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3 ways to make your website redesign a smooth process

Guide
by Andrew Tebbott Developer

There comes a time in every website’s lifecycle when it needs a redesign. This can be anything from minor graphical tweaks to a wholesale rebuild. Now that most websites are based on a CMS like WordPress or an ecommerce platform like Magento, redesigns are easier than ever – but that’s not to say there are no pitfalls when it comes to making those all-important changes. Here are three simple steps that are often overlooked when businesses design their websites.

1. Plan ahead

It’s tempting to start poking around with a website and making changes, reversing ones that don’t work, and randomly bringing in people from other tasks to help with the update. That’s not the way to do it.

First, you need to make sure the project is managed properly. Plan out the timeline for the task, with milestones and an accepted deadline. That way you’ll be able to keep track of progress and recognise snarl-ups early.

It’s useful to set a budget at this early stage too. If you’re doing the redesign internally, it still has a monetary value to your business in terms of hours worked – it’s not just the cost of hiring external designers, copywriters, marketers or developers. Get quotes and work out how much the redesign is going to cost – it’ll help you stick to a budget and avoid overrun.

2. Use a staging site

A common error among non-professionals redesigning their websites is working on a live website. No matter how unhappy you are with your site’s current look and functionality, you must resist the temptation to tamper with it while it’s live and accessible to visitors and search engines. It’s almost guaranteed you’ll make mistakes that will break your site as you’re working on it, and you could also adversely affect your search rankings if your site is regularly down over the course of a few weeks or months while you play with it.

Professional developers always use a staging site when they’re redesigning. It’s an online website that is not indexed by search engines, and has a different URL to your main site (it’s often hosted as a subdomain, such as staging.yourdomain.com, but it can be hosted anywhere). Because it’s online, all stakeholders can access it, but it’s invisible to the public and the search engines.

If you’re just making minor tweaks to your site, you can start by making a copy of your existing site. If you’re re-designing from scratch, simply start anew. Then, all your developers, content team and marketers can work on the site as per your plans, and if it breaks (which it definitely will), it’s no big problem.

Once everyone’s happy with it, simply swap it for your live version.

3. Test, test, test

All developers know the value of testing. You should test everything, all the time. Website coding, just like any software project, is notorious for obeying the law of unintended consequences – a tiny line of code here can affect the site way over there in ways you’d never imagined. That applies to plugins and add-ons too.

As the site is taking shape in staging, devote time and resources to thoroughly testing it. Make sure it works on phones, laptops, desktop PCs, tablets, Android, Apple, Firefox, Safari, Chrome, Edge, Opera – every possible way it’s going to be used. Check all your links and images, keep an eye on slow loading assets and note down error messages and anything you’re not happy with. This can all be fed back to the developers and fixed.

Testing the staging site will iron out 99% of the issues, but there are sometimes unexpected errors that occur when it’s fully live, so test everything again after launch. Visit every nook and cranny of the site, make purchases if it’s ecommerce, test any forms, and run it through dozens of customer scenarios, such as abandoning carts and navigating from unusual places.

Once all the above has been done, you can finally announce your site redesign. Try and avoid the temptation to make your big announcement the moment you switch from staging – that never ends well!