current paint points to the experience plus set your business or brand up for greater success over the long haul?
Approaching a Website Rebuild
If you’re considering taking a fresh look at your website, there are three key considerations that will greatly increase the chances of a successful project:
Take the Long View
We get it: Chances are, if you’re thinking about redoing your website, it’s likely because it is either is no longer an accurate representation of your company, it no longer answers your key customers’ needs, or it’s not technologically up to snuff — or all three.
We encourage you to look at your website as an always-on “single source of truth” for your brand or company, and to take the steps to both rebuild it in the short term and tend to it over time.
It’s Not Just Design and Development
The overlapping fields of brand, marketing & content strategy, plus the creative and technical fields of copywriting, design, development, and SEO, are all crucial to a website’s success.
But the business success of a website is not dependent on the brass tacks of the design or code itself.
Rather, it depends on unleashing an accurate and meaningful message that uses language real people use within a thoughtful and engaging design that truly represents your company in a way that customers will care about with content and an experience that’s both creatively produced and gradually updated over time.
It takes time, reflection, and a joined-up effort across agency and client teams to balance all these factors. But doing so provides the twin benefit of not only leading to a better website, but a clearer crystallization of the brand, messaging, services, or products while we’re at it.
Rome Wasn’t Built In A Day — Or In Only One Way
There are many different pathways a website redesign project can take, but the overriding key principle is to think first, act second.
We believe that a meaningful roadmapping phase — focused on mapping out a project plan at the same time as key discussions on features and requirements are taking place — allows both client and agency to not only know where we’re going, but to also create a tangible plan that gives the various stages the time they need, while ultimately meeting your business’ needs — for launch day and beyond.
This can be tough when time is ticking, and the need is pressing. But there are virtually endless different ways that a website project can be approached, which allows us to come up with the best plan that works to everyone’s advantage.
If time is the most pressing factor, then a phased approach can work wonders, addressing the core needs first and growing the site with intentionality over time. If a grand reveal that requires more certainty around the features and messaging before launch is the top priority, then a slower, more considered method would best answer that ask.
Truthfully, every web project falls somewhere between these two extremes. There are many benefits and trade-offs between the “waterfall” and “agile” methods of project management when it comes to a website, which is why this Roadmapping phase is such a key part of the process. We don’t believe in process dogma; we believe in coming up with the right approach for you.
It’s also worth mentioning that not every answer can be discovered in the up-front stage, as some things simply requiring diving into it to figure out. But taking a little bit of time to plan out the broad strokes and key needs tends to go a very long way to establishing not just what we need the site to do — but how we’ll get there, in a way that answers business, user, and project needs.
Taking the Next Step
The first and most important step in evaluating a website redesign is to take the bigger-picture view of what the business and marketing goals are for the future, in tandem with any internal or external complaints or issues with the current build.
The higher-level, the better, as the website should be created to truly serve business goals (e.g. increased leads or sales), not just site-specific metrics without any meaningful context (e.g. pageview targets in isolation of other factors).
The reason why, is that scoping a website build is as much oriented around evaluating and evolving your inbound and outbound efforts to drive the right customers or users to your site, and evaluating if the current messaging is accurate and if the planned tactics can support that is a crucial up-front decision point. A website is only as successful as the elements that point towards it, and it’s impossible to treat it as a standalone project without this bigger picture in mind
While the features, underlying technologies, CMS choices, and actual development of a website are all important stages and elements, they ultimately only exist to service the broader business and user goals for the site. By evaluating them alongside a trusted partner, you’ll set your business up for so much more success than if it’s simply viewed as a line item to be expensed.
Let’s start with why, and build from there — one goal, feature, and step at a time.
Stuart Thursby is the Founder & Creative Director of Stack Creative, based in Toronto, Canada.
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