The end of the year is often a time for launching new initiatives in hopes of showing improvement in areas that may have fallen flat. For many institutions, those initiatives involve revamping the website by engaging in a redesign that is easier to navigate and can boost lead generation.
Initiating a redesign is often time-intensive and expensive. It can be difficult for institutions to conduct one because of how much it drains resources. In order to start a redesign in earnest, an institution must decide between running the project internally or hiring a vendor to manage the redesign. Here’s a brief overview of the advantages and disadvantages of both options:
- Staying in-house: If you choose to manage the project internally, you will need a copywriter, a project manager, a web developer and a graphic designer. If you don’t already have these resources on-staff, it can be expensive to make these hires on a full-time basis. Even when hired for a one-off project, you still need someone in-house who can keep the redesign on track and get the deliverables in front of relevant decision-makers.
- Outsourcing a vendor: Hiring a vendor or marketing agency can help streamline costs. You get a variety of experts without adding significant payroll and have generally efficient processes that can get your project done in an orderly, timely manner. The downside is that agencies are likely splitting time between you and other clients, so you may not get the attention that a dedicated team would provide.
Regardless of which approach you choose, you’re going to need to stay heavily invested throughout the process to ensure adherence to your goals and branding. If you have no experience with a website redesign, here’s a quick start-to-finish guide that can help you ensure your project is completed to your satisfaction.
Determine your website redesign goals
Website redesigns are typically expensive and time-consuming. Therefore, it’s important to establish clear-cut goals before starting the redesign process. Ask yourself what your institution seeks to improve with the redesign. Most project managers typically use the SMART strategy to determine their end goals to better stay on track.
For those not familiar with SMART goals, it stands for:
- Specific: The website goal should be as specific as possible. For example, “increase applicants by 50 percent” is specific, while “make the website look nice” is not.
- Measurable: You want to have specific metrics in mind when redesigning your website. Otherwise, your team won’t be aligned on whether or not the project was successful.
- Actionable: Decide what tactics your team is willing to take to make the redesign successful. For instance, you may decide to update the content on your website for better SEO or improve usability so users can find information faster.
- Realistic: If this is your first time redesigning a website, it’s important to be realistic. Otherwise you’re setting yourself up for failure and won’t get additional budget to continue making improvements.
- Time-based: This goes back to being specific. Impose a deadline on when you want to see success. The more ambitious your goals are, the more time you should give yourself to achieve them. You’ll likely see improvements in your first three months, but some goals can take six months, or even a year to achieve. This is especially the case in higher ed where website traffic can be seasonal.
Using the SMART method will help you develop KPIs (key performance indicators), which will let you define specific goals or indicators that will determine the success of your redesign. Prepare a list of objectives such as leads, traffic and conversions to help keep your project targeted and on track.
Benchmark current website data
Before you create goals or start planning, understand how your website currently performs and where your weaknesses are. Some websites are too slow. Others don’t convert well. Often information is difficult to find.
Analyze how your website has done the past year looking at month-over-month performance. You will likely find this information in Google Analytics and Google Search Console. There, you’ll find information like the number of visitors, time on your website, bounce rate, which pages receive the most traffic and more.
It also might be useful to leverage some competitive insights with tools like SEMRush, Spyfu or Ahrefs to find two or three institutions that you want your website to measure up against to better understand how you compare.
Create buyer personas
The type of institution you are will determine the types of customers you attract. For instance, a two-year college might need its website to speak to both recent high school graduates and non-traditional students while a four-year institution might have less variance in their age demographic.
But every school still attracts different types of students. Some are more appealing to low-income students while others attract those from rural areas. Even the message you want to say to in-state students versus out-of-state students may be different.
In order to best direct your redesign efforts, you must have a clear understanding of the different types of customers that come to your institution. This will ensure you create messaging that resonates with all of your prospective users as well as current users.
