Having worked with thousands of schools over the last 20 years to design and build their school websites, we have gained a wealth of experience on the best practice techniques for a successful and enjoyable website project.
Following our own recent website redesign project, we thought we’d share our top tips for achieving success.
Get buy in early on
As with any new project that’s going to use up precious resources and cost money, it’s important to get approval to go ahead and get buy in from the key stakeholders involved.
From the outset we set clear goals and established what we wanted to achieve from our new website. Our existing website just wasn’t going to support our future plans, so everyone was in agreement that it was time for a change.
Finalise the branding
As part of our project, we wanted to refresh our brand – giving it a modern, bolder look that aligned with the company we are today. A website project can’t usually be started until the branding is finalised as the look and feel of the logo and colours will play a huge part in the overall design. Our designer sent over concept visuals for the logo and colour palettes, then took onboard feedback to mould them into the final approved artwork. This has now been transferred into our brand guidelines, stationery, social media and more, for a fully cohesive brand refresh.
Create the sitemap
Once we agreed the new brand, we started work on the sitemap so we knew how many pages we’d have to accommodate on the new website. We mapped out our current pages and looked at what we wanted to keep, change or delete. To help make this easier, we used visitor information and Google Analytics to make sure we weren’t deleting anything that was ranking well for SEO or had high traffic volumes.
We then mapped out the new structure into an Excel document, making sure we incorporated all the existing pages we were keeping and any new pages we wanted to add. We always recommend making sure information is accessible within three clicks and that you keep top-level menu items to a maximum of 5-6 options for usability. The sitemap information is essential for design and content creation.
Once we had planned the new sitemap, we looked at any pages which would no longer be used or would have a new URL. We mapped them from old to new so we knew which redirects would need to be put in place once the new site was launched. This ensured any pages that no longer exist won’t result in a 404 error and the visitor will find the latest relevant information they require, no matter where the link used has originated from.
Plan the content first
It may seem strange to look at the content before the design, but we wanted to look at the information we wanted to include on each key page before we designed them. This made it easier for the designer to plan the layouts and functionality for the page. We also considered the user journey at each step of the process to make sure that we created a website with the best user experience.
Consider your audience
Once we had a good idea of the sitemap and the elements we needed to include on each page, the designer got to work on creating visuals for the website. Using the new branding, imagery and our draft page layouts, he started to bring the new site to life. He added simple animations to some elements to highlight how they would function on the page and liaised with the developer to see how these would work responsively.
The design of a website should keep visitors engaged, providing them with the information they need as quickly and easily as possible.
Don’t wait to write the content
In our experience, content is often the stage of a new website project where it stalls. Why? Because it’s easy to focus on how it looks and forget to think about what information will be important to the user. Writing content can take a fair amount of time, especially if you’re looking to audit your existing information, rewrite all of your pages and/or get input from others.
However, the content on the page is what helps to engage with people, and is the primary reason why people will find your website organically (i.e. without paying for website traffic) on search engines.
We wrote the content simultaneously while the site was being designed and built. This gave us the opportunity to tweak the layouts and increase/decrease word count so it looked great on the page as well as engaging to read.
We also optimised each page for Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) by planning the keywords we wanted to use and including meta titles, meta descriptions, structured URLs and internal linking.
We knew we wanted to refresh all of our content so by working on this while the site was being built, we were able to speed up the overall process by several weeks.
Make time for testing
You want to ensure you allow time for testing the new site before it’s launched. We dedicated time and resources to checking all the links worked and page layouts were as we wanted prior to launch. We also shared a link to the development site with all staff before it was launched to get their help with checking through the site.
Many people rush this stage to get their new website live as soon as possible, but we recommend allowing time for testing to get it right first time.
The key to any successful project is communication. Just like we do with our customers during a website redesign project, we had a weekly call to update on where we were up to and discuss what was left to do. We were also able to re-prioritise where necessary to keep the project moving.
We’re thrilled with our new website and, by following our own tried and tested methods, we were able to successfully complete the project on time, to budget and to specification. We hope these tips help you for your next website redesign project. Please get in touch if you want to discuss your ideas or would like a free consultation.