Please enjoy Neil Dywer’s 2nd guest post for Fireworks. Neil is a director at Corporate Momentum, a valued and long term partner of Fireworks Websites.
So you’ve had your current website for 3 years, and it’s starting to look a little old in relation to your competitors. Time to redevelop it.
But how do you ensure that your new website outperforms the old one and your competition?
Answer: You start with a winning brief and you feed that brief with research.
Follow this process and you’re practically guaranteed to have a successful project outcome.
Before you fill in a template like this one, follow these information-gathering tips and you will nail your next brief.
1. Ask your front line staff what needs to change
Your staff are the ones that are dealing with clients that are using the website. They’re the ones who can tell you what questions get asked time and again by clients who can’t find the answers online. They’re the ones who are correcting mistakes in orders because there’s something not right on the website.
Your best and clearest information on what to do better on your next site is sitting in your office.
2. Consult your analytics package(s) for hard insights
If you don’t have an Analytics package on your website, stop everything and get your web developer to install one for you. After you’ve done that, come back and finish this article.
Here are 3 things to look for in your website’s stats that will help you create a better website the next time round.
- Entries and Exits – Which pages do your clients/prospects enter on and exit from the most? Is that what you expected? What percentage of your visitors go on to visit other pages in your site after entering the most popular ones? If your most popular page is leading 70% of visitors to leave your site, it needs a change in the next version.
- Bounce Rate – A bounce is recorded when a visitor sees only one page on your website before leaving. Your stats package will tell you what your home page bounce rate is as well as the bounce rate of other pages. High bounce pages are either doing a really bad job and need a change, or they might be answering all your prospective client’s questions and then they leave without contacting you. Either way, a change is required to capture more prospects.
- Time on page / time on site – Which pages do your clients/prospects spend the most/least time on? What features of long-time pages are not found on short-time pages? It’s a commonly-accepted heuristic that more time spent on site raises the likelihood of a converted enquiry or sale, so changes to key pages can have a dramatic effect in the new website.
If you have a couple of months before you redevelop, install a package like Mouseflow on your website. It gives you access to heatmaps showing where on your pages your clients’ mice (and eyes) went, how far they scrolled down the page, how long they spent in certain sections and where they clicked. The insights it reveals can be amazing priceless.
The best thing Mouseflow does, however, is make videos of your website’s users as they move through the site. It’s the next best thing to sitting with hundreds of people as they browse your website. and it will produce a huge amount of useful changes to your next website.
3. Ask your clients for help
It’s a little-used but really important step. Asking your clients what they think of your website can be quite challenging as you don’t want to hear bad feedback from your most important users.
After all, if they don’t have good things to say about it, it means that it’s been sitting there for years underperforming, and no-one wants to realise that. But if you can be brave enough, this step will reap great rewards.
Sit with a selection of 5-7 clients at a time, either one-on-one or in a group setting if it can be arranged and ask them these questions?
- What works well on our website?
- What do you think we should change? (If this question is a bit too broad, break it down into smaller questions like “do you ever get stuck when looking for a product?” “How easy do you find it to complete an order?” “What information do you wish we had on here?” etc.)
- What features have you seen on other websites that you think we should adopt?
4. Use the website as a client or sit and observe a new user do the same thing
Although you are probably intimately familiar with your website from an internal user’s perspective, it’s not until you sit down as a potential buyer of your own products or services that you can really appreciate its strengths and shortcomings.
Sit down and try to order from yourself or build a business case for contacting your company based on the content on the website.
Or even better, sit and observe someone trying to use your website for the first time in a while, or at all. Ask them to talk out loud about what they are looking for while they use the site.
If you have a commonly-sought product or service, you can even tap into online usability testing and get a lot of results really quickly. A service like What Users Do has a panel of participants ready to help you see what works in your website and what doesn’t within a matter of hours. For a 1st time user, you can sign up for one free 10 minute usability report.
When you have done your research, you’re ready to fill in a brief. Fireworks provides a pretty solid template for a brief here, or you can search “website development brief template” for plenty of other examples.
The difference between the website you would have developed on the back of gut feel about what needed to change, and the website you will develop now is likely to be immeasurable.
Two bonus tips for the perfect website
1. Anticipate that it won’t be perfect the first time and budget for extra changes
I absolutely guarantee that when your staff see the new version of the website, even after an exhaustive development process, they will find new suggestions to put forward that nobody thought of. This is innovation in action.
If your budget allows for it, this is a great thing because it means that you can ensure the website is as close as possible to what your staff and the market needs from it – the website will make you the highest return you can expect if you’re able to enable your developer to flex and adjust the website after it’s built and hosted in its development environment.
It might seem like a cop-out, telling you to budget for extra changes after the website has been built. After all, wasn’t that why you went through the briefing process? But rather than assigning blame somewhere, if you view the new suggestions as the final part of the development process, your project will run smoothly and deliver the best return on investment.
These “cherry on top” changes will make all the difference to your new website, meaning that you don’t go another three years with a site that’s pretty good, but not perfect.
2. Start gathering new data straight away
Put a feedback mechanism into the new version of your website so you can get redevelopment information faster.
Continual data gathering will make for a much better website over time. Running an exit survey across a percentage of visitors that meet certain conditions (like those that view a certain product or service page for a given period of time and then click to leave) can be a great way to gain important information directly from your market that helps you lift your conversion rate.
Neil Dwyer is a Director of Corporate Momentum, a marketing and management consultancy based in Brisbane. He writes from a position of spending hundreds of thousands of his clients’ dollars in developing websites and having many epiphanies about how a project should have gone, after the fact.