I love helping people solidly research their current website prior to a redesign so that there is a strategic plan in place first. This excites me as a trained statistician!
I was recently talking with a prospective client who is in desperate need of a new website for multiple reasons. They’re common ones such as the content being:
- difficult to find
- difficult to be updated
- inconsistently styled
- unnecessarily spread across multiple websites.
That’s a whole lot of work right there. Furthermore, there is currently no quantitative data on how the site is currently being used.
Whilst one could launch straight into designing a beautiful website, without a strategic plan the result is unlikely to be ideal. My philosophy is to design based on thorough research, audited content and clearly defined goals including ascertaining the key actions people wish to take when visiting the website and making that as straightforward as possible for them.
It always amazes me how many clients have Google Analytics running, but apart from checking overall visitor statistics, most don’t delve any further than that. Some leave it up to consultants to provide reports to them (we do this for some of our clients) and others have it on their list of things to learn “one day”.
Google Analytics is incredibly powerful and insightful for quantitative research, it can help you:
- set specific goals to reach (and then assess them) – this won’t be the same figures for everyone (it could be sales, inquiry form completions, newsletter subscriptions, page impressions etc)
- check your assumptions about what people want and need from your website
- try out quantitative experiments (such as “A/B testing”) to see what works best for your visitors
- improve your website iteratively in small incremental ways, rather than just for complete site redesigns
Qualitative research is also incredibly important before a redesign. This includes things such as:
- Documenting all the reasons why you are undertaking a redesign (some of these may not be immediately obvious) and your specific goals. It can help having an outsider ask you lots of questions to uncover them.
- Getting feedback from your staff/team/readers/visitors/community about what works well for them, and what doesn’t. This takes time to get good results: people are often in a rush and aren’t always good at articulating challenges. Synthesizing this also takes time and skill.
- Assessing your current content: what’s missing, what’s outdated, what’s unnecessary, what’s popular, what’s confusing, what’s hard to find, what’s the best way to organize this content… For large organizations, or ones with a lot of legacy content, this can be a fairly lengthy job but worth the investment.
- Testing key actions people take on your website: what’s confusing, what’s frustrating, what’s hard to do. Simple changes can have large results, for example improving forms can immediately impact sales.
- Summarizing all the researched information into a strategic document which will inform the design process and form a reference document for the future.
Research sounds and feels daunting. It’s certainly not as fun as installing a new theme for your website and feeling happy that the site looks prettier, or getting a new logo designed which looks more modern.
Whether this process is undertaken in-house or by an external consultant (such as by a design agency), this is not a process to be rushed through: you will get better results with a well-researched strategic plan.
How do you feel about website research? Does it scare you or interest you? Do you agree that it will get you better initial – and ongoing – results?