So your website is looking a little bit dated, your company focus has changed, it’s not as easy to update as you might have liked, the branding consultant is recommending an overhaul of the way you present your business.

In short, your website needs to be redesigned. Not touched up, not modified slightly, but totally revamped.

This was the case with the old Agriya website. Over time the site grew and we added more and more elements to the page that caused it to slow down considerably, the front page was made up of a large Flash element and the bounce rates were getting higher and higher.

Bouncing Around

If this sounds familiar to you, you need to take action and not ignore what your analytics are telling you. The bounce rate is one of the most important metrics because it tells you how many visitors you are losing before you really get a chance to sell to them. Although site speed isn’t the only factor, it does have a major impact.

Consider this, if your site has a bounce rate of 65% then for every 100 visitors coming to your site, you are losing 65 of them straight away – you are then trying to convert the remaining 35 in to leads and customers.

Our website had quite a high bounce rate and some customers also complained that it was slow to navigate, so this was a major factor when we decided to do a redesign.

Remove The Bloat

Another area that we felt was of some concern was the amount of ‘bloat’ that was occuring to the site. We were steadily adding more and more pages – before we redesigned the site I believe that there were over 500 pages of content, a lot of which were not focused around selling our services.

While some people say that a large site is a good thing because it captures a lot of long tail visitors from the search engines, feedback from the customers was that they often found it difficult to find the information they wanted.

For this reason we decided that a much leaner site was required, something that focused on selling our services rather than providing too much background information.

Don’t Forget The Blog

A company blog can be considered an essential tool for marketing your business online and shouldn’t be overlooked in your site revamp. It should form an integral part of your site and should have a design continuation from your main site.

Your company blog serves as a platform to announce news and information about the company, its products and services. It is far more effective than having a ‘News’ page on your site because it becomes more sociable where people can comment on the blog post, share it with friends and subscribe to the RSS feed so they get the latest updates.

It also serves as a repository to put all the content aimed at long tail searches and ‘informative’ content rather than sales content.

For example, we used to have a page about the Benefits of PHP, it brought in a lot of traffic, but the conversions from visitors to leads was fairly low and it may have served as a distraction to some visitors.

Instead of putting content like this on our website, we’ve decided to put it on our blog. Not only that, but we intend to expand upon this content to the point where it encourages people to naturally link to it because it is so useful.

Be Very Available

As a business the worse thing you can do is make it difficult for your visitors to contact you if they have any questions. If you simply list an email address, the visitor has to copy the email from your site, open up their webmail or email client, paste the email address and then write their question – too much effort!

As part of our redesign, we wanted to make the contact options very clear and visible no matter what page or what part of the page they were on.

We decided to put our phone number and live chat details at the top of the website as many other corporate sites are doing this by convention. We also located the search bar in the top right as our research showed that virtually all corporate sites with a search fuction had the search box located in this position.

However, since some of the pages are quite long, we decided to create a static CSS bar which ‘sticks’ to the bottom of the page. This concept was first popularized by the CNET website, but is yet to become a feature of many corporate sites. However, we decided to use it because it means our contact details are visible no matter where on the page a visitor is.

Although we have a contact form on each page and a full quotation form available, the vast majority of people prefer to use the Live Chat function to make enquiries about our products and services due to the instant response that they can get, not to mention the feeling that they are being personally dealt with.

In our research we found that so many other companies fail to offer any kind of Live Chat or if they do have the function it’s perpetually offline. In the case of Agriya, we find that for every one person that uses our contact forms, up to eight people will contact us on Live Chat. So if 100 people fill out our contact form, up to 800 people will contact us on Live Chat to make an enquiry.

We also offer phone numbers for visitors to call, since most of our customers come from US and Europe we simply buy a telephone number in these countries and it is routed to our number in the office. Although not many people call us, you often find that the bigger clients still prefer to use the phone as a method of communication.

Finally you can’t discount social media in this day and age. For this reason we have set up a Twitter account and Facebook page for current and prospective clients to get in touch. However, make sure you monitor these accounts as it can look very unprofessional if customer questions are going unanswered!

