4 min Read
April 26, 2011

Seven tips for managing a smart website process

So you’re thinking of redesigning your website. Good for you–we can tell it’s going to be awesome (like Big Duck’s oh-so-shiny new site!).

You already know that every good site needs clear and measurable goals, a strong set of tools and systems for keeping it up to date, and regular review and analysis to make sure it’s performing optimally.

But what makes the difference between a smooth, successful process, and one that leaves you tearing your hair out?

Fret not–we’ve got some thoughts (seven, to be precise) to help you along the way.

1. Set a reasonable and flexible calendar.
It takes between six and ten months to create a new website, from your first meeting to the day of launch. That might sound like a long time, but believe us, it goes by fast.

Give your team enough time to do it and do it right, and be ready to roll with the punches when someone comes up with an interesting new idea or your users give you some unexpected feedback.

And to that point…

2. Start writing early.
Rewriting the content for your website can be hands-down the most time-consuming and complicated part of the process. We’ve seen many a website launch pushed back weeks or months to allow more time for writing.

To avoid delays, assign a writer, editor, and proofreader for each page as soon as you have an approved site map, and provide all your writers with guidelines about tone, content, word counts, and any other resources they need to write efficiently and well.

3. Get feedback from your users.
This website isn’t for you–it’s for the people you are trying to reach, so include your community in the process as much as you can. User testing can be complicated and expensive, but here are some simple things you can do without breaking the bank:

  • Send a survey to your email list and Facebook fans asking them what they want from your website.
  • Call up a few supporters for some on-the-spot feedback to your site map or initial designs.
  • Write profiles of sample audience members to remind yourself of what they’re looking for.

You may be surprised what you find–even a little outside perspective can go a long way.

4. Leave plenty of time for review.
It’s tempting to launch your site the minute you paste the last paragraph into the content management system. But pause. Take a deep breath. Before you hit “go,” give yourselves a few weeks to test-drive (also known as a “soft launch”) your fully developed site before it goes live.

Review the whole site page by page–are there any egregious errors or typos? Do any of the pages look weird? Is all of the content written in your organization’s voice/personality? Have you chosen the right images? Do all of the links work?

You’ve been working on this site for months–make sure there’s not a pixel out of place when you finally show it to the world.

5. Create an editorial calendar to keep the site fresh.
It’s all too easy for a great new website to go stale if you can’t maintain momentum after launch. Help yourself stay on top of things (online, at least) with a detailed editorial calendar.

Go through your website and flag all the content that needs to be updated regularly–daily, weekly, monthly, and so on. Make a comprehensive list, and then block time on your calendar to make sure it happens.

6. Plan a six-month checkup.
No matter how carefully you plan or how thoroughly you review, you will come across things on your new website that you wish you could change once it’s live.

Keep a running list of anything that bugs you or any features that you don’t think are working out quite the way you’d hoped, and ask your team to do the same. Six months after launch, get together and review your lists to figure out what you can do to make your excellent new website even better. You might even bring in a few users to test key tasks and actions.

7. Be prepared to do it all again in three years or so.
The online world changes rapidly (remember MySpace?), and most organizations we work with find that they need to plan for a significant website update about once every three years in order to keep pace with best practices and shifts in user expectations.

But don’t despair–conducting regular reviews and making improvements as you go can help you stay in good shape to tackle the bigger changes when the time comes. And besides, now that you know how to conduct a smart website development process, it should be easy, right?