Two years ago, I wrote an article listing all the things I believed should be on anyone's mind before planning a rebuild. Generally, much of that list remains the same today. But what has changed are the details — the ways in which these individual factors are understood and handled. Since planning is naturally on our minds in January, I thought that this would be a good time to check in on this topic and bring it up to date.
Your Business Goals
You know how in politics, the worst thing you can do is be a flip-flopper? And how every candidate is always accusing her opponent of being one? Well, that's all really pretty bogus, because things change, and in response, people change. This is true across the board. So, apply that to your business. What has changed? How have you changed to account for this? Is that reflected by the information on your website? Go ahead and pull it up right now and be honest: Is your current website for version 1.0 of your business, while you're well into much later versions? I'd venture to guess that, to some extent, the answer is yes. Whether this merits a full redesign or a "point release" is up to you, but this is truly the first and most important reason to even consider it.
For a few years, we enjoyed a good run of not having to stress much about browsers. And thank goodness, because prior to Firefox, things were pretty frustrating. But for much of the 2000s, most people were either using Internet Explorer or Firefox or Safari, and once IE 7 came out, they were pretty similar. So even though just about every developer has his unique cringe and sob story ready about IE 6, it really wasn't such a bad time.
Unfortunately, browsers are back to being a pain in the neck. Chrome is out now, and generally plays nice. It forces updates, so developers don't have to worry about some obscure, outdated point release thwarting forward progress. Even IE auto-updates — depending upon how recent your Windows install is — so you'd think everything should be hunky dory. Well it's not, because there are still vast swaths of industry locked down by IT departments that won't update their systems past Windows XP and IE 7 — seriously, this is actually happening — and meanwhile, every new mobile platform has a unique browser. So today's developers have to check their work in Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and potentially up to four versions of Internet Explorer, not to mention a wide variety of devices running various versions of these and other mobile-specific browsers. It's not fun, and given the spread, your site is probably either not looking or functioning properly in all of them. Perhaps you already know this.
Can you believe that for a good, long while, simply offering content management was a powerful differentiator? That's truly amazing. For years, many businesses were simply unable to edit their own websites. Or in other words, held hostage by them. But content management caught on, and afterward, offering a content management system was no longer a competitive advantage. Instead, what became compelling were the qualitative aspects of content management — ease of use, the availability of engagement tools, template and logic flexibility, the design of the CMS itself, etc. But we're way past even all of that now.
Now, we're about analytics and integration. Content management is a commodity; conversion management is in demand. If your CMS cannot help you understand your visitors' experience using your site, as well as properly transition the right visitors into customers, you are missing out. And just so we're clear, "understanding" and "transitioning" aren't just hand-wave-ese for standard session data analytics — like visits, page views, conversions, and the like — and call to action configuration tools. These words are shorthand for the nuances of micro-analytics: visualization of who is actually on your site, how they got there, what they've done since, and their resulting lead score, not to mention other site-specific data, like which CTAs perform best on which pages and why. This is the sort of information that directly influences marketing decisions and sales — why shouldn't it be right there, in context?
There is no future for a website that does not understand its place within a holistic marketing and sales ecosystem. The simplest litmus test for this is to take one look at its CMS and ask a simple question: does it create a closed feedback loop from marketing to sales? If your website is not an essential tool for both marketing and sales staff, the answer is unambiguously no.
This one's pretty obvious, no?
I don't need to tell you what you already know — that the number of visitors accessing your website with a mobile device is only going to increase. So this is on your radar already, and I really don't need to say much about it… except for this: if you've not given your site any mobile attention you'll find that it's rarely adequate to make an existing website mobile-friendly (whatever that means). Instead, "mobile" represents a paradigm shift that not only affects how things look in different contexts, but what is there to be engaged with in the first place.
I'd be willing to bet that most websites have not undergone a content inventory at any stage — before, during, or after being created. Why? Because content inventories are boring. Excruciating.
That means that many websites have any number of content problems: useless content, outdated content, duplicate content, unindexed content, etc. etc. etc. And sure, you could do a content inventory at any time, and it wouldn't necessarily result in a redesign or rebuild. But, it very well might, depending upon how often you find yourself saying, "Our website says that?" or "Our website doesn't say that??"
Calls to Action
You've got those, right? I mean, two years ago, I wrote a newsletter on this exact topic and calls to action (CTAs) were on the list of potential rebuild motivators. So, I'm in part including them here as review, not revelation.
But a few things have changed since 2011. Back then, calls to action were the solution to that OH YEAH moment where you realized that the whole point of telling people stuff through your website was to get them to act in some way. But most websites have a variety of action points distributed throughout their pages, some of which might be recurrently relevant to a user. So, now that we've got those clear, concise, and compelling calls to action, and now that we're tracking their submissions, we need to think more deeply about the user's experience and how increasing the sophistication of our CTAs can present some value to them and us. For example, once a user signs up for your newsletter, why bother continuing to show them that CTA? What's the next thing they might want to do? And what is the next thing you want from them? Your website should be able to differentiate CTAs based upon your individual users' histories, as well as your priorities. Here's another example: let's say a visitor registers for your upcoming webinar. Great. But you'll still want to show her that webinar registration CTA when you're ready to present your next webinar. So in that case, swapping in a new CTA isn't the best move. Instead, you'd want to use that next registration as an opportunity to learn more about her. The first time, you probably at least got her name and email address. So next time, you don't need to ask for that again (you've stored it in a cookie); you could ask for her company's name, her title, or anything else you think would be helpful to know. This is called progressive profiling, and it's your best method for evaluating leads over their full lifetime.
If any of these reasons has been persuasive, then you've probably already made a mental note about money. Who wouldn't?
But it's actually difficult to price a project in the abstract. All of these items are concepts that are made manifest in a project's scope, but none of them have direct value that might eventually accrue to a total price.
So instead of thinking about a specific number right now, let me suggest that you take a moment to think about how you think about budgeting for something like this. Typically, what is meant by a website budget is how much someone expects to spend on the project to build it. That's one number — often the easiest to anticipate, at least to within a few thousand bucks, I bet. But it's more responsible to push the boundary of that question beyond the price of the project itself and ask how much you expect to spend on your website on a yearly basis. In the first year, that might include the project itself, infrastructural costs (hosting, security, etc.), maintenance, etc. After that, however, a website continues to require investment, and a good partner should be able to help you budget accordingly.
But that's not where the boundary-pushing should stop. Asking how much you expect to spend on your website is far better than just what you expect to spend on a website project, but your best posture is to ask what you expect to spend on digital marketing in general. That's the project, infrastructure, security and legal policy compliance, website maintenance, personnel, consulting fees, content development, list-buying, customer relationship management (CRM), marketing automation — the works. Do you have any idea what that all should cost? If not, that is the question I want to leave you with now. Because of how websites operate today — as the hub of a much larger and more complex marketing and sales ecosystem — these expenses are so tightly interwoven that the overall price tag of a "new site" is really the aggregate of many things. No new site built this year will a worthy investment as long as it is considered a stand-alone expense.
Of course, we'd be happy to talk to you about all of these things ;)