So, you hate your organization’s website and are desperate to redo it. Welcome to the club! In all of my work with nonprofit organizations I have encountered exactly one organization that was happy with their website. And that organization had just finished a redesign. Websites are one of those things that are really hard to get right—especially when you’re on a budget. Embarking on a redesign can be exciting, overwhelming and treacherous. Here are six tips for getting it right.
1. Figure out what you don’t want.
Before you start working with a designer, spend a little time articulating what you don’t like about your current website. This will help you avoid spending hours and dollars and ending up with something similar to what you’ve started with. (I’ve seen it happen!) For example, if your current site is too busy, acknowledging this up front can be helpful when you start talking about goals for the new site. If your team puts together a list of 10 goals, there’s a good chance the new site will be busy too.
Google Analytics can be a huge help here. Poke around in the behavior reports a bit and see how people have been using your site. You may find that there are whole sections of the site that don’t get any visitors. If this is the case, you may be able to eliminate them from the new site, or make those sections more accessible if you want people to view that content.
2. Figure out what you do want.
Spend some time articulating what you do want for your new site, and run this by other key folks within your organization to make sure you’re on the right track. In particular, try to push yourself to identify one to three key goals for the site, and keep it to that. A website can’t do 10 things well. It just can’t. So think about how your site can provide real value to your organization and focus on that. Your primary goal could be to get people to join your email list, take action, make a donation, etc.
3. Accept that your designer is not a mind reader.
Even though you might have a very clear idea of what you want, your designer won’t know what you’re looking for unless you tell her. So put your thoughts on paper and include links to lots of examples (ex: "I love the homepage email signup on XYZ website"). The more you articulate what you’re hoping to see, the more likely it is that the design will reflect that. There are an infinite number of ways to design a website, so don’t expect your designer to deliver without guidance.
4. Brace yourself for internal conflict, but try to navigate around it.
I’m sorry to say that redesigning a website is usually a rough, if not traumatic experience. Almost every redesign project suffers from too many cooks. Either that, or not enough people participate in the process, and folks end up feeling unhappy when the new site is rolled out. Try to anticipate issues that might arise during the process and figure out a way to combat them in advance. Sometimes a session with folks about what makes a good website, and setting realistic expectations can go a long way. It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to make everyone happy and you need to be ready to handle that.
5. Find a designer you can trust.
A quality designer can go a long way. If you think your organization might be particularly prone to internal conflicts about what the new site should look like, this might be even more important. In those cases it might be worth allocating more budget to the process so you can hire a company that handles the design and acts as a consultant during the process, helping you make decisions about which types of content make sense for your site, etc. Sometimes that kind of outside perspective can be invaluable.
If you don’t have the budget to hire a full-service web design firm, finding a good designer is still key. If you make the wrong choice here, your vision could be limited by the designer’s abilities. So, do your homework. When you’re choosing a designer make sure you get recommendations from other folks, look at their portfolio and check references. You want someone that has experience working with your back-end of choice (ex: WordPress), has good design taste, and is easy to work with.
Finally, keep in mind that you’re not alone on this one! If you find that you’re struggling with the process, reach out to a colleague at another organization and talk about how they handled their own redesign. Redesigning your website can be tough, but everybody goes through it at some point. And most of us end up with better, more user-friendly, more effective sites in the end.