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What's the most important?

By Nigel T Packer

What's the most important thing to consider when redeveloping my website?

This is a question that we are asked all the time. However, this is a big question, that does not have a short answer.

We suggest that approach the website redevelopment with two intentions in mind:

  • Improved usability - the experience that your website users have. 

  • Increasing findability - by which we mean visibility and results in Google (and other search engines)

There are a number of things that you can do that should help to reduce the frustration and feeling of lack of control that so often accompanies the web development process, and ensure that the end result serves your business as you intended.

Primary objective

A business website has only one primary objective: to meet or help meet business goals.  The secondary objective that should always be taken into account: to support user tasks – through the provision of content and functionality - which in turn helps to meet business goals.  So throughout the process keep this uppermost in your mind.  At each decision point in the development ask yourself: “How will this help to meet business goals?  How does this element or function enable or support task completion?”

Feasible and realistic

Ensure that the specific objectives you set for the website are feasible and realistic. Can what you set out to do, be achieved with today’s technology?  Can your targets actually be met?  Carry out research and be honest with yourself about the possibilities.

There's no BEST way

Remember that there is no BEST way. Lots of directors and others in decision making positions ask us for the best way.  It is always subjective, and there is no proven best way, rather we advise our clients to focus on the better way: ‘is this option better than that’, and more importantly why.

Strategy

Keep on track.  Ensure that you begin with a clear strategy and do not rush this stage. 

Expertise

Get expert help, it is more cost effective to pay for consultancy at the beginning, than have a poor end result.  Dealing with remedial work or the need to change business processes to accommodate the website outcomes (such as increased customer support calls) is expensive, can waste a lot of time and ultimately you find yourself back where you started.

SEO is not an afterthought

There is no magic bullet to increase your search engine results.  Build search engine optimisation (SEO) into the strategy and consider it at all stages of the development process.  Don’t treat it as an afterthought and provide for this activity as an ongoing part of your online promotion campaign. Avoid anyone who says they guarantee to get you high placement in Google.  This can only be achieved in the short term, techniques which get you to the top quickly, will get you banned just as fast.

No great ideas or fancy facilities

Try not to be tempted along the way by great ideas or fancy facilities that come to your attention or might even be suggested by your developers.  The same question as before applies: how will this help to meet business goals or support user tasks.  In particular, don’t be swayed by comments or advice from those who do not understand your objectives or who are not in a position to make a judgement. By constantly moving the goalposts or adding features, all you do is delay the project completion.  So assess the suggestion, decide if it might be useful in the future and if so, put it aside for phase two.

Design is a problem solving process

The designer’s job is to communicate YOUR message, so don’t leave it to them to figure out what that message is. Conversely, don’t contract a highly educated and experienced designer and then tell them how to do their job!  Design is a problem solving process, combining effective visual communication with the development of a functioning system that all types of users can interact with.  It is important to appreciate that by its nature this is always subject to compromise.  Avoid being too prescriptive in what you specify as this can interfere with that process.  Also, if you find yourself saying: “Can you move that up a bit,” or, “Make that a bit bigger,” then you have probably overstepped the mark and you should justify why you are making these requests, as in any system, meddling and tweaking never produces good results. Of course if you hate what they produce, say so, but you should still be judging it against business objectives, such as effective brand communication, it should never just be your opinion, even if it is your business.

Resources

Accept that you have to invest substantial resources to get the best expertise.  Web design, development and internet marketing is not ‘job-and-finish’, it is an ongoing process so choose your development team and other support wisely, you will be building a long term relationship. It can even be helpful to think of them as an external department as opposed to a supplier.

Testing

Carry out user testing.  Although it can seem expensive, it is the only way to really find out if your website is actually offering a good user experience.  If this is clearly beyond your budget, opt for heuristic evaluation where a website usability expert inspects your website against established usability guidelines.  This can be cheaper, quicker and easier, and therefore affordable to carry out periodically, throughout the development process.

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