Managing Research, Relationships, and Expectations During Your Website Redesign
I was once asked to completely rebuild a corporate marketing site within six weeks. The project included rewriting all content, creating a brand new identity, changing the CMS backend, and adding e-commerce. Our brand-new CMO insisted on personally approving each piece and told me there was no time or budget for testing.
Conversions went down 70% after the launchAnd on top of that, nobody used the store. The site took us over a year to fix. It happens a lot, despite all we know about the importance of testing. Sites, stores, and applications get launched on tight timetables, with input only coming from inside the organization. You also may need to deal with lots of stakeholders, with widely varying opinions, priorities, and knowledge. Once you get your project launched, the truth will become clear. But it might have taken months to get to consensus on the site as originally launched, so how can you now incorporate what you’ve learned from testing while not kicking off another round of debates? And how will you get the resources for a significant overhaul of the site to line up with what you’ve learned?
Before the launch
Be positive, but prepare everyone for the reality that you won’t get it right on the first try.Try these three mantras to get yourself (and your team) into the right mindset.
Begin a partnership with your user research teamYou might be lucky enough to have a customer or experience research team in house. Part of your job as a web or product manager is to have a relationship with this team. So if you don’t have that relationship already, build it before you launch a new site.
After the launch
Start with your sponsorSo you’ve run user testing on the site, and you’ve now identified that some things need to change. How do you get those changes approved? Large projects such as a website or product launch will often have an "executive sponsor" who -- formally or informally -- has taken responsibility for the successful launch of the project and for getting buy-in with other, more senior, executives. What if there isn’t a specific executive sponsor? In that case, assume that your manager is in that role. The key is to pick someone who is highly invested in the success of the project, who you have a good relationship with, and who has credibility with senior executives. Gather all the information you can about how the site is performing. That will definitely include the results of your user testing. If you have analytics data, you’ll want that too -- for example, if you don’t believe your users understand how to use the menu on your site, can you show heatmap or clickstream data that demonstrates that they aren’t clicking there? Or can you show dramatic changes in bounce rates that demonstrate the new front page isn’t engaging for visitors? You’ll want to put all of this together into some kind of presentation that includes what you’ve learned, what it means, and, most importantly, your specific recommendations for how to fix the problems. This last part is by far the most important. Any executive you talk to about a massive undertaking like a website will not have the necessary background to figure out what needs to be done. This is your chance to make a proposal and have it stick.
Figure out who the remaining stakeholders are, and how to sell themMost stakeholders will have an intense focus on the site as you’re launching, but won’t want to spend as much time on it when it’s already up. That’s helpful for you, since it makes it easier for you to make changes. But there are still a lot of people who your changes will affect. In the case of re-launching a web application, you may only need to deal with the product team, and you might be a part of that team, anyway. But if you’re dealing with a corporate marketing website, your customers will include all of marketing, much of sales, and the product team. It’s likely that the head of your division -- or even the CEO or other senior executives -- will need to be kept informed as well; your sponsor is the right person to ask for help.
- Offer an alternative that still accomplishes stakeholders’ goals. For example, can the pages that aren’t working in the navigation bar be moved somewhere else, where they’ll be more effective?
- Focus on high-level goals. In this example, are irrelevant navigation items causing visitors to bounce, which hampers marketing effectiveness?
- Position the change as a way to learn more. You tried things one way, wholeheartedly, and it didn’t work. That’s OK, and now it’s time to try things a different way.
- Take things one at a time. If the new navigation scheme you came up with isn’t working for visitors, fix that before you fix the writing on the site, which takes longer. Focus on acquiescence, not getting active approval for every change.
Get resources in place and get startedOnce you get agreement on a change, move fast to get that change implemented. Hopefully, as the person who owns the website, you have in-house engineers, or an agency, that you can lean on. If not, and you need to ask for resources, you’ll again want to quantify. Quantifying the impact of improvements in UX is not easy, but often you’ll see these numbers show up in revenue or customer satisfaction scores, or more basically in bounce rates, leads generated, and perhaps even overall traffic. Make sure you document these changes so that you can go back and look at them later.
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Justin Dunham is a digital marketing nerd and marketing engineer. He’s led digital marketing functions at MongoDB, Urban Airship, and One Acre Fund, and lives in sunny Portland, Oregon.