How to prepare, and launch, your new website – The ultimate guide for website managers and content owners

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

We’ve all been there. At first, things were great, better than great even. Together you were a dynamic duo that others envied. But, now things have changed. While you want to evolve and progress, the other has stymied and stubbornly stays the same. Sure, they make a bit of effort but really you know things have come to an end, and you’re just delaying the inevitable. The longer you leave it the worse it gets, and the more complicated it will be to start afresh.

Websites. Anyone who has managed a website will most likely have been in this situation at one point or another. Your current website has run its course and whether it’s because you simply can’t build or adapt your existing site anymore, the code is no longer supported or the costs for updating and maintenance have spiralled – or a combination of all – we all know when it is time to start preparing for change.

Just knowing it is time to change doesn’t make it any easier to start though. If you’ve already got the proverbial t-shirt, you probably also have the scars to match. If this is your first time the prospect might be completely overwhelming.

For the purpose of this article, we’re assuming you already have buy-in from your leadership team/stakeholders to start looking around. So, ignoring the various hoops of procurement for now, let’s break this down into the steps you need to take to prepare.

Step 1: Discover what works, and what doesn't work, on your website now

Before deciding what changes should be made, you need to work out what’s working and not working for you now. Take a look at your existing site. What’s good, what’s bad and, most importantly, where are the gaps that you will need to review to meet the needs of your end users? For this step, you should cast the net wide.

Engage stakeholders

Start by speaking to your stakeholders to understand their vision and requirements for your new website. What problems could it solve for their team? How could it make their service more efficient?

Interview end users

Next come your end users. What do they think of your current site? Why are they visiting? Did they manage to complete their task/find out what they need? If you can form a focus group to explore some of the common themes in more detail.

Review your analytics

Take a deep dive into your stats and analytics – common search terms, length of time on the website, bounce rate – really take a close look so you understand how your site is performing.

Identify the ROT

Carry out a Redundant, Obsolete, and Trivial (ROT) analysis on your content, so you know what you’re dealing with. What you find here will help inform your project delivery timeline.

Learn from the successes and failures of your peers

Speak to people outside of your organisation. Depending on your industry sector people may be really happy to share their experiences with you. I’ve worked across the charity and public sector and normally a call or an email to another organisation will prove really useful, and other teams are more than happy to share.

Of course some desktop research doesn’t go amiss and if you can organise some soft market testing or demos with suppliers even better.

Step 2: Analyse the priorities for your new website

Analyse the priorities for your new website 1. Work out your requirements - remember to look at technical, legal and service 2. Decide on your priorities 3. Plan a roadmap to continuously evolve 4. Find out if any requirements would be better delivered by a different application 5. Include development and ongoing support in your requirements 6. Benchmark and set some KPIs for your new site. 7. Create user personas to guide the design of your new site and content

So you’ve researched your socks off and spoken to everyone? It’s time to analyse.

Tease out the requirements for your new website from your research, don’t forget to look at technical, legal and service requirements you need to comply with, such as WCAG 2.1 Accessibility Guidelines.

You will also need to prioritise these requirements, what must your website have vs what would it be great if it could have? An approach I would always recommend using here is to create a 3, 6 and 12 month roadmap that allows you to continuously enhance your website. Use the MoSCoW (Must, Should, Could, Would) methodology to deliver the “Must haves” and “Should haves” for launch.

A word of warning here – when putting together the requirements for your website make sure you’re doing exactly that. It is easy to get carried away and add requirements for a whole host of additional functionality which support your digital roadmap, when actually that requirement is better served by a different application. The requirement here would be something along the lines of “ability to connect/integrate to a third party site, probably through the use of an API”.

Also make sure you think about what type of service model you will need to meet your ongoing needs, and put these into your requirements. If you don’t have an inhouse developer, make sure you include development and ongoing support in your requirements – you want to make sure you have a website that moves with you rather than finding that you’re stuck with an ailing website 18 months after launch.**

Now is also a good time to benchmark and set some KPIs for your new site. Of course your analytics are a great source for some of this information, but don’t forget to include some stats from your user surveys. If you work in an industry that is open to sharing information you may also have access to how other comparable organisation’s sites perform and want to include some of this information.

Spend time going through your user research and creating user personas. These will prove invaluable when you’re designing your new site and writing content. By really understanding your target audience, and their key user journey you can create a site and content which reflects and meets their needs.

*For those that know me well, you will know that right now I’m whispering (in my outdoor voice) – “Open Source”, “Drupal”, “Collaboration”.
**If you work in local government, the Local GovDrupal project is really worth taking a look at, for a true collaborative service and development model.

Step 3: Design your new website and implement your changes

Tender and procurement

Of course the first part of this is most likely the tender and procurement process – if you have a particular deadline you have to meet for the delivery of your new site, make sure you include this in the procurement process so that everyone is aware of your timescales.

Once you have your selected supplier, there will no doubt be a kick off meeting for the project and various steps they will need to take in order to deliver your new site.

Content and IA

My advice here, if you haven’t already, is to start thinking about your content and information architecture now. Use your user personas and ROT analysis to ensure your IA and content are clear and user friendly.

As part of your analysis you will have most likely looked at content and identified areas of improvement. If you move to your new site without addressing these issues the chances are your new site won’t be as successful as you’d like. It’s time to edit, rewrite and delete so that your new content truly meets the needs of your end users.

If your content is already in pretty good shape this can be straightforward, and you may even consider content migration and then editing on your new site instead. However, most of the projects I’ve been involved in have had a substantial amount of content work and I have opted to eschew content migration to ensure that everything has been looked at.

You don’t have to do this alone – speak to the subject matter experts in your organisation, utilise your existing team or bring in a content specialist. I’d also suggest plenty of tea and an afternoon Hobnob to get you through.

New functionality

You also need to consider any new functionality you’re bringing in as part of your new site or that you need to connect with. Online forms, maps, payment portals, SSO, CRM, databases… make a list, get it on the project plan and start speaking to people now.

Design your new website and implement your changes 1. Agree deadline 2. Hold a kick off meeting 3. Use your user personas and ROT analysis to plan IA and update content 4. Complete any content migration 5. Consider any new functionality needed

Step 4: Maintain and evolve the amazing website you've created

Woohoo! It’s launch day. Due to your thorough preparation you are launching on schedule, you madly hit refresh while you wait for the new site to go live and once it does the sense of relief and accomplishment is fantastic. Perhaps you celebrate with a fancy coffee, or by booking that holiday you have been dreaming of since the start of this project.

But what else? Maintain and evolve. At the beginning you will most likely be focussed on ensuring that the site is performing as expected and making minor changes to content, but after that has worn off it’s time to think about what next. It might be that you have already identified what’s in scope for phase 2 of your project, in which case you can start to map this out and plan. If not it’s time to revisit your original discovery and map out what’s coming next for your website.

I’d also be tempted to rerun your user survey now, if you need to secure funding for the next step of your project these can be quite handy in building your business case and also provide an early indication on the success of your launch.

Once you’ve done this? See Step 1…

Maintain and evolve website 1. Ensure that your site runs as expected 2. Make your content changes 3. Map out what’s coming next for your website 4. Re-perform your user experience survey

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