Congratulations — you’ve gotten the go-ahead to redo or refresh your website! You have a generous budget, a dream team in place, a realistic timeline and the backing of your bosses. What could possibly go wrong?
In a word, plenty.
Your website is a complex organism. Decisions made early on can have a huge impact on what you ultimately achieve, at launch and beyond. Throughout our two decades of experience, we’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly of the website process — including a dozen of the most common ways organizations torpedo their own sites.
- Right-now design
We know everyone’s eager to hit the ground running, and producing a design concept quickly is tangible proof of progress. But given the time and resources invested in your website, and its role as your first impression for key audiences, it needs to do more than look good and work smoothly. It needs to advance your overall business strategy. Take the time to make sure your design and content strategy reflect what you want to convey — and, just as important, what your current and future buyers want to know.
- Too many cooks
A new website is always a lightning rod for opinions, and diverse input will inform the process and facilitate buy-in. But there’s a difference between early information-gathering and later decision-making. By all means reach out to a broad cross-section of stakeholders when starting the process — through interviews, workshops, surveys, etc., — but keep the decision-making group compact. The alternative is delay and loss of focus.
- Build for today
No one wants to go through an annual redesign, so make sure your website looks to the future. If there are features you can’t have now but might want in a year or two, like video or major content assets, create a phased approach and build in flexibility to add them down the line. A timeline will help keep everyone moving forward toward the goal and prevent the website from becoming stagnant. Your site should be able to evolve with your business.
- Bite off too much
Sometimes an idea that looks great on one page of a website is impossible to scale and sustain. A common pitfall we’ve seen is the desire to use unique photography for each practice description or article. It looks impressive, but do you need it? Do you have the team to sustain it for years to come? Or would it be better to design some photo-free options and put your time and money elsewhere?
- Dive off the same old platform
Now is the time to look at what your CMS platform is doing for you across the organization. Building a new website on a platform that doesn’t fully serve your needs or requires frequent updates will in the long run be costlier and less efficient Design, function and technology go hand in hand. Now is the time to bite the bullet — before it affects a brand new website.
- Meet more, work less.
There’s no quicker way to blow a budget than on meetings that are too frequent, too large or without purpose — and this can translate directly into desired website assets you can no longer afford. While there are times the whole team needs to come together, these should be the exception, not the rule. Document-sharing and project management tools can help you solve low-level problems, track project status, or identify questions. Save the long, all-hands meetings for when you need them.
- Form that doesn’t function
To avoid launch-day surprises, developers need to know exactly what designers intend. Whether the website team is internal, external or hybrid, clear, detailed communication about what is supposed to happen on every page is essential. Working together helps to avoid surprises and create the best user experience.
- Skip the stock
Of course, we love to see beautiful, custom photography and illustrations on a website, but that’s not always possible. Don’t limit or leave out visuals altogether because you think stock images can’t work. There are plenty of unusual, arresting stock images out there. The trick is to know where to look and how to use them.
(Note: One place you should never use stock images is to represent your employees. Unless you run a modeling agency, your people just don’t look like stock image models, and using them damages your credibility. Skilled art direction can make your team members look their best or, if you must use stock images of people, employ blurring or other effects to disguise specific features.)
We’ve yet to meet a client that doesn’t want a “clean, easy to use” website design. And they’re right! In hundreds of interviews we’ve conducted, professional services buyers have made it clear that it that they are looking for short, scannable copy, not walls of words. So, hold the line and avoid overstuffing your clean new design with every detail. Set word limits, paragraph limits and, most of all, keep headlines short and focused.
- No soft launch
Websites are never finished when you think they’re finished, and that’s why the soft launch is so important. Give yourself a few weeks to go through every part of the site and fix the bugs — there are bound to be some no matter how careful everyone’s been. Then and only then, throw open the virtual doors and announce your new site to the world.
- No internal rollout
What if you launched a new website and nobody came? The best way to avoid that is by making your own people — from the CEO to the newest hire — your website ambassadors. Get them excited about the site. Take the time to show them what it does and why it’s great. Consider producing a video demo or sharing some fun merch to mark the occasion. Have a “search party” with prizes for how fast they locate information on the site. The only limit is your imagination.
Once people are excited about the new site, ask them to post about it on social media or email their networks to increase visitors. You can even provide draft language for them to personalize.
- Relax, it’s done!
Launch day is just one step in your website’s journey. Any site can quickly degrade if there are no clear guidelines for updating images, video and written content. Make sure you have a style guide and that it’s distributed and used. Schedule regular periodic reviews — website health check-ups — to find and solve small problems before they take over the site.
Launching your new website is a tremendous achievement and a reason to celebrate. By following these suggestions, you’ll have something to be proud of on day one and beyond.