Site Redesign: Get it Right

Whether it’s just a few tweaks or a complete overhaul, there are few things that are quite as scary to an online business owner as a site redesign. They offer a great opportunity to fix a lot of problems…or create new ones that can kill your traffic. Keep reading for the answers to some frequently asked questions about site redesign that will help you propel your business forward and hopefully avoid some of the worst mistakes.

I got a lot of the information for this article from Magdalena Georgieva’s Hubspot piece. She listed ten questions that seem to crop up all the time when site owners consider a redesign; no doubt, if you’re considering what you need to change, you may be wondering the same things.

Let’s start with your blog. You know you need to have one, but where should you put it? That question comes up frequently in the SEO Chat forums as well. There’s really only three possible places: directly on your company’s website, hosted on a subdomain, or set up on an external blogging platform such as Blogger or WordPress.

Of these three options, the last one is the worst, from an SEO standpoint. You’re trying to attract people to your website. Visitors follow content. Good content encourages linking, which makes you more visible in the search engines. A properly-maintained blog is a goldmine of regularly-updated niche content. You want that content working directly for your own website and building link juice by being ON the site itself. Either of the first two options will do that. Anything else just multiplies the amount of work you need to do.

So now that you have a blog, you need to promote it. There’s a number of ways to do this, but they all start with doing your homework. And by homework, I mean keyword research. Pick the long-tail keywords you want to target. Now do some more homework, so that the posts you write for your blog are the ultimate resources online for your niche topics.

But it doesn’t stop there. Who wants to have a one-way conversation? When visitors comment on your posts, be sure to comment back. Encourage thoughtful conversation. Heck, go further than that. You’re probably not the only person blogging on your topic. Find your niche’s well-respected bloggers and engage them in a good, useful discussion online – on their blog, on your blog, wherever it makes sense.

And don’t forget to take advantage of social media tools – not just Twitter and Facebook, but YouTube and others that might be specific to your field. Make it easy for your readers to share your content, too, with RSS feeds, email subscriptions, and “Tweet this” and other buttons that let them tell their circle of friends that your posts are worth a look.

A properly-maintained blog usually calls for lots of content. Your visitors keep coming back to read your words of wisdom. But what if you’re running short on inspiration? Where can you get more content?  Georgieva quotes one of her company’s customers, Marcus Sheridan, who offers an awesome idea: “Write down on a sheet of paper every question a prospect/customer has ever asked you.” Then use your blog posts to start answering those questions.

After all, if your customers and prospects are asking you those questions, your blog readers are probably wondering exactly the same things. You can also use your posts to solicit questions from your readers, and answer them in follow-up posts. Or you can ask your customers questions about how they’ve used your product or service, and share their answers with your readers. Set aside some time regularly for a little bit of brainstorming and you’ll never run out of topics.

Now let’s talk about some of the elements of website design and redesign. I’ve heard it said that a picture is worth a thousand words – and more than one web designer has observed that it better be, because it takes up a lot more memory. That said, you do want to use them, but you want to use them judiciously. Images should complement the text they accompany. In other words, they should be relevant to your content.

Despite their clarity, though, never assume that images are self-explanatory. Always include ALT tags and captions that explain what they are and how they relate to your content. You’ll help both humans and search engine spiders visiting your site to put your images in the proper context.

So much for still images; what about the ones that move? Should you include video in your website redesign? Well, Cisco recently forecast that video will make up more than 91 percent of global consumer IP traffic in 2014. If you want a piece of that, you’d better figure out how to add video to your website. Yes, a good video can take some work, but it’s gotten much easier, and you don’t need to go crazy.

Like still pictures, video can be used to explain certain things more succinctly and clearly than just text or even still images. You can use video to walk prospects through your product’s features and how to use it, for example. This could be especially useful if you’re getting feedback from customers that tells you they’re having a problem; show them how to solve it. Georgieva also recommends using video to highlight case studies and introduce industry-specific data.

If all of these changes sound a little scary, keep in mind that you don’t have to do everything all at once. Indeed, you shouldn’t. It’s easier to make gradual, incremental changes to your website – not just for the tech people making the changes, but for the visitors who will be dealing with them. As Georgieva explains, “Incremental changes reduce the probability of unexpected user experiences and confusion.”

They could also reduce the chance that you’ll put changes into place that lead to outrage from your users. Think about the various changes that Facebook has made to the way its site functions. Mashable Co-Editor Ben Parr noted that “major overhauls of large websites don’t go over well.” You don’t want to scare your visitors, and drastic change can do that.

That’s all for now. If there’s interest, later I’ll cover some more things you should keep in mind as you’re redesigning your website. Good luck!

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