Make Your Next Website Your Best Website

“Tips for Successfully Managing a Website Redesign” by Phil Edelstein (WebsiteMagazine.com, February 2011). At this point there are plenty of organizations that are on their second, third or maybe even fourth iteration of their website. What’s interesting is that there still seems to be a noticeable number who are not satisfied with the results they are getting. This article on Website Magazine makes a number of good points. However, I’d like to take a moment to supplement and refine Phil’s recommendations.

First, let’s start with the idea of redesign itself. To simplify what is now such an essential tool to be just a matter of “design” is understating the context and significance of the matter. While I’m certainly not going to belittle the skills and education of my design colleagues and friends, developing an effective iproperty in 2011 takes much more than attractive aesthetics. I would suggest using a term like “re-launch” or “re-architecting” over the misleading “redesign”.

Once you have embraced that shift in mindset, inventory your business needs, expectations and short and long term objectives. Phil suggest you figure out what you want. Frankly, I’m not a fan of wants. There are plenty of organizations that got what they wanted but not what they needed. I firmly believe the goal is to figure out what you need.  Remember, this next investment isn’t just about design. This means that your resources—both on your internal team, as well as anyone from the outside you might engage—should be capable of defining and discussing business needs. It is also ideal that you have some internal discussion and agreement about needs before you reach out to anyone else. The list you compile will serve you well when you’re building your team.

However, don’t do too much before you pull in a vendor. Ideally the vendor you hire should be able to add value by being both objective as well as offering new ideas. They shouldn’t just listen and take notes (i.e., about your wants). They should be able to participate and help you move past wants and define your needs. The better your business needs are understood and universally agreed upon, the more likely they are to be met. There’s no panacea here other than communication and collaboration. This step is essential so don’t focus on how long it takes. Focus on getting it right, whether that’s two weeks or two months.

For the sake of brevity, I’m going to skip over the idea of wireframes and how that fits into the process prior to actual design. I will say, yes do wireframe. Even if they are sketches on the back of the proverbial envelope. Nowhere is it written that wireframes have to be formalized in Visio or a similar tool. The point is to take your needs and render them visually without being distracted by a formal design. Sure, there are some great tools for testing the actual interactions but let’s not go there today.

At some point things will progress and you’ll be ready to discuss and define the design slice. Some of you might scold me for saying this but don’t be afraid to look at the gazillion templates and themes that are already available. I’m not suggesting you purchase some generic off the shelf design. I agree that brand and branding is important. However, I am suggesting that it makes sense to collect multiple reference points and give your creative proper direction. They should have to start in a complete void. Be sure to look at site in other industries as well. Quite often you can pick up an idea or two that will help. And finally, when evaluating a design don’t look at it from your perspective, look at it how others are going to see and use it. Often you might be making a first impression. For example, the flashy Flash intro might be cool but those get tired pretty quick.

Most of all, be available, be willing to participate and communicate, and never lose sight of the fact that you are making an investment. This isn’t going to just happen overnight, nor is it going to be all fun and games all the time. Chances are good you’ll have other priorities you’ll have to juggle. There will be some difficult decisions and probably even some rattling of swords. But this is serious business with what should be a fairly healthy budget investment behind it. Don’t underestimate the need for teamwork, agility, participation and communications. Ultimately, you’ll only get out what you’re willing to put in.

In most cases a website is marketing and/or selling something. It might be a product. It might be a service. It might an idea or a non-profit’s mission. But ultimately, it’s selling. In order to get your ideal salesperson and/or marketing manager you’d invest a reasonable if not significant amount of time. You’d be thorough and diligent. You wouldn’t just take the first person that walks in off the street. Nor would you just throw your new hire at a desk and say, “Okay, get to work.” Start your relaunch process with the hope of hiring the employee you never had but always wanted. There’s no doubt that’s going to take more than just “design.”

Track… Analyze… Adjust… Repeat…

“Evaluate Editorial Impact Using Google Analytics” by Lars Johansson (WebsiteMagazine.com, May 2010). A thorough, if not somewhat technical article on the finer point of Google Analytics. Let’s just jump right to the AU value add:

AU 1 – There is also another way to filter out internally generated traffic  and that’s by using cookies. Details can be found on this Google Analytics support page. (btw, Thanks Lars!) This is especially handy for when your “staff” is not in a fixed location and/or use multiple devices to access the same content.

AU 2 – Another must-use tool that extends and integrates with GA is Google URL Builder. In short, when you place banners and other content (e.g., links) on other sites, URL builder is a tool for building custom URLs for each placement. The clicks back in from those URLs can then be tracked via GA.

