6 steps to a better business website makeover

How many times have you visited a business website, really wanting to do business, and their site is anything but friendly, hardly helpful, and doesn’t reflect the personality, products or services that the business offers? There are too many sites in need of a serious website makeover for one reason or another. The site might be a nip or a tuck, or perhaps a complete overhaul, but currently, it’s not helping it’s owner meet important business objectives.

Unlike the site for a new enterprise, where care about the ‘online face’ is top of mind, a legacy site that is under-performing goes largely ignored. This is especially true for a business that is being pretty successful in other channels. The website remains a low priority in the shadows, until something prompts action — usually learning that a competitor has upped the ante with a new website, or discovering the company is missing out on Web sales that have been lost to competition or a change in the way the business’ target audience web habits are evolving.

If this describes your situation, you aren’t alone. Many other business sites have the same problem. Worse, some have sites are rushed to be redone and may look great, but under-perform and offer low ROI. Unfortunately, when owners try to overhaul their site, they make the same fatal mistake: Start focusing on the end design, not with the important ‘why’ reasons they want to redo the site.

Where to start the business website makeover? (or: Beauty is more than skin deep, and needs good bones.)

When I’ve helped companies improve and evolve their websites, I have had clients open up our initial website discovery meetings excitedly focusing the discussion on how unhappy they are with the look of their current website. In discovery sessions, I usually hear complaints about executional issues, then steer the conversation to questions about what is causing those issues. I work backwards, and ask questions not about the page layouts, visuals, copy (wording) and user interactions, but about how their company does business, handles leads and transactions, and how their website currently plays a role (or not) in the process.

6 key steps to lay the foundation of your Website makeover.

Step 1. Identify what specific things your sales team needs so this site can help them do their job.

A site is a tool before it’s anything else. Even if it functions as your showroom, it needs to function smoothly, effectively, and drive a first time visitor to take some desired action to either qualify them by inquiring more, or help them enjoy the experience of buying something from the site.

Step 2. Calculate how much money this site needs to be making for your business, in detailed, quantifiable ways.

In other words, approach your Web site as a tool to make money instead of an expense that costs money. Your site is not there simply to entertain without furthering your business — It is there to qualify, inform, and sell. So set your budget based on how much realistic new business a better site can bring in. Base your projections on your successful channels for acquiring leads and selling.

Step 2a. Set your budget to meet that goal.

‘Nuf said.

Step 3. Strip away everything that doesn’t help

Eliminate every element, link or distraction that doesn’t either qualify visitors to your site, further your engagement process, or create and close a transaction. Your knowledge base consisting of blog, white-papers or how-to-libraries should all be reviewed to make sure each of them links readers to take action.

Step 4. Plan a framework of interaction.

Map out each path you want visitors to follow: What happens first, second, third, in the inquiry and sales process of the site.

Step 5. Check and Recheck the money trail from a visitor’s wallet to your bank.

Check your merchant system, web hosting and everyone involved with any transactions you need to do on the website. Know what you can and can’t do, and make the shopping basket experience easy. And test it multiple times to be sure of reporting, accuracy, security, and ease-of-use by a visitor.

Step 6. Document the important What/Why

This is THE big one. Make three “what/why” lists, and one “who/what/how” list. The rules are simple. Every “what” item must have a “why” reason it’s important to doing business. The result of the lists should feed into the Web site specification (functional specs or site Requirements) document – the blueprint of your site that allows you and your team to see that all punch list items are being delivered.

What do we want visitors to do when they visit our site? Why is each action important to our business? This may seem obvious, but it isn’t always clear, and everyone involved with the development and outcome of the site, from your head of sales to the web designers, needs to know what the goals are. Examples are, make a purchase online, ask for more information via site form or by phone via click-to-call, visit one of our locations using maps and directions on the sight, sign up for newsletters, or qualify themselves quickly so our sales team can follow up with them.

What are the exact information needs we want to capture from visitor interactions on the site? Why is each necessary? Don’t ask visitors more questions than you need to because it depresses response and interaction. List those areas of information, including qualifying questions that help your follow up be more focused. Also state very specifically how they need to be delivered to you. Are form submissions sent to someone via email? If so, who? Do we need leads from forms to integrate with a lead management system like Salesforce.com?

What content is essential on our site to meet our visitor experience and action goals? Why is it important in leading a person to take action? Think of things like company history and story, product information, images and galleries, pricing and specifications, store locations, policies/warranty informaition, demos and information such as whitepapers, forums and reviews or testimonials, and support forums or documents. The result of this list also goes into your Website site specification document.

Who will maintain the site technology, and who will update/add to content after launch? What sort of updates to content do we expect to have? How often do we estimate these updates, and what tools and training will they need? This is one of the most ignored or underestimated areas of keeping a great site makeover running smoothly. If tasks are left to the lowest person on the company totem pole, you are leaving the first impression of your company in the least qualified, least-invested person in your company. If you don’t have the ability to have a person well-trained, then the strategy for the content and execution of your site should be as low-maintenance as possible. You may not have all the bells and whistles of another competitor, but your site will run lean and smooth. The trade-off in the end is fewer visitors becoming frustrated with your site and your company.

With that sixth step, you are ready to move into design and content curation.

You’ve now set a foundation. Share it with your Website makeover team.

This is an overlooked piece of the puzzle, and the point where lot’s of breakdowns occur. Everyone from the front-end design and writer to the back-end site developer need to be informed. If everyone knows what the priorities and benchmarks for success are, there are no excuses for not being accountable for their part of the project. Each team member may have his or her area of focus and responsibility, but everyone should be accountable for the big picture.

During the process of a website makeover, the user experience evolves, and site ‘skin’ can take on many looks. But with a proper starting point before writing, design and development, you can eliminate a lot of ugly surprises, scope creep and misunderstandings.

As a designer, I love the Web, because unlike a paper brochure, ad or other even broadcast TV and radio, with rigid parameters of space and time, a website can expand and contract based on content. But that flexibility can also be a double-edged sword, because things can get out of control, unless you remain true to a plan and true to your goals.

If you could change one thing about your current website, what would it be? Please let me know in the comments below.

I’m a creative problem-solver helping clients who use Direct Marketing but need more effective lead generation and deeper customer relationships. You can learn more about me on LinkedIn.