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What I Wish I Knew Before I Started My Website Redesign

Hear from four organizations that have recently undergone the website redesign process — and have valuable tips to share.

Website Redesign Wish I Knew

By Colleen Ringer

A website redesign is a significant effort that touches almost every department and team within an organization. And as you can imagine with a project of this size, there will undoubtedly be surprises along the way. What can you do to minimize the unexpected twists and turns? We spoke with four marketers who’ve recently redesigned their websites and lived to tell the tale. Here is their advice.

Cal Alumni Association

In 2021, the Cal Alumni Association (CAA) kicked off a full website design, looking for an improved, responsive, user-friendly site that could serve as an umbrella under which all of its partners, including its alumni magazine and travel programs, could live in harmony. Sarah Juckniess, CAA’s senior director of marketing and communications, led the charge on the revamped site.

Getting buy-in from your team pays off. “Involving all the stakeholders at the beginning was a huge success for us that I didn’t expect. It worked really well to have those strategy-, design- and content-related conversations upfront because it helped people understand what we were doing and where we were going, and they could get in on the ground-level. I’d highly suggest taking the time to do internal focus groups and invite external stakeholders, like alumni or volunteers, into the process.”

A content strategy is crucial. “Because of the content strategy that Casual Astronaut created specifically for the new website, everyone understood the role of their sections within the site. With the old site, we thought the only thing holding us back was an outdated design and UX and once we’d fixed that everything would fall into place. But that wasn’t the case. We needed to come at the content with a new approach.”

You have more pages (and content) than you think. “We knew we had a lot of content on the old site. We were still unprepared for just how much there was. Of course, we were familiar with all the top-level pages, but then there were all these pages that were kind of under the iceberg, so to speak. We also underestimated the time it would take to go through all that content. Once we started looking at it, we saw so many things we wanted to improve. If you’re undergoing a site redesign, my advice would be to take the amount of content you think is on your site and multiply it by 10. And be careful not to undervalue the amount of time you’ll want to spend with the content.”

Herberger Theater Center

The Herberger Theater Center was aiming to complete a brand refresh in conjunction with its website redesign. (Here’s why we at C/A think the two go hand in hand.) And beyond being an expression of the new branding, the new website also needed to differentiate The Herberger Theater Center from its resident companies, establishing the theater as an independent entity with events, programs and content of its own. Marketing Manager Mark Mettes Jr. was there to guide the organization through the process.

Complete your rebrand before your website redesign. “One of the easier parts of the website redesign process was working on aligning content with our newly developed brand guidelines. In the past, we had very loose guidelines, but completing the rebrand prior to the website allowed us to focus our energy on making the Herberger Theater’s content look and feel like the brand vision we had developed.”

Launch Day is only the beginning. “A website redesign may be a months-long process, but to keep up the beauty of the new website, it involves committing to the new design and branding you developed. In other words, the work doesn’t stop when you launch.”

Carefully consider your timing. “While I am happy that we completed the redesign during a few dead months, I wish we had undergone the process during a regular [theater] season to compare and optimize traffic. Setting baselines for traffic prior to the redesign will allow you to see the fruits of your labor and optimize the customer’s journey post-redesign.”

Houston SPCA

Houston SPCA, an animal welfare nonprofit, wasn’t just looking to redesign its website, it was also looking to revamp its branding, which included revisiting its current messaging, voice and tone. This two-pronged project was spearheaded by Jo Sullivan, LMSW, chief community and development officer for Houston SPCA.

Organize an upfront education session with staff. “I made an incorrect assumption about what internal folks understand about the terms rebrand versus refresh. I wish I had done a little more benchmarking internally on where they were. I’d suggest scheduling a pre-meeting to lay out the basics and set parameters on what the project entails and what elements are untouchable. There can be a visceral reaction to colors and images, so once those are out there, it’s hard to go back.”

Writing quality copy for the web is an art and a science. Quickly and succinctly communicating your core messaging takes time — and optimizing your content for the web requires special considerations. “We had the expectation that since we speak the language every day and use it frequently in other channels it would be easy to translate that to the website copy. We really wanted to get it right, and it became overwhelming the amount that we needed to do to get it right. So we said, ‘OK, we’re behind on the content and we need your help.’ Casual Astronaut got our voice quickly and got the copy written quickly — the process was very easy.”

That other website you love may not be the right model for yours. “When looking at sites you want to emulate, keep in mind your own organization’s reach and size. It may not resonate with what you’re trying to accomplish. We may love St. Jude’s site, for example, but it has little application for a strong regional group like us. I would recommend cautioning internal groups about falling in love too hard with another site.”

Southwestern Medical Foundation

As a public healthcare charity aimed at inspiring progress in medicine in the Southwestern region and throughout the U.S., Southwestern Medical Foundation needed a website that would motivate prospective and current donors to rally around its mission. The team was looking for a user experience that prioritized conversions as well as storytelling. Brittany Lebling, the foundation’s director of communications, oversaw the website redesign effort, from start to finish.

Frequent internal check-ins can make a big difference. “Make sure you set up the right routines with your internal leadership team. We built a cross-functional project team that met regularly throughout the process — and that created buy-in and alignment across the entire organization.”

Add more time for content than you think you’ll need. “Once we migrated our content over from our old site, we realized there was a need to format old blog posts that were now on the new site. We did not initially build in time for this process, so I would recommend to others that they provide a buffer in their schedule — and think through scaling up available resources — for updating any design elements that don’t fully transfer to the new site.”

Stay flexible and adapt when needed. “Regular progress updates and check-ins with the Casual Astronaut team helped us understand the impact of any schedule slippage. Within our organization, this open line of communication was encouraging during times when we needed to refocus our attention on other priorities. As a public healthcare foundation, completing a redesign during the COVID-19 pandemic was not without its unexpected delays!”

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Colleen Ringer Overlay Blue
Colleen Ringer Editorial Director

Colleen has worked with clients large and small for more than a decade as a writer, editor and content strategist. She has managed content marketing programs for national and global brands, including hospital systems, universities and nonprofits. Before entering the world of content marketing, Colleen lived in the land of magazine publishing and wrote about architecture, design and travel.

As a mother of a video game-obsessed son, Colleen spends part of her free time learning about Fortnite and the other part trying to recruit her son to root for the Arizona Cardinals. She loves a good book, a strong iced tea and when her Fantasy Football team is winning.

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