AU 3 – Semi-related to URL Builder is AddThis.com (and similar sharing services). AddThis is nice because it will log the shares going out as well as the clicks that come back in from those shared links. In addition, you might want to consider using your CMS (content management system) to integrate and customize your AddThis button with URL Builder formatted URL so you can pull in even more data.

AU 4 – And finally, there’s bit.ly. With URL shortening being all the rage (and absolutely necessary the Twittersphere), bit.ly will take a long URL and shortens it. The bonus is that it too logs that request and tracks the clicks on the shortened link. While in some regards the analytics might be overkill, the use of a URL  shortening service is often necessary. bit.ly is the current king of that hill. And if branding of your shortened URLs sounds appealing then then be sure to check out bit.ly Pro as well.

Congratulations! It’s only Tuesday and already your head is ready to explode with more essentials. Success, it doesn’t come easy, does it?

Picking up Website Magazine’s slack

The good news and “the huh?” news…

WebsiteMagazine.com, a fairly reputable resource when it comes to well… um… websites, recently published a list of their “Top 50 Design Resources”. (Note: We have not vetted this list, nor given the endless resources on the internet should it be consider all inclusive.)

Now here’s “the huh?” There are 50 URLs and they a published as an image. In other words, not links, not even HTML text that can be copied and pasted. A .gif! But wait, there’s more! That image is named: top50may2010.gif. In terms of best practices it should be something like: top-50-web-design-resources-may-2010.gif. And finally, they don’t use the alt=” ” in the HTML for the image. Again, another SEO no no. Website Magazine? Huh?

So in the spirit of “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself,” here are the first 25 of those Top 50:

1. cssbeauty.com
2. cssdrive.com
3. thefwa.com
4. thebestdesigns.com
5. cssvault.com

6. unmatchedstyle.com
7. designmeltdown.com
8. designshack.co.uk
9. webcream.com
10. cssheaven.com

11. cssremix.com
12. bestgalleryweb.com
13. cssmania.com
14. patterntap.com
15. csselite.com

16. cssclip.com
17. designbombs.com
18. siteinspire.net
19. edustyle.net
20. styleboost.com

21. genuinestyle.com
22. css-website.com
23. cssbased.com
24. mostinspired.com
25. stylegala.com

Btw, when it comes to design, web design and web development two of the AU must visit (and must RSS) are SmashingMagazine.com and SpeckyBoy.com.

If your message falls on deaf ears/eyes, does it still make a sound?

“Prospect Research” by Waddy Thompson (The NonProfit Times, 15 September 2009). Please note: The link to Mr. Thompson’s article will actually take you to his web site, not NPT.com. NPT, being an old media outfit (?), did not have the article posted on their web site. They also did not respond to an inquiry as to whether it was going to be added any time soon. And old media wonders why they’re losing readership. I don’t get it. Actually, they don’t get it. Oops, I digress.

Waddy does a super job here in laying out a framework for segmenting your mailing list and why that matters. What’s beautiful is that this mindset works for all types of businesses, not just 501(c)(3)s. With tools such as Salesforce.com or Zoho’s CRM offering (http://crm.zoho.com/crm/) the possibilities are powerful, inexpensive and nearly endless.

Here is another article of interest (that has been sitting in the to-be-posted pile, so please excuse the delay, the information is still spot on): “Email Segmentation for Higher ROI” by Peter Prestipino (Website Magazine, February 2009).

Don’t forget, targeting your message is not only good for you but it’s even more good (note: the word play was intentional) for your guests. They, just like you, have limited time and attention. The better you stay on *their* message, the more likely they are to keep you in their conversation. It’s not so much about what you want to say, but about what they want to hear. Right? Right!

Say what you need to say

“Create and Monetize Podcasts on Any Budget” by Mark Underhill (Website Magazine, August 2009). Podcasting might not be the buzz phrase of the moment but despite it’s post-trendiness stature it’s still a great tool to have in the tool box. Audio is simple to produce and manage, as well as adds another dimension to The Guest Experience you offer. The other benefit is that guests can consume your content even when they’re not chained to their monitor.

For those who show further interest, here’s a list of podcast articles from WebsiteMagazine.com. Enjoy yourself!

How will your book cover be judged?

“The Psychology of Web Design (and Putting It Into Practice)” by Peter Prestipino (Website Magazine, 5 Feb 2009).

“Play.com Tops U.K. Customer Experience Survey” by Kevin Zimmerman (1to1Media.com, November / December 2008).

A simple pairing to help enable you to be more guest-centric.