Many institutions don’t spend enough time marketing to students already enrolled at their institution, and this can lead to all sorts of problems like summer melt or transferring to another institution entirely. Creating buyer personas will help target your efforts so the site keeps both prospective and current customers engaged.
Conduct keyword research
You’ll need to do keyword research to understand how traffic is coming to your website and determine which keywords you want to target for each page you’re redesigning. Once you have a list of keywords, audit your website for opportunities to optimize elements such as alt text, HTML tags, FAQs and irrelevant keywords.
Even if you have some familiarity with SEO, understand that it has changed significantly over the past few years. It’s no longer about specific keyword rankings, rather it’s about making your content fit specific semantic searches that are relevant to your institution.
For instance, you may want to rank for questions such as “how much is tuition at xyz institution,” and also “engineering programs in Colorado.” Your keyword strategy will be different for both, and you’ll need to optimize for the entire phrase rather than the keywords themselves.
Google has shown that it’s moving towards more zero-click searches – in other words, the search engine wants its users to get the information directly on their site rather than clicking through to the relevant search result. This is a logical step for Google to take because voice search is Google’s future. But most importantly, it’s how users are going to research institutions moving forward.
Your site needs to present information in a way that is friendly to Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa devices. Your redesign is the perfect opportunity to leverage this strategy.
Leverage user insights for wireframes and mock-ups
Beyond having good quantitative data, you should also understand who is using your website and how. By now, you should have at least three personas that include both prospective and current customers. However, you should also look at heat maps and user experience testing to understand where users are getting stopped and how you can better optimize that process.
After you’ve collected this data, you’ll need to start building wireframes. A wireframe is a basic prototype of your website that includes placeholder text and a mock-up of where the images will exist. This should also provide some indication of how the navigation of your site will look.
There are a number of prototyping tools available that allow you to complete this task relatively easily. Most importantly, gather the necessary buy-in before moving on to mock-ups to get everyone on the same page.
Once you gather consensus, you can move on to mock-ups, where your development team will create shells that include the colors and themes that will be used on your website.
Develop with mobile-first design
It’s no secret that users navigate websites using a mobile-first approach. Yet many institutions often assume that users are going to use laptops when searching their website and exclude several best practices that make your site easier to navigate.
Examples of mobile-first design best practices include using larger font sizes and buttons that are easy to click through on a phone. You should also make images and CSS as light as possible.
Following mobile best practices are a must if you want to engage users on your website. However, this can be challenging if you’re used to building sites that are meant for a desktop and are loaded with information. Instead, focus on making it easier to find so users have a better user experience.
Test, test, test
Finally, make sure you have an army of testers ready to test the functionality of your website for bugs, functionality and accessibility. Maybe your site looks stellar on Chrome but difficult to read on Firefox.
This is the time to figure out if there are areas of your site that don’t work and get them fixed. Not only do bugs hurt your SEO, they make for a poor user experience that is sure to discourage users from going to your site when they have questions.
Add a chatbot and live chat to your site
As a finishing touch, consider adding a chatbot and live chat to your site to boost your site’s usability. Chatbots can help direct users to the exact information they’re looking for without bouncing around different pages wondering where to get the answers to their burning questions. They also provide a great resource for complementing your support staff after hours when users are most likely to seek information.
Adding live chat allows users to chat or text with your staff anywhere at their convenience. Whether they’re on campus, at home or on vacation, adding a chat functionality to your website enables users to get personalized support without shuttling from office to office.
A website redesign is a perfect time to implement a chatbot and live chat platform to show your users that you are devoted to their academic success. It can also add more personality to help your website match your school spirit. Curious about what chatbots and live chat can do to your website? Just ask. We have plenty of examples.
With 2022 just around the corner, now’s the perfect time to start reevaluating your website and consider whether it’s worth redesigning your website. Investing in a redesign is expensive and time-consuming so ensuring the project helps you achieve your goals should be the primary focus for all relevant stakeholders.