The four stages of an effective nonprofit website redesign

I recently posted on how to “freshen up” your nonprofit website design, but there’s also the point where your organization needs a complete redesign. For example, you may not have a responsive theme (a theme whose appearance adapts for visitors on mobile devices) or your site look may be so outdated that it undermines the quality of your text content (telltale sign: 12-point Arial type with single-line spacing is a dated look). And sometimes a site just needs a new look.

But how do you make sure the time and money you spend will actually result in an improved website? By including all four stages of an effective redesign:

  1. Getting ready for a redesign
  2. Discovery
  3. Making new plans
  4. Implementation

You can try skipping some of these stages, but then you may not wind up with a better look or an easier-to-navigate site. Here are the four stages in more detail, for organizations that are already using a content management system (CMS).

Stage One: Getting Ready for a Redesign

Start by making your lists about what you wish were different about your website. You may have concerns with your look, but you also will want to review your navigation menus. And think about your approach to promoting your site (do you have a strategy for promoting new content, for example?). Driving traffic to the site has big implications for its ongoing success. Have initial conversations with staff and key leaders to identify the most pressing concerns.

This stage should focus on identifying things to change, not deciding how to fix them.

You can also outline a rough timeline and budget. You’ll need at least three months if all you’re doing is a visual redesign. However, if the staff who maintain the site need an easier way to manage the site (for example, by switching from another CMS to WordPress) or you want to add new features, the final project will take longer.

As for your budget, your organization can spend $2,000, $20,000 or $200,000 on a website redesign. So how can you budget realistically? Here’s one way to start: think about how many people you’re tracking in your organizational database. Consider budgeting $1 to $3 per person per year on your website. $1 per person, for example, is comparable to the cost of doing a single glossy mailing to each of them once in a year.

With a timeline, budget, and a list of things you think you want to change, you can approach your current developer to find out what they think can be accomplished. Or, you can use those three parameters to find a new web developer. (I wrote a tutorial on how to approach web developers back in 2010 you can use as a guide.)

It will be harder to move onto the next stage before you have someone experienced on board.

Stage Two: Discovery

Once you have a developer, you can start the discovery part of the process. You have your internal list of concerns with your site, but what’s more important is how your website visitors experience the site. Organize more in-depth conversations with a small number of people who represent your site’s key audiences, and balance that with an online survey of a larger number of people. Send survey links via your email list or via social media. Ask site visitors things like:

  • What do they like most about the site now?
  • What information do they come to your site looking for?
  • Whose voices do they expect to see there?

Keep your surveys and interviews brief and focused.

Additionally, you’ll want to discuss the website strategy with board and staff, including:

  • What actions do we want website visitors to take?
  • What parts of our work do we have the capacity to share via the website?
  • How do we want to measure success for the staff time we invest in the site?

Review at least a year of your current website analytics to see what you can discern about the overall level of engagement of your site. This is something best done by someone who has experience interpreting analytics (like your developer).

How do you drive traffic to the site? How often is it via social media or email? You’ll also want to consider how your website interacts with your social media presence, and whether you need to revise other communications strategy documents or your overall online presence.

Don’t forget to interview the person who answers the phone the most, to make sure that you know what are the most frequently asked questions people have about your organization. Often that information will be central to what goes on your home page and your “About” page.

Once you are equipped with more information, then you can start generating ideas and discussing possible changes to appearance and site navigation.

The point of discovery is for you to learn new things about your website audiences and the potential for your website to support your organization’s goals.

Stage Three: Making New Plans

Equipped with the information from discovery, you can come up with a revised goal for your website (what do you want it to accomplish?) new designs and if needed, a new site navigation. In some cases, you may have a list of new features you want to implement. The timeline and budget you originally outlined are likely to change as you develop a more concrete plan for your new website design — or for a whole new website.

This stage includes one of the more fun activities: looking at mockups of your new sites home page and interior pages, then refining then until you are satisfied.

The approach your developer takes to your design options makes a big difference here: when you’re working with a CMS like WordPress or Drupal, there are plenty of existing themes you can customize, rather than building something completely from scratch. Using a pre-existing framework can save you significant money. For WordPress, there are hundreds, such as Canvas by WooThemes or the Genesis theme by StudioPress. Existing themes are often already pre-tested for responsive design (so they will adapt well for mobile phones) have been tested across browsers, and still offer you plenty of flexibility.

At the conclusion of this stage, you have a series of well-informed lists and pictures of your website, not a new website. Yet.

Stage Four: Implementation

Now comes the work of making all those plans real. If what has emerged is that you’re just implementing a new look, most of the work is done by your developer, and this stage can take as little as a month.

If you are changing your site navigation, adding new content or changing your CMS, that will take longer, and you may have to do writing, editing and re-organizing of content.

During Stage Three, you may have revised your budget and timeline, so that you know how long you expect this stage to take.

But Kathleen, do I really need to do all these things?

It would be nice if there were shortcuts, but there aren’t. If you skip over either of the first two stages, that often leads to gaps that widen as you get farther into the project, leading to delays or disappointments.

But, you don’t fret too much: whatever you don’t capture this time around, within a couple years it will be time to review your design, and you can start at Stage One the next time around.

I have worked with dozens of nonprofit organizations through one or all of these stages of a redesign. If you want to see if I can help your organization figure it out, drop me a note using my contact page.

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