Here at FCM we’ve been busy redesigning and launching websites for our customers. What we’ve discovered is that organizations want to jump right to appearance and design versus thinking about the website’s content as an extension of the brand strategy. Additionally, there is a tendency to make decisions about the necessary changes to the current website based on subjective opinions rather than objective data. Here is a clearly defined process to redesign an organizational website.
Step 1: Determine What’s Working & What’s Not
The first step in the process is to gather objective data on the current website to see how it’s actually performing. If you have Google Analytics (a free tracking tool) installed on your website, this makes it easy. Google Analytics provides a number of dashboards around visitors, page views, and the ways people are finding you on the Web to evaluate performance. For example, if you see a high number of visitors, but below-average page views, the content of your website may not be holding the interest of the visitor. The key data points you should analyze are found in FCM’s Workforce Website Benchmark Study. Gather these data from your own website and compare them to the website data of other workforce organizations to see how your performance stacks up and where improvements are needed.
Step 2: Develop your Brand Strategy
A brand strategy is a foundational step in building a website. It’s about defining your mission, identifying your target audiences and packaging your service offerings in an intuitive manner for customers. It’s also about eliminating jargon and ‘funding-stream language’ that has no meaning to customers and instead, developing messages that encourage the visitor to take action. This may be a complete shift from the way you have developed content for your website in the past. Use available research such as customer service surveys or testimonials to learn why customers choose to engage with your organization, and then create messaging for your customers that addresses these reasons. Show your customers that you understand their needs, and give them a way to take the next step. This helps your organization go beyond a ‘build it and they will come’ website to a site that engages the visitor and shows them why they need to become your customer.
Step 3: Build a Wireframe
A wireframe – also known as a site map – is a ‘family tree’ for your website that shows how the navigation of the new website will flow. Starting with the home page at the top, identify the key elements of the home page, and then determine the menu items that will be displayed. This top-level navigation might include an About page, Calendar, and News pages, as well as entry points for your various target audiences. Under each menu item, there may be subpages needed to house informational content and calls to action.
Once these three steps are accomplished, you’ll have a great foundational strategy to start working with professionals that can bring your vision to fruition. So often organizations seek out the assistance of a web developer to build a customized website when there are actually five specific skill sets to maximize your return on investment. Make sure that you choose a company that has these specific skill sets.
- Marketing and Communications – A specialist in branding, marketing and communications should be part of the site development team. These professionals have expertise in a) understanding how to objectively garner market intelligence (i.e. through customer surveys, focus groups, usability studies); b) developing appropriate and targeted messages based on market segments; and c) creating a sitemap that is intuitive, easy to navigate and customer-focused. Your website is a key component of your communications toolkit and should package your service offerings in a manner that positions the organization accurately and effectively in the marketplace.
- Web Design – The web designer is responsible for the look-and-feel of the website and translating the desired features from the sitemap into actual design mock-ups that best reflect the organization's brand. The web designer delivers files to the web developer, who actually builds the site. Designers and developers can be the same person, but understand that designing and developing are two very different skill sets. Additionally, mobile website design should be in the portfolio of the selected web designer.
- Web Development – Web developers actually code the site, perform testing and can install tracking software and other tools to support site performance and maintenance.
- Site Promotion/Search Engine Optimization – You must promote your website in order for it to have the best chance of reaching your target audiences. Experience in the utilization of promotional tools such as Google AdWords, as well as understanding how search engines go about indexing your site so that it ranks high in their search results, are critical to the success of your new website. Use the keyword analysis you did in Step 1 to inform your strategy, making sure to include popular keywords in your page content and add them to the page title tags and meta descriptions.
- Social Media Integration & Mobile – Your website is no longer the only Internet-based communications medium at your disposal. Social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and others have become important tools for engaging your target audiences. Tools and techniques to integrate these networks with your website should be utilized, and the skills to achieve effective integration must be considered in selecting the right team to build your website.
How can you tell if your website is effective? The Web Marketing Association (WMA) is also a good resource to determine if your site meets industry benchmarks. Read more below about their criteria.
One area that is often a challenge is getting ‘found’ by search engines. Organic search traffic comes to your website when an individual searching on specific keywords related to workforce development, education, economic development, etc. sees your website in their search results and subsequently clicks on the link. Improving this percentage of visitors is accomplished through Search Engine Optimization, or SEO. Optimizing your site begins with compiling a list of relevant keywords - phrases and words that are associated with what you do. To generate additional phrases and keywords that you may not have considered, use Google's Keyword Generator. Edit the list to make sure the words fit what you offer. Then, test your website’s performance by plugging in these keywords into a search engine such as Yahoo or Google and seeing whether your website appears. Some pages may contain higher value keywords than others.