Choose Your CMS Carefully

There are so many content management systems available, from commercial to open source, it makes sense to check out everything on offer before you start to build your site – and you definitely need to research ready made solutions before you embark on creating your own custom CMS!

Agriya has tried a number of CMS’s over the years, from Drupal to WordPress, each had their advantages and disadvantages. For our last site we were using SilverStripe, but after further research we decided to build our new site using an up and coming open source CMS called ModX.

Obviously you shouldn’t be choosing your CMS on who’s got the best marketing message so we spent some time “playing around” with ModX and comparing it to SilverStripe in a number of different ways. In the end we decided to go with ModX because:

– Lighter CMS
– Easier templating system and easier to customize
– Built with SEO as a major design feature
– Our non-technical content writers and data entry operators were able to learn the back end system very fast and create new pages easily
– Our SEO analysts were able to tweak the site content very easily
– Our tests found that a ModX site loaded slightly faster than SilverStripe

Test, test, test and then test again

There’s nothing worse than going live with a website that has broken links or worse, links still pointing to your ‘development’ site. Use automated tools if necessary – there are plenty of free website spiders on the net that will check for broken links. Also try and get as many of your staff to go through the site while it is on the development server because 10 pairs of eyes are always going to be better than one!

When we were ready to take Agriya’s new website live, nearly every person that checked the site found some small issues – even things as small as missing punctuation. Try and make sure the last person to check the site is the boss because who knows what they might think about your capabilities if they find any problems!

301 Redirects For Dummies

If you are completely revamping your site like we have done then it’s likely that you are going to lose or move many pages, sometimes a few, in our case over 300 pages! Now if we are going to go by the book, then we should leave all those pages where they are, but there are so many times when it just needs to be removed. In our case the old CMS we used, SilverStripe, had a problem using slashes ‘/’ in the URL so we couldn’t create a nice looking hierarchy in the URLs. ModX can handle this, but it meant changing all the URL’s.

A 301 redirect tells the search engines that an old page has moved to a new location and it should look in the new location from now on. It also redirects any visitors to the new page. If you don’t include the 301 redirects, search engines start to find lots of missing pages which seriously affects your search engine rankings and visitors could become annoyed by finding lots of errors.

There are several ways to do 301 redirects, the most common is to put them in the .htaccess file if you are on a Linux server.

Flipping the Switch

When it comes to switching your site from the old site to the new one there are several ways you can approach it. If you have a particularly strong site that gets indexed very frequently you need to be ultra-cautious on how you do the change over as the IT guys at Disney found out once.

While they were uploading the new website, they put a “Disney is down for maintenance, please try again later” notice on their website. This was on a Friday. Now although the message was up for a couple of hours at the most before the new website was fully uploaded, Google came along, indexed their website and moments later, anyone searching for ‘disney’ in Google saw the message “Disney is down for maintenance”. Needless to say traffic plummeted over the weekend and the IT guys were offering prayers to the Google Gods to re-crawl their site and replace the maintenance message!

To stop this happening to your site, you can try using a 503 status message. This tells Google that your site is temporarily down for planned maintenance and it will be back up shortly. Google knows not to index anything and comes back later.

The way Agriya switched to the new site was we actually uploaded the site to a different IP address. We then updated the domain DNS (sounds a bit technical!) so slowly the new site went live throughout the Internet and Google didn’t notice a moment of downtime.

Analytics and Tracking

The aim of your new website should be to increase the number of leads you get from the people visiting your site. Ideally you should be tracking the number of people that contact you (and how they found your site) using something like the Goals function in Google Analytics. You should know what conversion you are currently getting so that when you change over your website to the new version you can see what effect it is having on your conversion.

Hopefully your planning and research means that the conversions increases, but if you find that your conversions and leads are down, even several weeks after launching the new site, you may have to consider changing back to your old site. After all, you can have the best looking website in the world, but unless it’s driving business then it’s not much use.

Well, I think that’s about all there is to it, relaunching a website is a huge task, even a small site can take many weeks of planning and development. It’s not uncommon for a new site design to take months and months. However, follow the steps I’ve outlined above and you should see a smooth transition from the old to the new.