The other day, I was helping a business colleague of mine review a website design his customer gave him. For storytelling simplicity, I'll refer to my colleague as Joe and his customer as Sue. Although Joe doesn't work in the jewelry industry, the early steps in designing a website are very similar across all industries, and I bet all website programming companies have the same experience working with their customers.
Sue wants to open a brand new e-commerce store by December 1st. She already owns an old e-commerce store with a different domain name, but she doesn't like that anymore. She wants to delete the old store and start a completely new store with an updated, and more sophisticated domain name.
Sue hired Joe to "design and build" her new site. I put "design and build" in quotes to emphasize what she expected of him. To get the process started with designing the new e-commerce site, she looked at a few of her competitor websites and Amazon.com for design ideas. She then took screen captures and put them together in Microsoft Power Point and presented them to Joe.
Amazon.com is a leader in e-commerce website design, and I think all website designers often look at Amazon for design guidance from time to time. Copying from them isn't a bad idea if you are looking for guidance. You can use inspiration from other websites to help you understand what might be good to have on your own website.
I don't recommend blindly copying from any other website, regardless if it's Amazon or a competitor. Amazon does a lot of user studies to constantly refine how their website works. What they do for an incredibly broad user audience might not be completely suitable for your niche audience. Although your local competitor might have a nice looking website that serves your niche audience, I don't recommend copying a website design directly from them either.
Joe was surprised by the Power Point slides Sue gave him. She copied and pasted screen shots together according to her own likes and dislikes. Sue works part time for a movie studio where she organizes big brand product placement in movies; effectively choosing between a Coke bottle or a Pepsi bottle depending on the highest bidder for that movie. So she has some experience in the marketing industry, but not with aesthetic design or usability.
Joe wanted some recommendations on how to proceed. He had a design proposal based on his past experience with e-commerce design, but she wants to follow her own design ideas.
Since these early stages do parallel every industry, I felt it was good to write out the recommendations I gave for how Joe and Sue should proceed.Step 1.
Don't discredit the old domain name so quickly. You first need to figure out how valuable it is. To do this, you would log into your Google Webmaster Tools account here
and look at your Search Query report, your Index Status report, and the Links to Your Site report.
On the left menu, you would click on "Search Traffic" the "Search Queries" to see the query report. This shows what types of keyword phrases are currently used to find your site in search.
To get to the index report, you would click "Google Index" then "Index Status" on the left menu. This shows how many pages Google has saved in the search database.
The last report might be the most valuable report to review. On the left menu, click on "Search Traffic" then "Links to Your Site" to see what other websites are linking to you. How long did it take to get these links and do you want to spend the time, and money, to get them all over again?
Judging the true value of the domain name is tough. If these 3 reports show high values and traffic, then it's not a good idea to throw out your domain name and start over. Getting your index status back will be easiest since that's an automated procedure. The search traffic will rise slowly after the website is indexed, but those linking sites also help boost search results. Do you think you'll be able to get all those links back?
My recommendation was for Sue to stay with the existing domain name and redesign it.Step 2.
Redesigning an old website has a lot of benefits over creating a new website from scratch. Existing websites have access to their log files, Google Analytics, and usability testing, whereas new websites are built completely by guessing.
You should read this Nugget
to find out how to use CrazyEgg and MouseFlow on an existing website. Both of those services provide heatmap tools for website analysis.
Studying heatmaps and Google Analytics will help your website redesign. Analytics will tell you what the popular pages of your site are, and the heatmaps will give you better ideas where to position links or buttons so people can find those popular pages faster.
Using this approach works best if the new website design is very similar to the old design. Your users will react differently to big changes in background colors, fonts, and images. You should run more heatmap tests as soon as you launch the new website and make adjustments to the new design as needed.Step 3.
A lot of the choices you make when designing a new website are going to be based on guessing. Surprisingly, there are also a lot of websites that are supposed to attract a specific type of customer, but their design, and more specifically, their content accidently attracts the wrong type of customer. You can avoid this pitfall with a little bit of research and educated guessing.
Google provides a research tool called Google Trends. With it, you can look up search data spanning back to 2004 to see what phrases people search for through the year and explore related search terms. Click here to see a sample trend report for the search word "ring".
Towards the bottom of that report, you'll see an area for Related Searches and Queries. This is where you can get additional ideas for topics and product categories that could be on your website. This information will be great starter information for new websites, and maybe it will help fill in some content gaps for existing websites.
Use the related queries shown in Trends and build website content to attract the customers searching for those queries. You can create a calendar of your content creation efforts so your website is prepared with the right information before the cyclical search trend patters start again.
This Google Trends exercise will help hone your website's content to attract the right types of visitors. Step 4.
This one might seem silly, but do it anyway. The initial design of a website might be a sketch, a Power Point file, a PhotoShop project, or a mishmash copy/paste into a Word document. However you do it, show that early design to some other people who are not connected with the project, or even with your business.
Ask them to pretend they are a real customer and what they would expect to find on your website. Get their feedback on where they would click and what type of information they want to see. Listen for words like "photo" or "descriptions" or "information" as your actions clues. Will you need to take more product photos? Do you need to flesh out your service and product descriptions? Do you need to write educational information in the form of a blog?
Don't be afraid to ask friends or family for this early design feedback. You'll be surprised how easily a 5 minute conversation with them can clarify your thinking and put you on the correct path towards a better website design.
With these 4 suggestions, Joe was going to plan another meeting with Sue. The biggest concern I had for Joe is that the expected launch date for this new website is December 1st. I didn't see this as a realistic goal considering this is the second week of September.
Even if they don't follow my above suggested steps, they still have to set up the e-commerce system, retake the photos for their 34 products, and write better product descriptions. They need to rent a large hall for their photo shoot, a total cost for the hall rental and photography would be close to $10,000 and it would take about a week to organize it and get it completed.
Editing the photos, writing the descriptions, and setting up the e-commerce site could take at least another month.
The design research I suggested takes a lot of time. I could easily tell you the top visited pages on most jewelry websites, but figuring out the second set of important pages is unique for every site. It could take days for someone to create a suggested navigation tree based on previous Google Analytics information.
I don't know how much traffic Sue currently has on her website, but heatmaps are more accurate when you have hundreds or thousands of visitors to measure. It might take a jewelry store several weeks to get a completed heatmap that's worthwhile. Sue could add the heatmapping to her website right now so it collects data while the photography and other setups are being done.
I have to mention that Sue specifically hired Joe to design her website, but not to analyze her existing data. Although Joe was asking my help for design critiquing, I gave him a 4-part approach to design using her existing data.
As it turned out, his design and programming contract didn't have any allowances for the extra time it would take if he followed that approach, which is unfortunate. Although Joe offers SEO Analysis and Website Usability Design as extra services, Sue elected not to pay for those services.
The lesson to be learned here is that the methods of website design are changing. No one should assume that it's simple to design and build a site. Website professionals should start to offer holistic approaches to design that include the initial analysis, the design, programming, launch, and then post-analysis. Unfortunately that holistic approach takes a lot of time, and that time has a higher cost.
I predict that Joe will get Sue's website launched by December 1st, but it will be using the old product photography and old descriptions. They will be able to change out the descriptions and photos as they are completed. I also predict that the site will look a lot like Amazon.com rather than a design that would appear to their customer niche.
Regardless what side of the website development fence you've been on, I'm sure this story bears some similarities to your own. Take a little extra time when redesigning your website next time.